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When I was a little kid, my brother, who’s five years older than me, told me once that I was actually adopted. He said I fell out of a gypsy wagon that came through town and our parents felt sorry for the lost gypsy baby so they took me in and raised me as their own kid. He told me I could never tell our parents because if I did, they’d have to take me back. We laugh about it now, but back then, it was a little scary because I believed him, at least for a while: until I realized that I look just like my dad and not very gypsy like. But this “fake news” my brother fed me as a joke never actually shocked or terrified me because I could see, even at single digit age, that it was possible I was adopted because I always felt out of place growing up with my family.

Of course I spent my childhood and teenage years, and most of my 20s, to be honest, feeling misunderstood by my family and wishing they’d see me for who I was. I’m sure my story sounds at least somewhat familiar to your experience. We humans are not very original in our issues, although we often feel like we’re the only person who’s ever felt insecure, unworthy and unloved. The shift happened within me when I finally realized that my being different, or at least feeling different, was such an enormous gift, and maybe the most valuable lesson I’m to learn in this lifetime: Find out who you are even though, and especially when, the people closest to you can’t validate for you who you are.

In other words, learn to stand your ground when the ground feels so shaky that standing seems like a ridiculous idea.

To stand your ground in no way implies we insist that other people understand, appreciate or even like us. It’s not at all a demand that people change their ideas, opinions and behaviors. Standing your ground is completely about YOUR ground, and your ground has nothing to do with anyone else. Which is why this lesson is so damn hard to learn and implement.

The human side of us is hardwired to seek approval and validation from other people. We all have learned very early on in life that displaying certain behaviors and expressing particular feelings may result in love being withheld by our parents and other people we depended on. Since we’re also hardwired to seek love, we learned to modify ourselves to create a version of ourselves we thought would get maximum love and approval. And along the way, we found that we have lost the ability to stand our own ground. When I’ve replaced who I am with a watered down version of who I think I should be to be seen as worthy and lovable, how can I possibly know where my own ground even is? Also, all this seeking for love and approval has somehow left us hungrier for love and approval.

Is this being human a cruel cosmic joke because it seems the harder we try to gain love and validation the less we feel loved and validated?!

That’s because we have been seeking in the wrong place: outside of ourselves. All the times you have felt misunderstood, unsupported, invalidated and unworthy of love were quiet but persistent invitations to turn the direction of your seeking from without to within. After spending years and decades and, who knows, probably even lifetimes trying to stand on someone else’s ground to feel safe, we figure out at some point that standing on our own ground is the only way to feel that connection we have craved for so long. Because the connection we crave is not from them to us, but from us to us.

To be able to stand your ground you first must find out what your ground is. No matter what anyone thinks of you and no matter what you think they’re giving to you or withholding from you: what is YOUR ground? Finding that out is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with yourself, and the start of renewed relationships with the people in your life.

I won’t tell you to stand up for what you believe, to fight for what’s right for you or to say no to what you don’t want. Because once you find out what your ground is, you’ll figure out the rest with relative ease. You may not know in every instance what you want, but you’ll know what you don’t want. You may not always know what to do, but you’ll know what not to do. You may not quite know who you are, but you’ll know who you’re not. And you won’t need to justify yourself or defend your choices because you will feel secure, standing on your own ground.

I mentioned earlier that the light came on for me when I realized that my biggest lesson was finding out who I am even though the people I loved and depended on couldn’t validate for me who I was. They couldn’t validate that for me because they couldn’t validate that for themselves either. Everyone is chasing their own tails just like you and I did, or still do, not realizing that each one of us has the sought-after tail and it’s been attached to us all along.

Standing your ground requires a great amount of courage to look within for love. The side effect of our remembering that we are love is instant compassion for ourselves and every other human being because we finally see that we’re all playing the same game of hide and seek, while forgetting that we chose to play that game. We’re all hiding from ourselves and looking for ourselves and the only way to find ourselves is to find the ground on which we stand and have been standing this whole time.