People who say they don’t care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don’t care what people think.
– George Carlin
When I was younger I cared a lot about what people thought of me. I spent a lot of time twisting myself into knots in order to be what others expected of me. It was more than not having a sense of self- I didn’t trust myself. When I saw other people doing things differently than myself, especially people that I considered happy, successful or worthy of admiration, I would automatically assume I’d been doing something wrong and they were “normal”. In order to be normal myself I would alter my ideas. This was all largely subconscious which made it difficult to even recognize there was an issue, much less overcome that issue.
I believe this is ultimately what led to my eventual diagnosis of clinical depression and a lot of the food issues I’ve touched on in this blog. Through various sources I’ve spent years working to get to the root of these issues and learn to trust myself. I realize now though that I may have been trying to overcompensate and swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. I don’t blame myself for this and I’m not here to confess this fallacy because I don’t think it’s worthy of confession- in fact I think it was perhaps a necessary and inevitable part of the healing/growing process. But now it’s time to find some (say it with me now) balance.
On the path to learning to be myself and not bow to what others think is “normal” I became, at times, stubborn. I rejected opposing points of view out of hand because I didn’t want to be influenced by others. I’ve seen others do this countless times and must admit that I was usually scribbling in my armchair-psychologists notebook while doing so. “This one can never admit she’s wrong because it would damage her sense of self. That one won’t listen to new evidence because it might undermine his authority.”
I could clearly see the benefit of taking in and analyzing new evidence for other people but was not always willing to do this myself. I was tired of being moved by others opinions of me so I tried to dig my heels in, put my fingers in my ears and started shouting, “LALALALALA,” at the top of my voice. The problem is that sometimes I needed to hear what others were saying, about myself and about the situation. I was so busy trying not to care what people think that at times I wasn’t even listening to their thoughts any more.
This is not to say that I have been completely immovable, I still harbor a lot of insecurities and still care a lot about what others think (though certainly less so than in the past). But I thought my GOAL was to be immovable. To issue a big, “Fuck you,” to anyone who disagreed or didn’t like me exactly as I am. And I was way off base with that assumption.
Wait, so I should listen to what others think?
I don’t want to go back to that very unhappy person I was before- the one who twisted herself in knots and assumed everyone else “got it” while she was left in the dark. It wasn’t fun or healthy to be her. But I recognize now that stubbornly digging in my heels is no more healthy/productive than bending to the will of others. In fact when I was arm-chair analyzing those people I mentioned above I really hoped I’d never turn out like that- unable to see my own flaws or continue to grow. It all comes down to being selective about what I let in.
I am learning to recognize that when people I trust/respect see a problem with my behavior or have a differing opinion I should consider that carefully. Rejecting an idea out of hand because it doesn’t mesh with my limited perspective or ideals is immature and ridiculous- especially when it comes from a person I trust and respect. This doesn’t mean I have to resort to my past behavior of twisting to please others though. I now realize that it is up to me carefully consider these ideas but still may ultimately disagree- the balance comes in the ability to listen and decide for myself. There is no longer the assumption that others are more capable of discerning information than myself. I choose to listen to people I trust and respect and one of those trustworthy people is me.
So, I’ve figured out that this unattainable goal (for me at least) of never caring what others think wasn’t such a lofty aspiration after all. The better goal is to let in the thoughts/reactions of others to our own behaviors and opinions but not to allow ourselves to be controlled by those thoughts/reactions.
Accepting the process
I’m happy I’ve figured this out and am learning this lesson but I won’t be berating myself for not knowing it sooner. Having a different (perhaps better) understanding of things now doesn’t necessarily mean my past self was bad/wrong. It is appropriate for knowledge to change over time and we celebrate each step- much like we celebrate an 8 year old learning to multiply and then ten years later that same child learning calculus. The fact that the 8 year old didn’t know calculus doesn’t mean he/she was less smart then- it means he/she was taking steps in the learning process. I hope to always be a part of that process and I fully expect to wake up someday only to realize that I’ve learned something even more incredible. Something that will make me realize that THIS lesson was a stepping stone, not the destination.