Self-assertion has always been sort of hard for me. Entering middle school, I let people push me around a lot, and I was quiet about what I actually thought. In many cases, people I was close to treated me as the token Gay Best Friend. I existed to go shopping and tell them which boy was cuter. Nothing counted other than my gayness—not my intelligence nor my artwork.
It can be easy to fade into a ghost or a shadow suckof yourself, as I did. But each of us is a full person, not a shadow, not a ghost (unless you are, if so please email me and we can be pen pals). We all have feelings and emotions and opinions, and it’s important not to allow the world to treat you as anything less. In writing this piece, I hope, Dear Reader, to help you assert yourself and be the fullest version of yourself—the person that you are and not how other people see you.
1. Assess your current friendship group
If you’re feeling ignored or discouraged in your friend group, it’s important to think about why. Is it because your friends never check in on you? Is it because they don’t support your interests? When you establish the origin of your feelings, then you can brainstorm solutions to eliminate them.
Thinking about the way my friends make me feel has helped me a lot. In seventh grade, a lot of my friends were pining after popularity and spending their time with the supposed “cool kids.” Since I wasn’t necessarily popular, many of my friends had sort of ditched me for better offers. It made me feel inferior, as though somehow I would never feel whole. I started making art and writing journal entries to express my emotions, and it felt really good. Although it hurt to recognize that some of my friends had chosen to stop talking to me, it felt really, really good to know that I wasn’t getting what I needed from my friendships either. I had cracked the code as to why I was upset.
If you’re having trouble discovering what it is that’s making you feel ignored or used, try writing your thoughts down in a list. Or, reflect on a specific situation with your friend/friends that might reveal something about their character or disposition, and how that affects the way that they treat you. So, for example, say someone blew off plans with a friend, this might reveal that they are flaky or unreliable more generally. Also think about the dynamic of the friend group. Is everyone very different or very similar? Is there a “queen bee” of sorts? Is there a certain “role” that each person plays? Answering questions like these will help you assess the reasons behind your feelings.
2. Solutions, solutions, solutions.
You know what you’re feeling and where it’s coming from, now what can you do to eliminate it? Think about potential solutions. You can talk to your friends about your concerns or text them, if you think that would be more effective. But also remember, the solution doesn’t have to involve repairing the friendship. If you love soccer but your friends don’t support that, maybe a solution would be to join a soccer team, or to go to a park and start practicing soccer. Your passion should be your priority. If you do decide to talk to your friends and they react negatively, prioritize yourself. You are more not a doormat!
In my own life, I’ve relied on art and writing to release my emotions. This is immensely helpful because instead of expending energy on panic attacks, I could use it to do something interesting to me. I never really ended up confronting my friends, I just became closer with another group of people. But, of course, do what you think will be most successful in your circumstance.
3. Scope out other friends (if applicable!).
If you choose to do so, making new friends can be a good idea. If you aren’t a natural socialite, try attending a club or event to do with your interests. If you love painting and your school has a painting club, join it! When you share one interest with someone, chances are you’ll have other stuff in common, too.
This summer, I went to art camp where I met a girl named Eleanor who ended up becoming one of my best friends. Originally we bonded over art, but over time, we realized that we had similar taste in music, fashion, movies, and more. So, if you originally bond with someone over whatever club or event you attended there’s a chance it could open more doors!
You can also strengthen the bonds that you already have: Try getting closer with acquaintances that intrigue you and strengthening existing friendships.
4. Speak your mind.
Whether you are starting anew with another friend group, or sticking with the one you had before, speaking your mind is really important. Establish yourself in an old friend group by sharing your thoughts and opinions. This will show your friends that you aren’t reverting back to old ways, and that you have opinions, too!
It’s always a little frightening to share your opinion. There’s the underlying thought, *gulp* What if someone disagrees with me? I assure you, disagreements are OK: You don’t have to think the same as other people. You have ideas that other people should know and respect. That being said, there will be times when you don’t have an opinion on a certain topic, or you haven’t thought about the topic that much, and that’s fine, too. Just remember, a good candidate for a friend will respect your (non-offensive) opinion, even if it’s different than theirs.
In new friend groups, try to learn from what happened before. Not being able to express what you think sucks, so speak your amazing, beautiful mind like the full human that you are. Most importantly, saying what you think will help you prove to yourself that your opinions are valuable. Your opinions will likely fluctuate and change as you grow and learn stuff, without that change it’s hard to grow and evolve as a person. Whether your opinions are changing or not, know that you are allowed to disagree with others, and that what you think is important.
Being treated like a doormat by others is terrible. With these tips, I hope you know that you are more than someone’s shadow. You are not a beige doormat, you are a human being, existential proof of the beauty of being multifaceted. ♦