As a therapist, I often hear variations of, “I just want to get to a place where I don’t care what people think of me.” My response is typically, “It’s not about what they think. It’s about what you know.”
We’re insecure, so we cover up. We hide our faults and fears and feelings because we expect to be rejected. When we get good at hiding, we inevitably lose ourselves.
We become chameleons, mirroring, pretending, and acting to impress others. What they think of us is a measure of how well we perform, but it’s stressful and worse; it’s an emotionally empty experience because all the while we believe…
If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.
That’s the basis of shame and a projection of self. Despite the fact that we don’t truly know ourselves, we decide how others will think and feel about us. We expect to be looked down upon by virtue of the labels the world uses to define us: drug addict, incest survivor, convicted felon, alcoholic, Bi-polar, welfare mom, good for nothing or good for “only one thing.”
Children believe what they’re taught. We were ingrained with the false beliefs that we are bad, stupid, worthless, ugly and otherwise not good enough. We were the kids who were picked last in gym class. We’re the kids who were called “spaz” and “dog.” We kept terrible secrets and endured the abuse of bullies at home and at school. The long terms effects of which center around feel unwanted and intrinsically flawed.
My job is in large part to help folks to see and accept that those things were never true.
This is no small task.
When at last we reconcile the lies we were taught, we face a much more daunting task:
Discovering the truth.
This requires input from good people and a whole lot of guts. George Bernard Shaw said, “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” An awful lot of us are doing at 30 or 40 or 50 what should have been given to us from day one. We are building identities and learning to value ourselves. That’s what self-esteem really is.
This creates a new set of problems – but much better problems. When you develop a strong identity complete with passions and purposes, you inevitably stand out. When you stand out, people notice you and that’s uncomfortable. You’ll fear screwing up and losing what you’ve gained. You’ll find as many of us have that you have only two fears:
That they’ll like you and that they won’t.
Some will admire and others will resent you. Your successes will make insecure people feel small. The trick is – don’t make yourself small. Don’t walk on eggshells. Don’t be less than you are. You alone have the right to define you. What others say is more often a reflection of their character than of your worth.
As you continue to grow and heal, you will become more secure in who you are, what you want, and what you stand for. You will find yourself investing in others and you’ll help them to learn what you’ve learned. You’ll pay it forward and understand the joy of serving others.
People who are secure in themselves are free to take other’s opinions in stride because they’re simply that – opinions. They’re not facts or definitions. They’re impressions, judgments, and too often, distortions.
50 years ago, Alan Watts said there exists a taboo in our culture against truly knowing yourself.
He’s still right.
Get to know you and start relating to you as you would a friend.