Reclaim Yourself

Grace Chen
6 min readJan 29, 2022

Take a day to heal from the lies you’ve told yourself and the ones that have been told to you. — Maya Angelou

What are the stories you continue to tell ourselves about who you are? Consider that you may have changed and grown over the years and do not have to be defined by the family role you had as a child, the teenage persona you held (Rebel! Nerd!), the stereotypes or assumptions others placed on you. What if you let go of these stories and really see who you are now and reimagine who you’d like to be?

Recently I told my kids that for a long time I had a reputation of not liking or knowing how to cook. They were genuinely surprised and said, “but you’re a great cook!” Then we had this conversation about how we can change over time and how we might also think about what something really means to us personally. For me, being a good cook means I’m open and willing to try new recipes — the simpler, the better! I’m not trying to cook fancy meals or to compete on Top Chef; I’m looking for quick and easy Instant Pot recipes for the family. In this case, not only did I have to let go of this image of me not being a cook; I gave myself permission to redefine what being a “good cook” meant. It is a small thing in some ways, but I did feel embarrassed that I didn’t like (or know how) to cook and laughed alongside others who joked I needed to marry someone who knew how to cook even though I thought I could survive on my own (thankyouverymuch!).

gif of Moira from Schitt’s Creek saying “What does burning smell like?”

The idea of letting go of old stories can apply to bigger issues as well — the main point here is that people often can trap themselves in old stories about themselves, which may not be an accurate reflection of who they are now. Some aspects of your self-image based on those old stories may no longer serve you, so it may be time to let those go and reimagine newer ways to see yourself. Maya Angelou recognized the limitations of old stories when she said, “Take a day to heal from the lies you’ve told yourself and the ones that have been told to you.” So often we have internalized stories about ourselves based on what others have told us (explicitly or implicitly) even though they may be inaccurate.

Take a day to heal from the lies you’ve told yourself…”

When trying to get in touch with who you are now, you may realize that these aspects have existed within you all along but somehow got buried underneath other messages you internalized about who you are. Here are some ways you can create space for you to heal and reimagine what your possibilities are

  1. Give yourself permission to be who you are and to let go of aspects of yourself that no longer serve you. You may have been a certain way for awhile, but maybe you’ve changed or want to change. Give thanks for this previous version of yourself for taking care of you in the way you knew how at that time and say goodbye so you can make room for a newer, current version of yourself.
  2. Unlearn how you see yourself — interrupt the automatic assumptions and interpretations about yourself by slowing down and taking the time to reflect on what you really want or how you want to respond to something. Take the time to consider other perspectives — ask questions to understand others. Over your lifetime, you’ve absorbed certain messages about yourself — sometimes embracing them as strengths, sometimes internalizing them as shameful qualities. Therefore, oftentimes the first reaction you have to a situation is automatic, lightning quick — but accuracy does not thrive in split-second responses. This is your survival mode — sometimes your brain has not registered that you are not in a crisis and do not have to go into protective mode in that same way.
  3. Practice taking pauses to acknowledge that your first reaction may not always be the one you want to believe or act on. When you slow down, you can increase your self-awareness and ask yourself, “what’s my automatic response based on? Is that relevant to this current situation?” By slowing down, you also make space to reimagine your possibilities.

Be unapologetically authentic (!) — take ownership of who you are and embrace yourself, flaws and all. You can accept yourself and still be a work in progress. Being authentic is not the same as being brutally honest all the time or sharing all of yourself with every person. Being authentic is being true to yourself in how you make decisions and who you choose to share yourself with.

Black woman thinking deeply over a cup of coffee at the window

“Take a day to heal from the lies … that have been told to you.”

Change doesn’t usually come easily, so you’ll want to find support and create opportunities to reinforce the changes you are making. (Other people may not like change, so you may experience pushback from people around you when you try to make changes.)

Who do you surround yourself with? People who support you or diminish you? Is feedback being given out of love and care? (Sometimes it is, and it’s still not helpful or accurate.) Is it based on someone who really sees you or wants the best for you? My psychology undergraduate advisor lamented that I wasted a summer on an irrelevant internship at a non-profit civil rights organization instead of working on research to increase my chances to get into psychology graduate school. However, during an interview for a graduate program, a professor commented that he thought that my summer internship looked really interesting and was impressed by it when I “confessed” I hadn’t done as much as I could have with my summers in college. I think my undergrad advisor meant well, but I don’t think he understood me or what would be the “best” for me. Unfortunately, I had internalized his (de)valuation of my interests and values in racial justice (although I suppose he was reflecting the psychology field’s perspective to a certain degree). (Spoiler alert: I still got into grad school.) In retrospect, it would have been more helpful to talk to my psychology graduate student instructors (women of Color) who had similar interests and perspectives to get advice (and encouragement) about applying to grad school.

Side note: One benefit of when you unlearn how you see yourself is that you learn how to make space to let those around you change and grow too. As much as you want others to allow you to change and grow, how much do you allow them to change and grow? You might find yourself getting stuck in your ideas of other people, so remind yourself that you probably want others to let go of previous ideas of you that no longer fit you. Over time, you can develop more flexibility in seeing and accepting that others can change and grow.

the word “dreams” written in all caps in the shape of clouds against a blue sky

Time to Dream

Once you make space to reimagine your possibilities, remember that your new possibilities can range from small (finding a new hobby) to large (changing your job or the nature of a relationship). Some ideas to get you started dreaming -

  1. Revisit your younger self — what is a dream or interest you had when you were younger that maybe you forgot over time? Remember something that used to interest or motivate you and consider bringing that back into your life.
  2. Make note of who inspires you and why. When you see your list, you may notice a core theme or a variety of themes — take a moment to write (or talk) about what resonates with you in terms of how you see yourself incorporating these themes into your own life.

Give yourself permission to take your time — things will probably not change overnight. Pause every now and then to reflect on what you’ve started to shift or when you’ve tried something new. Embrace this process of getting back in touch and living more in alignment with your inner self.

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