Recently I was watching Good Morning America when a story about teenage girls and a phenomenon called “camouflaging” aired. This story piqued my interest because, as a mother of three daughters, I was interested to learn more about this phrase. “Camouflaging” is 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 a process 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 the 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’ll 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 eighth grade class, a member of student council, 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.
But, I was so wrong in doing so. It dawned on me later that she had legitimate fears. I’d experienced the exact same fears when I was her age, how could I have forgotten?
My ‘Aha’ Moment
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. In fact, it still had repercussions beyond my teenage years and well into my forties.
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 than the others.
Not as smart, not as pretty, not as thin, not as athletic, and so on and so on.
As a result, I hid my talents and acted “not as”. If I exposed myself for what I believed my strengths were, what would happen? Would people laugh, or belittled me? 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 unsettling feeling.
So Then What?
One day I realized what was missing. Actually it began as many days filled with unhappiness, feeling stuck and uninspired.
I made a decision to pay attention to the 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”. That was a difficult process, and continues today, two years later. Friendships are a two way street, a give and take, and I have managed to wave 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?
As a result of this self-care practice, I began to live as my authentic self, not only living it, but also celebrating 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!
How To Overcome Camouflaging
My next question was- how can I use my own experience to help support my daughter and allow her to be the best she can be? I was thankful to come across a fantastic organisation and website called “Tia Girl Club”. This inspirational group partners with teenagers, tween and parents to allow them to rediscover their dreams and goals, and step away from the pull of “camouflaging”.
Their whole philosophy and recommendations are effective and powerful, recommendations are really powerful, and even I use this list as a guide today to help my daughter and myself (in my mid-forties!)
Here are some of their recommendations
- Create a safe and encouraging environment for your daughter (yourself) to GROW her own self esteem
- Teach her (yourself) empowerment language (Today I Am Brave!)
- Introduce her (yourself) to positive female role models
- Get her (yourself) involved in community service!
For full information, I’d highly recommend you visit their incredible website and allow your daughter to develop her authentic voice and passion, as well as unlocking your own full potential.