The journey of self-growth or self-discovery (however you choose to term it) is really about learning to let go of what isn’t really you. Some people think that we become more and more of something as we get older when really its a case of letting go of what isn’t who we really are across the course of a lifetime.
Here’s just one example: Realising you are neurodiverse and have been masking all your life to fit in and “stay alive” can suddenly accelerate the process of unbecoming, to the point it can be fairly disconcerting or even destabilising for a while, until you relax into the process. When you do, there’s a shift. Suddenly, you can so easily identify whole swathes of what wasn’t really you and, from then on, the clearing process becomes so rapid its like greased lightning…and yes cathartic, landscape quaking, like you are inside a snow globe that had been shaken vigorously but, as the pieces of snow settle, you get to see a clearer picture forming at last. Or it can be satisfyingly methodical, like being a detective in the final stages of a novel, discovering some key piece of information that rules out so many of the red herrings that have kept you distracted…suddenly you’re onto something.
From then on, you get to zone in, get straight to the point as things start to simplify and form patterns that feel natural to you (more natural than anything has ever felt before), so you discover yourself taking leaps and bounds in your self-understanding. As you get closer to what feels authentic, life becomes thrilling again, or perhaps for the first time ever, as though you have finally found your place in the mystery of it all and know where you are at, at last. You long for others in your life, who are meant to care for you, to feel excited for you too…but they might not, they may be perplexed as to why this is such a big deal to you, or they may even have the very opposite reaction to what you hoped for…but take heart, there are others like you, who can really relate.
Connecting with others who share similar “wiring” (see my Neurodiversity Resources) can accelerate things all the more as you learn from their stories of self-refinement, relate to their epiphanies. When you experience life through a completely different lens to most people, this can be so painfully isolating, until you locate others more similar to yourself. For the first time, you are around people who have experienced life in similar ways to yourself and this is far more impactful than can be explained to anyone who has always felt in their place all of their life, surrounded by many others who perceive and process like themselves, the majority if you will. For those of us who have been the exceptions to the rules, feeling like exiles in this reality, it’s like finally coming home.
From now on, you shed layer after layer, swiftly, and it’s no longer so terrorising to do so. Your determination to be yourself only increases and, as you practice this, you marvel at how you no longer have to waste just so much energy in masking or adapting what you do or say to suit other people’s modes of communicating or behaving. Instead, the way you are serves as an organic filter of who you want to be around and who falls by the wayside, because if you can’t be met as yourself, you can’t be bothered any more. You may even find you spend more time around other people than you used to do because its not nearly so arduous or draining as when you felt wrong-footed and bewildered all the time, before you “knew” this about yourself.
So, as ever, the point of the journey isn’t about becoming something but unbecoming things you were not.
It must be somewhat similar to a person unbecoming a gender identity assigned at birth that was not really theirs, to claim what actually is who they are; no one should underestimate the magnitude of the impact that could have on the experience of a person’s life. Claiming your neurodiversity is no less impactful nor, in all respects, monumental though those who are not neurodiverse may tend to underplay the impact this is having from a simple lack of relatability; don’t let them!
When these processes of unbecoming occur and people challenge us, telling us we’re wrong because they’re perplexed we used to be one way and now we say we are another, we point out to them that its been like peeling an onion…”real” you was always there, only deeply hidden, perhaps even from yourself, beneath layers and layers of behaviours and beliefs that were not really you, accumulated for safety and in order to fit in. Some people may have got to know flashes of real you along the way and those will stand by you the most readily as you reauthenticate a little more every day; others may never understand the “change” in you, or why its so important, and resist you all the way. They may doubt you or even tell you that you are flat-out wrong but that’s their journey…not yours any more.
Nobody can gaslight you once you own your own authentic beingness, whatever that attempted gaslighting entails or how much of it you were subjected to up until this point. If anyone is foolish enough to negate, undermine, deny or ignore what you so directly experience, you can politely contest them (if there is any point) or move away from their influence on your life; this, compared to how, once upon a time you may have been complicit with their opinions in order to avoid conflict, because you weren’t so sure of your own foundations or the impact your differences might have on your rights to safety and inclusion. The more you allow yourself to unbecome what you are not, the more your personal conviction and resilience grows in ways that are hard to anticipate when you remain cowered within the layers of the onion.
The more you unbecome what you are not, the more what you really are shores-up into something sturdy, resilient, foundational; its so incredible that the effect has to be experienced to be truly understood. There may be moments of fear, of doubt, of uncertainty, even imposter syndrome as you claim your “new” identity but mostly the excitement, the rightness, the belongingness and the right to take up space just as you are starts to shout out to you and you feel all the excitement, the vigour, the joie de vive coming back into your system after years fumbling pathetically in the dark. Now, you feel validated (sometimes after years of feeling invalidated) and there’s no need to apologise for yourself any more…explain your needs yes, but not apologise for them. You can forgive yourself for the friendships you couldn’t keep, and you can stop sitting in judgement of your behaviours or inability to fit in. You’ve been doing your best with a blindfold on; now you know just how hard it has been!
Everything starts to feel quite different now, as if by magic, as you suddenly realise that this is the very thing that was always missing before, when you were trying so hard to be what you are not and felt so world-weary, so off your axis in every situation. Now, you are sat squarely on your own axis, or it’s as though you are a flourishing tree with roots pushed deep down into the ground and you truly feel, tingling in your body, all the affirmation that you belong here in this format, just as much as the next person does in theirs. Dare to look at your own reflection from time to time; do you see something new shining back at you through those eyes, now you have shunned all the pretence? Start to track these positive differences in the way your body responds to feeling as though it belongs; they will start to mount up, day by day. Though the wind may still batter you and choppy waves encircle you, you remain sturdy on your own rock of knowingness from this point onwards.
Others like you will surely appear on the landscape once you know what you are looking for and dare to radiate your true being out for them to see, and it won’t matter that some people still choose to pass you by since they are the ones who only ever thought they knew you before. If they won’t accept you as you now are, without your layers, this is no real loss to you and they are only really sorry for their own loss, of an idea about you that they had, without caring what matters most to intrinsic you. Without having to subject yourself to it, let them live out their idea of who you are or the belief that you lost the plot; there is no “plot” to be found, except in the fiction that you used to call your life, which you have exchanged for the real life you have today….which will continue to unpeel its way to more authenticity until the day you draw your last breath.
In fact, the paradox of unbecoming is that the more you let go of, the more you gain. It may not be about quantity but its all about quality and every wise soul gets to realise, at some point, that this is what is really most important when we reach the end of our lives…not how much we accumulated but how meaningful it all was. Those who dare to unbecome, whatever the costs to their old life, are the heroes of their own quest for meaning in life and their riches come with such an immense depth of quality that its worth every so-called sacrifice along the way.