(n.) The fear of being seen as you are. The incessant thinking that you can’t be loved being yourself.

As I sat down, trying to put my story into words, I was overwhelmed. I came to the realization that I’ve never liked who I was. I grew up, believing that I lacked something; that I was inadequate, flawed and wrong in some way. I didn’t think I was lovable or good enough just the way I was. In a young age I experienced how my behavior was linked to my likability. I saw how people reacted with love and appreciation, if I followed the rules, was manageable, pleasing and complying. I learned, that I could manipulate, and adjust myself to gain more praise and become whatever I thought would be most appealing. This strategy worked wonders for many years. I was happy, easy-going and in control. I had a great life, with everything seemingly figured out. But underneath the surface, reigned the diminishing belief that I couldn’t be loved being myself, and that I somehow needed to compensate for that.

Most of my life, has been a devastating struggle. Trying to be more than I was, because being myself was not an option. I was running around, short of breath, trying to lose my own shadow, striving to be someone I wasn’t, engaging in things I didn’t care about, to impress people I didn’t know. It was a restless thrust forward driven by the applause instead of the cause. I was pushing myself, to be persistently achieving something to conceal my underlying low self-esteem, poor self-image and general deficiencies. I was hiding behind flawless and overcompensating behavior with a patchwork of identities, ceaselessly changing like a chameleon to meet the shifting expectations of my surroundings. I became a selfless people-pleaser with an insatiable thirst for outside acceptance and admiration.

As I grew older, my expectations to myself and my life proliferated into unreasonable demands and delusional ideals of perfection. I was convinced that I had to change myself to be loved. I had to hide my flaws and smooth out my edges, deny my feelings and pretend to be different. The fear of being unloved, unwanted, unattractive and unworthy was just too great to overcome. So I separated myself from the parts I couldn’t accept by spurning the ugly, flawed, crooked and inconvenient parts. I had initiated a quiet but detrimental war against myself, battling to shape and oppress aspects of my core that I feared would be objectionable. Split between who I was, and who I thought I should be, I ended up alienated from myself, cloistered in a hollow and artificial shell, distant from my genuine feelings and true identity.

The consistent self-rejection persisted for many years, but what began as an innocent wish to be accepted, evolved into a disabling fear to disappoint, fail and be exposed as who I really was. It was like living with a shattering secret. I knew that the girl people liked and admired, was not the real me. She was only who I wanted to be, and what I wanted others to see. The real me was never good enough, pretty enough or capable enough. My self-esteem was like an empty bucket I desperately scooped worth into only to realize there was a big hole in the bottom leaking it all out quicker than I could fill it up. I didn’t know how to value, or validate myself so I became addicted to the reassurance and approval of others to neutralize my recurring self-sabotaging thoughts. But the more people said I was amazing, the more I felt like a fraud. The discontent I felt towards myself was like a virus poisoning me from the inside out. I was excessively self-conscious, and purposefully blowing my own mistakes out of proportion. I had a cynical demon inside me feeding on my flaws and every imperfection was just confirming what I already knew: I was completely wrong and utterly flawed in any- and every possible way. Inadequate and unimportant. Simple as that. I had accepted my wrongness as a fundamental fact. Indisputable like gravity, there was no way around it.

I was burying myself in self-resentment, and the yearning to feel confident, significant and special became all-consuming. But my unrelenting self-doubt made me susceptible to comparison and competition. I compared myself to others, only to point out my own lack. People just served as a benchmark for my own worth, telling me how good or bad I was. I could list a thousand things that I was failing to do, be or accomplish. My worth as a human being became a fleeting thing that changed minute to minute depending on who I was around and the changing whims of my mind. It was like building a castle of confidence in sand, only to see it being swept away by the next ocean wave.

The process of comparison solely lead to desperation, and left me in a permanent state of scarcity and dissatisfaction. I was condemning myself for not being able to live up to my unattainable ideals. But no matter how hard I tried to fix myself, push myself, or be better than others, I always fell short. I was impossible to please and impress and I chose to turn that boiling frustration inwards. It was like being in an abusive relationship with myself, where motivating and berating were two sides of the same coin. But shame and self-abuse didn’t tame the demons, if anything they only fueled the fire; a fire that got out of hand, the moment I found comfort in addictive and compulsive behavior. I chose to drug myself with food to alleviate the disappointment and hate I felt towards myself. Binge eating brought me into a trance-like state of perfect tranquility; allowing me to temporarily vanish into oblivion. In those moments I was free. I was trying to escape the miserable reality I had created, but the consolation of the eating disorders was short-termed and only brought with it a craving for more. The escapism completely shattered my grip on reality. I couldn’t tell whether I was hungry, sleepy, happy or cold. As if my taste-buds suddenly went numb leaving me unable to distinguish sweet from sour. I was aware of my self-destruction, but ultimately I didn’t care anymore. I was trapped in a perpetuating circle of imploding powerlessness that had me spinning so fast, I couldn’t see clear anymore. I couldn’t see the point in living and the meaninglessness was like a dense fog threatening to choke me. I had ignored every danger sign and I was steadily pushing myself over the precipice towards an inescapable and unfathomable depression.

Things had to get so painful and out of control before I understood that something had to change. My greed for admiration, and fear for rejection made me compromise myself and abandon my true feelings, wishes and desires. I had ascribed too much value to what other people thought of me, that I was willing to sacrifice myself for their applause. I was just an ingratiating puppet paying lip service, frozen at the core, cut off from the natural rhythm of my own heartbeat. I was too busy competing with others, that I failed to realize the only enemy was inside myself. I realized that as long as I was fighting, compromising and oppressing myself, I would never be happy. If I continued to betray who I really was, I could never grow. The war inside me, would only ablaze if I persisted on living my life out of fear of what others might think of me.

With my personal work and art I wished to challenge the way I perceived flaws, imperfections and other interpersonal differences. By embracing and accepting my edges, instead of fearing them, I can reclaim the disowned parts of myself, and create a strong foundation for acceptance of what I ordinary deny, hide and push away

If I can refrain from defining myself in terms of what is expected of me, I can let go of who I think I should be, in order to be who I truly am.

I’m not a perfect porcelain doll. I’m vulnerable, complex and edged. I have been broken so many times. I’m full of cracks, flaws and scars. But every edge is part of my unique distinctiveness. They define, complete and unite me. They are my greatest gift as they give me strength and character. If I dare to worship the beauty of my inner edges and imperfections and adorn myself with them, I can reclaim my authenticity, and become more whole, more powerful and more true. This can seem frightening, but in reality it is freeing. I refuse to let fear and shame govern my life anymore.

I’m still a work in progress, but I’m confident now, knowing I have my art to remind me that my beauty, strength and uniqueness lies within my inner edges.

—Written by Sabine Rahbek