I will always remember Mr. Stutley’s grade 10 English class when my entire attitude toward life shifted in a moment.
Call it a break through or a turning point, it was when my self-esteem reached the tipping point and I finally stood up for myself. It was less about what was said but how it was said that was life changing for me, and is significant for you too.
I was sitting at my desk during an independent study time in the classroom when all of a sudden, out of the middle of silence, I heard my name followed by “O my God, pull up your pants right now, I’m sick of looking at your underwear all the time.”
I don’t blame her but in that moment I didn’t care either way. She had been the loan director I borrowed my self-esteem from and she used her power wisely, power that I had granted her over me by valuing her opinion of me more than I was ready, willing or able to value myself at the time.
The entire class was silent before her outburst of public humiliation and the air became heavy with tension immediately after.
Mr. Stutley had been focused on something else when it happened, as we all had been, and suddenly his priorities were entirely different and I observed his state shift out of dutiful relaxation into defence mode. I think he temporarily wondered whether his own (teacher’s) pet would be part of his first schoolgirl fight in his class, but what was interesting is that it never had to get to the point.
Instead of re-acting and following her instructions I half way turned my head over my shoulder and said with a defiant and challenging tone “then don’t look,” and it was done.
The air quivered with baited breath as the reverberation of a ‘knock-out’ took place.
The victim stood up against the punisher simply because the punisher got so sure of herself that she had no come-back to the rude observation she thought would have humiliated me and gave her and her friends something to laugh about.
In that moment, with that one instance of defiance, I made myself an unpredictable and therefore dangerous opponent and my punisher never came back for me like that again.
That moment was a break through moment for me because I realized that speaking up for myself did not have to cause a fight, and even if it did that would have been ok because it would have only needed to happen once.
I’d been told while growing up to avoid conflict at all costs and as an obedient little girl I listened. The problem was that as I grew older that same effort devoted to staying safe meant I wasn’t able to direct that attention onto growth and self-betterment, and no longer was I able to adhere to my tribe’s advice. I had to go with my gut, to follow my inner guidance system, and speak up to the disrespect I was sick of.
You can be ‘sick and tired’ or you can be ‘sick and done’ and what I can tell you is that the words you use matter because they reflect your readiness to take action. ‘Sick and tired’ means being frustrated and overwhelmed and just wanting to escape while ‘sick and done’ means you are ready to change things so your outcome changes.
In that moment I finally moved into a ‘sick and done’ state and everything changed. I’ve done it other times since too.
I stopped caring about what everyone else thought I needed to do and listened to what my heart said. Before letting the mind weigh in on the situation the heart just took me to the highest platform of self-respect I had access to and from that place I spoke with passionate defiance.
In going with my gut and standing up for myself in that moment I changed my life and, as we encounter another phase of life where certain rules of our collective tribe may no longer align with the fulfillment and experience of our own greatest and highest good, it’s time to give yourself permission to change your perspective too.
Conflict is not always a bad thing if you know what you’re fighting for.
Be willing to take a stand for your own self-respect and watch as your world changes to follow suit.
Laura JE Hamilton