Who Am I When I’m Part of a Group?

April 12th, 2012 by Laura Longley

I recently attended a weekend goddess retreat with about 35 other women.  I was really excited to go to this retreat because I have been struggling to find or create a group of like-minded women where I could develop some strong relationships. This was an ideal opportunity to meet some other women who are similar to me, and perhaps some new friendships would come of the weekend.

Just before I left home for the retreat on Friday afternoon I got some news that led to me feeling anxious. All the way to the retreat center, which was about an hour away, I was obsessing about this situation that I had allowed myself to become upset over. This is not the way I had wanted to arrive at the retreat.

I arrived about 20 minutes before the retreat was scheduled to officially begin, and there were several other women there already. Aside from one of the leaders who was registering people, I didn’t yet know anyone else. I knew a few of the people in the overall group very slightly, and didn’t know anyone well.  I tend to be rather shy when in a group of people that I don’t know, and my anxiety increased as I entered this environment.

The retreat began by each of us placing an item on the altar and explaining its significance to us, then having dinner together.  After dinner we did an exercise of setting an intention for the weekend. During this exercise we broke into small groups of 5 or 6 people.  I was designated as my small group’s leader because I was doing a presentation later in the weekend.

When it was time to reassemble in the larger group I got up from the table where we were sitting and crossed the room to my place in the larger group.  As I walked across the room I noticed that the rest of my small group was still sitting at the table talking with each other.  I felt a stab to my heart as I felt left out and excluded.  I returned to join my small group, but felt an outsider. This was a very familiar feeling for me, going all the way back to childhood.

I had been trying to fulfill my designated leader role by following the rules and rejoining the large group when we were told to. I was being the good girl and doing what I was supposed to do. By doing so I alienated myself from the smaller group.

As the evening progressed and we did another exercise that was less structured I felt more and more isolated.  Although I was sitting with other women working on a collage, I did not feel part of them.  When we gathered again in the large group to share our collages I began to feel another familiar feeling.  I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to run away.  Just leave.

On Saturday morning I woke up with a sore neck and a dull headache. I get migraines on occasion and this is how they usually start. I began fantasizing about getting a migraine and having an excuse to leave the retreat. How quickly I had gone from the dream of this retreat as a way to become part of a community of women to dreaming about once again isolating myself because I was feeling uncomfortable.

During the morning we did Kundalini yoga. I had never done it before, but my understanding is that it accesses and processes emotions.  After about an hour the leader asked if any of us wanted to share anything. Several people shared and I was feeling like I wanted to talk about how the previous evening I felt like running away, but I ended up not saying anything.

As we went into the next round of yoga I was beating myself up about not saying what was true for me. My intention when I decided to attend the retreat was to show up as myself and allow whatever happened to happen.  Not speaking what I was experiencing was not showing up. In fact, I noticed that I had even physically put myself in a place where a number of the other women could not see me during yoga.

I realized that what I was struggling with was that I did not know how to be part of a group when I was not the leader. I felt uncomfortable when I was not in charge and I didn’t know what my role was.

Ah…my role. I guess what this says is I didn’t know how to be me in a group; I only knew how to be a role. When I was the designated leader it was clear how to interact with the group. When I was only me, I struggled.

The roots of this go very deep for me. When I was growing up it was very important to follow the rules. It was important to do things the right way. These were messages I received from an extremely early age. My mother once told me that when I was two years old a friend of hers told her she was being too hard on me and making me a nervous wreck. Two years old. Very deep roots.

As much as I have become attuned recently to being myself authentically and speaking my truth, it has frequently been in a leadership role: as a counselor and coach, as a teacher and speaker. I see now that my real practice is in being myself in a group where there are no defined roles, there are no rules about who I’m supposed to be, there is no right way to show up. Where the only right way is to be me.


3 Responses

  1. wendymc12 says:

    Great post, but how did it end? Did you finally feel comfortable? Did you get to know people you liked? AHHH I feel like I need to read the next chapter because you got me hooked. 🙂 By the way, where do you find all of these cool groups?

    • To satisfy your curiosity, Wendy, here’s what happened next. That afternoon we got into our small groups for sharing and I shared what had come up for me. I said I wanted to be seen, not be invisible. It felt really good to say what was true for me even though it was also scary being so vulnerable.

      My group embraced and held me (figuratively). I quit feeling like I wanted to run away and escape, but I also honored that I needed some down/alone time and took a walk earlier in the afternoon, and then also went to bed early that evening. For the most part it felt as if these “escapes” were what I needed for processing, not running away.

      This particular group is the goddess circle at my church. In January I started attending a Unity church. I’ve been looking for a spiritual community that is a good fit for me for a long time. It feels right.

      • wendymc12 says:

        So proud of you. I love how the story ends. Now I feel better. The church sounds great. I’m sure you are going to make some great friends from this group. Take Care, and thanks for finishing the story.

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