Here is February’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
I was assaulted in college. At the time, my hair was shoulder length and dark brown with auburn highlights. I have worn my hair short and red for a long time now, but the other day I noticed it has grown out and is shoulder length, dark brown, with red highlights again. I like the way it looks, but I had this intense negative reaction and wanted to chop it all off and dye it again because I am not the girl from college. I’m not her. Is it okay for me to chop my hair, or should I leave it like this to prove that I’m okay?
Signed, New and Improved
Dear New and Improved,
I am so sorry about what happened to you in college. It sounds like it was a very difficult experience that you would like to forget.
Your hair is your hair, and there is no right answer about how you wear it. Leaving it as is or cutting it short are both good options. What I care more about is your ability to accept and integrate the college-you who was assaulted into your self-image.
You signed your question New and Improved. I am happy to see that you feel new and improved. We should all be growing and changing, incorporating our life experiences and new-found wisdom into our sense of self to help guide us through life in better ways. And the girl who was assaulted is an important part of you. I encourage you to accept her and know her with loving, compassionate eyes. There is nothing wrong with her. She is not damaged or bad. She is hurt. She did not deserve to be assaulted.
Instead of abandoning or rejecting this part of you, I encourage you to give her what she needs and deserves. Accept her, love her, care for her, and remind her that the assault says nothing about her. It does not change her character, or her strength. It hurt her. It scared her. It changed her ability to feel safe, to trust others, maybe to trust herself. But those things can be healed. I hope you will try to process the assault in a healthy way and integrate that experience into your sense of self. We all have experiences that we would like to forget, things that happened to us, or things we did. When we push them away, hating that part of ourselves that was hurt or that hurt others, we often end up unable to find peace within ourselves. When we can love and accept every part of ourselves, it is much easier to feel healthy and whole, and live from a place of abundance, rather than from a place of fear. If you find this work hard to do on your own, a therapist can be incredibly helpful.
I want you to be able to make choices about your hair from a place of love and abundance. If you like your hair the way it is today, I want you to be able to keep it that way, and not feel like you have to cut it off because you are afraid of feeling like the assaulted girl in college. If you prefer your hair long, or short, blonde or purple, I want you to be able to change your look and not worry you are still hiding from a part of you that you just want to forget.
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.