Camouflaging, it doesn't just happen in your teen years

Recently I was watching Good Morning America when a story about teenage girls and a phenomenon called camouflaging aired. This story peaked my interest as a mother of three daughters, I was interested to learn more about this phrase. Camouflaging was a term coined by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D., a psychologist and the author of How Girls Thrive and Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters.  It refers to when young women try to blend in with their friends for acceptance and lose themselves in the process.

Six months ago, my fifteen year old daughter transferred back into the public school system after spending the last four years in Catholic School. Although this was her choice, she experienced a lot of anxiety over this transition. She expressed to me how she was afraid of losing herself in the process of fitting in. “What if I change so that I will be liked” she said. At the time, I thought her concerns seemed peculiar, coming from my confident, artistic, outgoing daughter. I belittled her concerns as if they were inconsequential. She had been president of her eight grade class, a member of student counsel, captain of her soccer team and openly expressed her inner thoughts on canvas through her art. Her concerns seemed more like teenage moodiness, so I gave little attention to her worries. I was wrong in doing so. It dawned on me, she had legitimate fears. I had experienced the same fears when I was her age, how could I have forgotten?

My Aha Moment

The repercussion of “camouflaging” in my teenage years would continue well into my forties. The experience my daughter was having brought many suppressed feelings back into my awareness. Insecurity, self-consciousness and feeling less than, began in middle school, and snowballed through my high school years. I too, was outgoing, captain of the soccer team, on the prom court and even won a superlative for having the most school spirit.  Yet, the voice inside my head continually told me that I was less then. Not as smart as, not as pretty as, not as thin as, not as athletic as, and so on and so on. As a result, I acted “not as” and hid my talents. If I had exposed myself for what I believed my strengths were, what would happen?  Would people laugh, or belittled them?  What if, what if, what if? A spiral of negative self-talk created misleading and irrational fears that began to suppress my goals and dreams. Life happened, as it often does, and I got married, had my children, and built a business. These years were extremely busy, and fulfilling, yet something always seemed amiss. I could not put my finger on it or articulate what “it” was that I longed for. Like a craving you can’t seem to conquer, chocolate, wine, retail therapy, fitness kicks, all brought immediate comfort, but could not satisfy this craving.

So then what?

One day I realized what was missing. Actually it began as many days filled with unhappiness, feeling stuck and uninspired. So I made a decision to pay attention to things that made me unhappy and use them as bullet points on a list of life changes to tackle. The first item on the list was my business. It had to go, as it was the foremost stressor in my life. Interestingly enough, my business was quite successful, yet a bad partnership made it unbearable. I went to work each day full of anger and resentment for the mistake I had made in allowing someone to manipulate her way into my business. So I sold out. Took a loss, yet at the same time gained so much! That lesson was invaluable and one I am most proud of today. Number two on the list was to eliminate negative people. Those who didn’t bring anything “to the table” per say. That was a difficult process, and continues today, two years later. I no longer give more then I receive. Friendships are a two way street, a give and take, and I waved goodbye to the takers. Anyone who made me feel “less than” were also crossed off that list. Next came self-care. I began taking time for myself each and every day. Putting myself as priority #1 (the oxygen mask scenario that is often used) I turned up that oxygen mask full throttle without apologies. This included, a trip to India, taking an 8 week MBSR (Mindful based stress reduction program) and completing a 1 year coach certification process. Pretty amazing, huh? Included in this self-care practice, I began to live as my authentic self, not only live it, but celebrate it. I had come into my own, no longer caring if I would be accepted by everyone else. The only acceptance I longed for was my self-acceptance and self-love. I had found the key, the secret and my purpose!

Tia Girls Club is an inspirational group of amazing women who are trailblazing for our daughters, they say, “If you want self-esteem, do estimable things” it means doing the things that you love. I found this to be true and it is heightened for me when I can inspire others to rediscover their dreams and goals and step out of their camouflaging years (or decades) below are some recommendations that TIA Girl Club suggests in helping our daughters. I use this list as a guide today, in my mid (to late…) forties.

1. Create a safe and encouraging environment for your daughter (yourself) to GROW her own self esteem

2. Teach her (yourself) empowerment language (Today I Am Brave!)

3. Introduce her (yourself) to positive female role models

4. Get her (yourself) involved in community service!