moving against the herd

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As a self-defined individualist and free spirit, it’s sometimes a struggle to live amongst the crowd. When you molded and embraced a very unique way of thinking and living for yourself, it’s expected that people will push up against you, or even criticize or judge you. One observation I have made in society is how much people dislike/resist change or difference. And you can boil this down all the way into a micro level when someone rolls their eyes or tosses a disdainful comment your way just because you’re different from them.

On a personal level, it’s always been a difficult act for me to stay true to myself, all the while allowing myself to stay open to alternative perspectives. I strive to keep an open mind, but I have moments when I feel as if I am “too open” and almost allow someone to take complete control of my decisions. Letting them tell me what to do.

I’ve been reading a book by Brene Brown, and one of the many things that resonated with me in it is this: “When we start polling people, it’s often because we don’t trust our own knowing. It feels too shaky and too uncertain,” and “…rather than respecting a strong internal instinct, we become fearful and look for assurances from others.” I fall guilty to this behavior, and I’m calling myself out. I ask people’s opinion all the time on my decisions. But then I have two conflicting parts of me: one that is assertive, empowered, and seeking to actualize her full potential and forever stay true to who she is, and the other that is still seeking acceptance and approval of others, while doubting her judgment and instinct on things.

It’s been ingrained in me to avoid conflict, and I’m becoming more aware of how embedded it is in me through my choices and behaviors. Instead of asking my inner self, I ask others. And when I ask others, I agree and even question my judgment. I avoid conflict. Yet by avoiding conflict and rejection, and agreeing with everything, I’m giving control of my life decisions to others. I’m contradicting my true, inner desire, which is to be me in everything I do. It’s no wonder then why it’s been so hard for me to hear my inner voice and instincts.

In my last post, I talked about the pressure of staying practical in all things, which has caused me to gradually lose touch with my “dreamer” or creative side. I think this is a perfect example of this struggle. I’ve been having pressure all around me to be practical about everything and anything, but at the same time, I feel my inner, empowered self resisting, saying, “But Anna, I don’t want to be practical all of the time. I want to engage in my dreams, my imagination, my hopes and aspirations. Do we have to give that up just to stay practical? Can’t we hold both? Please, don’t forget your dreams.”

People keep telling me what to do, and although I understand their logic, I also want to do things that are right for me. I want to trust my instincts. I want to stay true to my nature.

So this is my area of growth: learning to be okay with moving against the herd, and with rejecting what people tell me when I don’t feel right about it, no matter how “logical” it sounds. Because as much as we forget this, logic does not equate with truth. Rather, logic is a means of understanding truth. And there are almost always other ways of perceiving. And although something may be right for one person, that does not mean it is right for everyone. Sometimes it helps to get others’ perspectives, but we have to be aware that we don’t have to do it another person’s way if it doesn’t feel right for us. It’s okay to disagree and go your own way. Part of life is exploring and discovering what is specifically right for you.

And sometimes trusting our instincts and following our hearts means risking rejection or being unconventional. But then we have to ask ourselves in those moments: am I going to let myself, or everyone else take control of my life? Do I want to actualize my true inner self, or become like the herd? Who do I want to be?

The choice is always up to us.

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the two selves

                     Naty Chabanenko

It’s the same with people. You put up disguises, masks and decorations so that all they can see is your version of the perfect self, with flaws covered and hidden away. Because people will make assumptions about you, whether it’s right or wrong, whether you like it or not. Since you know you’ll always be judged, you don on your delicately placed mask so they will take your disguise as who you are. But if the onlooker is astute enough, he or she will see past your dogged attempts to hide. The masks protects you, but if you take it on for too long, its artificial quality will become you. You’ll begin to appear false, fake, cold and weak. You become one without bravery and courage. You stop seeing yourself truthfully… you become incapable of loving yourself.

But if you make no effort to conceal your flaws to the world, people will recognize the real person. The real you. You appear genuine. Honest. You are unapologetic in who you are and take no shame in being that, flaws intact. Paradoxically, you become a mystery, an enigmatic thing. And people grow curious, is there something more? They see you for your true potential and find security in your being. You do not become a false image as is the fate of wearing a mask… you simply become you, for all you can be. In the act of being real, you begin to love and accept you.

In this society, it seems that it is much harder to be real than it is to maintain an image. Yet as you get older, you’ll grow weary and the mask will crack. Perhaps, now, it is already cracking. And you are right, being the real you is certainly a battleground in of itself as well. But if virtues are our tools to carving our future and identity… then authenticity and honesty will be the order of my day.

the fight

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For one moment, I will be unabashedly blunt.

It’s fucked up when a six-year-old kid anticipates being rejected. Ignored. Bullied. Treated like shit. When people see me, they want to treat me like shit. There’s something wrong with me. And then she grows up, believing she is ugly, unnattractive, worth shit, not good enough, unlovable. She still expects maltreatment; hell, she welcomes it. Because that’s normal. And being treated like a human, with respect, is weird, not right. Words cannot adequately describe how many levels of fucked up that contains.

