The Hidden Me: How I Learned to Become My True-Self

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Davina Kohanim

Kohanim’s visual expression of her fractured self

Davina Kohanim, Guest Contributor

I walked into middle school thinking it would be the same as elementary school, but so many of my friends that I had known for a long time had changed. It was hard to realize this, and I felt as if we had just traveled through a time machine. At times, I could not recognize many people I knew before.

I always look at middle school as a photo in my camera roll that I wish I could delete and never see again. Look, I know middle school is a time of transition, and everyone is finding out who they are, but at the same time, no one should forget to be kind to others.

 When I began middle school, I felt like I hit a concrete wall. I felt as if I was on this clear path of growing, but unexpectedly, there was a detour in my path because I was not in the same place anymore. I thought that even though everyone was on this path of growth, it would not change who they were on the inside, but I was wrong. I felt that I was the only person who had stayed the same after going through this path of growth. 

The day I finished eighth grade, I remember feeling like a million pounds had been taken off of my back. I felt like I had been freed after being trapped for so long. I remember the summer transitioning from eighth to ninth. Each day during that summer, I would tell myself to release the part of myself that I had locked up inside of me. I knew I had the key to open this part of myself that I had locked up, but fear would fill my heart again.

The most painful thing that I remember is that I worked so hard to change myself for others. Sometimes I would wish I could get a jar and put those feelings inside of them, then drop them in the ocean forever. My close friends who always knew that I felt this way told me daily to appreciate who I am on the inside. I was always able to be my true self in front of them because I knew that they would never judge me.

It took me a long time to finally realize that changing myself was not the answer. The antidote for me was something very special: self-love — finding peace with who you are on the inside and out. This understanding of self-love brought closure and satisfaction inside of my heart. Also, it changed my understanding and perspective of self-consciousness. Self-consciousness to me now is a higher level of thinking and being aware of yourself, which can lead to negative feelings. We are often told that ignorance is bliss, but perhaps there is a price to pay to become truly self-conscious. To become truly self-conscious is a lifelong process, and the development of a teenager has many negative aspects. When one is in the process of growing and developing, self-awareness can bring negative self-consciousness to oneself. 

Some of you may know me as the quiet, shy, happy, joyful, and warm person on the outside. Deep deep down inside of me, I am also worried, doubtful, and self-conscious, which is a side of me that no one knows about. As I developed the ability to be self-conscious, I felt the feelings of separation and guilt for the person I was on the inside. At different times, I did not know who I was anymore. I always felt like I had to act a certain way in front of the people around me. My heart and mind would always feel like they were being judged on a daily basis, which made me question the way I acted.

I am revealing a hidden part of myself that only a few of my close friends and family know about. I sensed that these feelings of doubt and pain had been engraved into my heart and for some reason, they could not be erased. Believe me, I had tried with all the power inside of me to eliminate those feelings, but I could not. Every time I did, negative thoughts would fill my brain and overpower any positive thoughts that I was trying to bring into my life. From the day I began middle school, those feelings escalated tremendously.

This realization shifted my mentality in an instant, and I will never forget the day it happened. I genuinely do not know the reason why. I replayed this question in my mind over and over again. I sometimes try to make some of those days at middle school disappear for myself so that I can forget them because they reminded me of the moments where I was hurt deeply.

High school has been entirely different from middle school for me. I have gained back a lot of confidence that I lost in middle school. Even though at times I have felt like I did not belong, high school has been a place where I found comfort. The people who had changed in middle school changed even more in high school. They grew up to the point where I thought I was talking to a different person from a parallel universe.

I worked on myself during the summer before starting high school to a great extent in order to free the part of myself that I had trapped, but I was still not able to release it even though I had tried with all the power I had. My broken heart was still fearful of releasing my true self out to the world because I was still worried about what others would think of me. Each day my close friends would always tell me not to care about what other people thought, but the truth is, I deeply cared.

I did a variety of activities to make those feelings disappear. In the afternoons, I would go on hikes and listen to different podcasts and stories that were available on an app called Calm. As soon as I would plug in my Airpods, the feelings would disappear in my mind. The feelings of judgment would melt away in an instant. The negative feelings I would feel on the inside would disappear for a short time and then would make their way back into my mind. As soon as I would finish my hike, the feelings would fly right back into my mind, which caused me to sometimes want to give up on trying to be myself again. 

When COVID-19 began, and everyone had to quarantine, I got to work on myself even more, and the non-productive part of my self-consciousness slowly began to diminish. I felt like the part of me that was hidden for so long was finally freed. To be honest, I had never felt this way before, and at different times I sensed that my heart was healed. 

