Before college, I had no backbone.
Throughout high school, I had many toxic friendships where I tolerated being treated horribly because I didn't think I deserved better. I was never capable of speaking up for myself since I deeply feared hurting people or worse — losing them. I was an avid people-pleaser who always tried to make those around me happier at the expense of my own well-being and happiness. People exploited me constantly for it, and I didn't have many people that genuinely cared about me. Being a people-pleaser felt like an almost terminal illness that I would never be able to get rid of.
That was, of course, until I entered college.
College drove me almost crazy at first. This was because I was constantly in situations where I was uncomfortable. The people I lived within my dorm broke my stuff and were inconsiderate to how I felt, guys I met overstepped their boundaries, friends humiliated me, etc. At first, it was easier to allow myself to be treated badly out of the fear of getting lashed out on or having people dislike me. But in time, from getting repeatedly disrespected, I decided it was time for me to self-advocate since I started to grow depressed from being hurt often.
I distinctly remember being treated badly over and over again by the same friend, until one night I just snapped. She made a mean joke about me, as she usually did, in front of our group of friends, but instead of saying nothing I told her for the first time that her jokes were mean, and just felt straight up rude and disrespectful. After that day, it seemed that she permanently gained a new sense of respect for me, and so did I for myself.
Ever since that moment, I was able to self-advocate in a way I never could have dreamed of before, and it felt wonderful. I became more honest and direct, which was freeing. Uncomfortable situations I was put it felt a lot less uncomfortable since I found my inner voice for pretty much the first time in my entire life. Friends who actually valued me gravitated towards me and the toxic ones who didn't like the new me left. The absence of them did not bother me one bit which was surprising. I understood my worth and am understanding it more and more each day.
Even though college almost brought me to a breaking point, I am grateful that it did. Without it, I would be still stuck in the same comfort zone I was stuck inside my entire life. I am finally free.