As she grows up, she begins suffering with depression. She hates herself, but won’t subconsciously admit it because society likes optimistic and perky, not sad and pessimistic. People can’t handle sad. They can only handle happy. So she hides, stuffs her feelings away, smashes them down every time they fight to come out. When the tears stings her eyes, she quickly wipes them away and lies to herself that it’s all alright. She numbs that part of herself, to the point that it becomes unconscious habit. And then she wonders, why do I not feel anymore? Why do I feel so empty? All the while, never realizing how she has internalized the treatment the world gave her. People said her feelings are worth shit, so she doesn’t attend to them. People said she isn’t worth shit, so she looks in the mirror and hates her reflection.

Yet slowly but surely, she starts waking up. She starts seeing a therapist, she takes up the value of being honest with herself, even if it’s ugly, even if it hurts, even if it means looking at those pieces of her soul she has fought to ignore. And she begins to realize how much the environment she grew up fucked her up so much that she cannot even see her true reflection. Her inner beauty. She has no idea what it looks like but deep down, she yearns so very intensely for it to be true. That she really is beautiful. That she is worthy. Loveable.

But in her journey to self-discovery and self-growth, she realizes that all this time she has been desperately seeking others’ approval. That her worth is still contingent on others: My worth only exists when someone acknowledges it. But that is not how it should be. Her worth is not contingent on others. Change does not come from “finally gaining the recognition of her beauty that she has longed for,” but from recognizing that beauty in herself.  Because otherwise, she will be stuck in the same vicious cycle of seeking validation, and being more than devastated when she does not receive it. The truth is, she is worthy, regardless of whether someone sees it or not. She is worth more than those labels and horrible, horrible names people gave her. No one defines her; she defines her. And that is a significant realization indeed.

It’s an ongoing battle, between the truth and all the lies she was told growing up. But it’s one worth fighting. Because she is worth so much more than the lies she was told.

fighting to be yourself

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I’m sick of being told who to be, of people who do not know the real me defining my identity, blubbering, “‘X’ is who you are.” Yet you judge me based on your experience of reality; your view and social construction of reality is not true for everyone else. I’m sick of you making generalizations based on minute encounters… you have not seen my mind, my heart, my passions. I’m sick of you making judgments of what I can and cannot do. I’m sick of you thinking that you can “read” people–spouting pride until you are naught but a forest of arrogance. I’m sick of you assuming without looking at the BIG picture, as if everyone views the world the same way as you, as if people are not any different, shaped by their own unique life situations. That social, familial, socioeconomic, gender, and racial arenas do not make a difference. I’m sick of you saying that you know who I am, and shoving that mold on me as if I’ll fit. I only have this to say to you. Get your head out of the fucking sand. You are not God. You cannot read my mind and you cannot judge my character when you made no attempt to understand who I am.

I spent most of my life letting people define me, telling me who I was and what I was capable of. People have given me unsolicited advice and have shoved their standards and views onto me, forcing me to accept them as “truth.” But growing up, I begun to see that their words have as much power as I give them. I think that many of us still continue to live being affected by this, subconsciously operating on the assumption that people hold much more power over us than they actually do. That their words somehow matter and how they view us is a reflection of who we are. But having spent my whole life encountering people who have gotten “me” wrong, I came to realize that people are much worse at reading me than they think they are. If I had continue to let everyone’s words define me, I would not be here writing this. Ever since I was 5, people have told me that I’m: ugly, unattractive, weird, different, a loser. Kids either made fun of me or ignored me. I was ostracized for my racial identity and experienced terrible racism. Most of the time, I was not worth attention, unless it was negative. I spent a majority of my life believing I was not good enough for others.

I suffered with dysthymia (a chronic kind of depression) for 9 years of my life and in all honesty, I may have followed through with killing myself if I continued to believe in those horribly untrue definitions people told me. But now those words have no power over me. Because I am a strong advocate of the postmodern view, that the world, as well as who we are and how we see others, is individually constructed. We all see life through a unique lens that is molded by our experiences. I construct my own identity, regardless of whatever interpretations or assumptions people make on that based on their experiences. Their words have no power, because I have stopped giving them power. Even if people today say that I’m: pretty, attractive, smart, intelligent, open… I do not need their confirmation to know I am those things. And when people say negative things, or things that are completely incongruent with my identity, I pay them no heed. Because whether good or bad, people are not constructing my identity.

And there is such freedom in that. Because when you break it down, life is based on your perspective. You, and only you, hold the power to construct your life and your identity. These people only define you when you let them. We always have a choice… a choice to rise above what society dictates, those harming standards, to not be like them or think like them, to be a complete you, without hesitation. There will always be people who will not appreciate who you are and what you are worth. But if their words don’t matter, then that won’t matter either. In your lifetime, the world will never stop shoving its standards on you, seducing you to follow as they do. But don’t give up. Be courageous. Push back. Define your own standards. Fight for your passions, for what’s true in your heart, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You have to learn to fight for yourself, in order to learn to fight for anything else in this world.