“Don’t force yourself to fit where you don’t belong.” ~Unknown
When I was young, I was a real daddy’s girl. He was so proud of me and took me everywhere with him.
When my parents got divorced and my dad moved away to start a new life with a new family, I didn’t understand why he left, as I was still a child. I thought that he didn’t love me anymore. I felt abandoned and rejected. Perhaps if I’d been better behaved, prettier, cleverer then he wouldn’t have left me?
Until recently, I didn’t realize the impact that this has had on my adult relationships.
Because I fear abandonment and rejection, I’ve struggled to fit in and make friends.
I had a relationship with an older man who was very similar to my dad. I hoped that he would provide me with the love and affection that I didn’t get from my father and would heal my wounds. However, while things started off great and I thought I had found the one, since the relationship felt like home and was so familiar, he was actually emotionally unavailable, just like my dad, and unable to commit.
When he started to pull away, this triggered my insecurity. This caused me to pursue him more, as I desperately wanted this relationship work.
I tried to change myself into what I thought he wanted. I became clingy and jealous, which only drove him further away. When the relationship finally ended and he found someone else, I couldn’t understand why he could love her but not me. What was wrong with me? It confirmed my greatest fear, that I was unlovable and unwanted.
This pattern continued to follow me in my relationships, which left me feeling more unloved and rejected.
So I threw myself into my career. I had done well academically, however, I struggled to fit in and make friends there too.
I was good at my job, but I didn’t feel valued or appreciated and I was often ignored, excluded, and ostracized by my fellow team members. My workplace became a toxic environment. I was bullied, which led to anxiety and depression, and I couldn’t face going into work. Eventually I was let go, as they said I could no longer do my job.
Since my identity was tied up with being a successful career woman, when I no longer had a career, I didn’t know who I was. What was my purpose in life now? I was at the halfway stage of my life with no family of my own and no job. I took everything that other people had said and done to me very personally.
I shut myself away at home. I didn’t go out or socialize. I was on medication for anxiety and depression, and I just wanted to stay in bed. What was the point of getting up? I was worthless, I had no value, no one wanted me, I didn’t fit in anywhere. I couldn’t love myself, as others didn’t love me. I had no self-esteem and no confidence to try to start again.
I had therapy, read lots of self-help books and articles, and did guided meditations. Although I could relate to everything, I struggled to apply the things I had learned to myself.
As I spent time alone, listening to relaxing music, I had a lightbulb moment. I couldn’t see straight before then because I was so emotional. However, I am naturally a very logical and analytical person, and good at solving problems, which is why I was good at my job.
The idea came to me that if I took the emotions out of my issues, then I could see them in a logical and rational way and try to solve them like any other puzzle.
And then I thought, what if I saw my whole life as a jigsaw puzzle? It’s a perfect analogy, really, since my lifelong struggle has been fitting in.
Visualizing Our Lives as Jigsaw Puzzles
Each of us start with just one piece—ourselves.
When we start the puzzle at birth, it is easiest to join the first two pieces together—ourselves and our family.
As we grow up, we try to find other pieces that fit—friends, romantic relationships, jobs. We may be lucky and find other pieces that fit perfectly straight away, but more often than not we struggle to find the right pieces, and in our frustration, we may even try to force two pieces together that don’t actually fit. However, if we do this, we find over time that none of the other pieces seem to work together.
No matter how much time we have already invested in this ill-fitting piece—be it an unhealthy relationship or a job that doesn’t align with our purpose and values—we will eventually realize that we have to accept reality and remove the piece that we tried to force to work. This is the only way to make room for a new piece that will fit perfectly into place. A piece we won’t even try to find if we’re too attached to the one that doesn’t fit.
This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us, or the other piece we tried to force to fit, which means we don’t need to blame ourselves or them. We simply need to recognize we don’t fit together, and then learn the lessons we need to learn to stop repeating the same patterns.
This also doesn’t mean that we made a mistake with the ill-fitting piece. Every time we try to make the “wrong” things fit, we learn the value of taking our time to find the right piece.
Sometimes we learn that we need to focus on another area of the puzzle first—if, for example, we realize we need to take a break from relationships so we can build up our self-esteem and learn to love ourselves first.
And sometimes when we’re having difficulty with one section of the puzzle, like love, we recognize that we need to focus on a different area instead, where it might be easier to find the right pieces—like our career or social life, for example.
When we connect with like-minded people who have similar hobbies or interests and enjoy our company, we feel better about ourselves and start to realize how great we truly are.
If we change jobs to something we love, that shows off our strengths and enables us to succeed, this improves our confidence and helps us realize that we’re good enough and we do add value.
Once we become happier with ourselves and other areas of our life, we’ll send out more positive vibes into the world and attract the right kind of people. And we’ll have enough self-worth to recognize people who are not right for us and not waste our time.
If we don’t do these things, we may complete the puzzle, with all the elements of our life neatly in place and find that we have a piece left over. That piece is you or me, and it doesn’t fit because it was in the wrong box and never meant for this puzzle.
That was why we struggled to fit in—we chose things in all areas of our lives that were never right for us. So the problem wasn’t us, it was where we trying to force ourselves to fit.
It may feel daunting to start over, but when we find the right puzzle we belong to, everything stops feeling like a struggle because we slot easily into place. We will end up with a different picture than we originally imagined, but it will feel much better, because our piece will finally fit.
Where Am I Now?
After spending half my life struggling to fit in and complete my jigsaw puzzle, I have realized that I am the piece left over, and it’s now time to start again and find the right puzzle that I belong to. This time, I’m starting with the most foundational pieces first—self-love, self-confidence, self-worth.
There was never anything wrong with me. I just needed to recognize my patterns so I could stop trying to force things that weren’t right. I know my pieces are out there. And so long as I let go of the wrong ones, I know, in time, I’ll find them.