This feeling would come and go, but I have finally found out the reason why. As a teenager, when you are developing your self-consciousness, you try to be a part of society, and you try to blend in by changing who you are, not only on the inside but also outside. I was struggling to accept who I was and wanted other people to accept me at the same time. Deep down, I never felt like I was good enough, which was the problem. My cure was self-love. I accepted who I was on the inside and out. I mended my broken heart and learned to love myself. I realized that I was not being true to myself and thought to myself: “how can others love me, if I cannot love myself?” I decided to learn to love myself for who I was on the inside and out, instead of trying to change myself for other people. I told myself that no one is perfect and that it is okay to make mistakes in life because that is how you learn. I also learned to love myself for making mistakes because that is how one will grow and develop throughout their teenage years. 

Now, self-consciousness has become a source of happiness for me. I am now proud of who I am and will not allow myself to change for anyone else. I used to automatically change myself for others, but I have changed that and will make sure to keep practicing self-love. Although the long process of self-consciousness may be negative at times, it is necessary for growth and to become a functional member of society. 

At different times, I felt as if I was the only person in the world who felt this negative part of self-consciousness take a toll on me, but I recognized that this was not the case. The moment I understood that many other people were feeling the same way, I knew that I had to do something. Noticing and observing others who have experienced the same feeling has inspired me to write this article about self-consciousness. I realized that if I did not share my story, more and more people would not be able to heal from these feelings. I believe that sharing my story with others has been a part of my healing process. Sharing my experience with others has allowed me to break the chains that have been holding a piece of myself inside of me. 

I am sharing this experience because I want you to know that if you are feeling this way, you should not keep it inside of you as I did for many years. You now have someone to talk to you and if you are feeling this way, remember that you are not the only one. I realized the cure to my pain, and it was learning to love myself for who I was. The moment I built up enough courage to share my feelings and story with everyone was the moment I felt a part of myself enter my heart again. I encourage you to speak to anyone you want if you are feeling this way. 

I regret not talking to more people about the way I felt. For years, I felt as if I kept a secret from my friends, which is not something I meant to do. I just never felt like I was good enough and felt like I had to hide a part of myself from others. Always remember that the negative aspects of self-consciousness are temporary and will begin to disappear as you grow. When I started to love myself for who I was, I felt like I was self-growing. Self-love is something that takes time and needs to be worked into for some. Always remember to love yourself for who you are, and any negative feelings that you may be feeling during your time of growth are just temporary. 

From seeing the increasing number of people who feel self-conscious and judged daily in society, I decided to interview people who live in different countries about how they felt when they were in high school. I asked them if they ever felt self-conscious and if they ever felt judged at school. Also, I asked them if they ever had to change who they were in order to fit in with the people around them. Lastly, I asked them if they felt this way, how did it impact them on a daily basis. I mainly interviewed people who attended high school in Middle Eastern countries such as Israel, Iran, and Egypt. When I finished interviewing these people, they all mainly had the same answer. 

They all said that they had never felt self-consciousness negatively affect them nor did they feel judged while attending school. They had said from the day they were born, their families had always taught them to be kind to one another and respect each other. Since this was the core value that was taught to them from a young age, they never forgot those words. People were always taught to respect others and spread kindness amongst one another, which is why they rarely had any of the issues that I had faced. No one around them felt the way I had felt because there was nothing that triggered those feelings. Some people may have felt this way but it was not to the extent that I and many other people around me were feeling. A few people from the group I had interviewed said that they had selected people to be friends with who instigated those feelings inside of them. They said that this caused them to not accept who they were and they learned very late to love themselves for who they were. Also, they said that they wish someone else had told them about the negative parts of self-consciousness and that the cure was self-love. 

At times, I wish that people in our society had similar core values as the group of people I interviewed did. This opens our eyes a bit and makes us understand that we need to spread kindness. When one spreads kindness and learns to respect others, then more and more people will learn to do the same. Always remember this because it is something each and every one of us forgets on a daily basis. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to understand that the negative parts of self-consciousness are only temporary and will decrease as you grow. This took me a while to learn but I am forever grateful to have learned this important fact in life. 

I would like to acknowledge my mentors Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson and Dr. Homayoun Siman for all of the life-changing, inspirational advice they have both given me. I would like to thank my dear family and friends who have always been by my side and have taught me the true meaning of kindness. Lastly, I would like to thank Milken significantly for everything they have done for me and all the wonderful people who have impacted my life greatly.