behind the facade

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It’s been mentioned, time and again, how social media can warp our perceptions of reality, in addition to increasing our anxiety and depression. But it is only a manifestation to a greater phenomenon: we often define ourselves by others’ actions and choices, based on where the herd walks.

Social comparison theory, formed by Leon Festinger, states that humans have an internal drive to evaluate their abilities and opinions, mainly through their comparison to others. Hence why it is not very surprising that social media becomes a means of ultimately evaluating ourselves and our lives, whether we realize it or not. We all want to know we are good in some way… whether it is a good person, a talented pianist, an attractive performer, an excellent engineer, a great writer.

For me, what is also wrapped up in appearing as if I have a good life, is the social expectation to be happy and positive all the time. I post pictures on Instagram of my delicious Italian dinner, or a selfie during a fun day out with friends. Yet again, my mind goes to the same bigger picture. I should be happy and positive and always good. Everyone around me comments on my wise words and my positive mindset, and gives me multiple likes for posts that show my rolling every setback off my back. Thus, the pressure builds and mounts, and soon I am burdened with the need to be a person I am not. Deep inside, I begin to cry out, why can’t I just be honest? Why must I pretend that I am okay when I know that in reality, I’m struggling to stay afloat?

And this is my reality: I’m not always okay. Perhaps I am strong, but I have my breakdowns when I feel quite the opposite. I have garnered many scars in my life, and they have made it difficult for me to overcome as I would like to. And honestly speaking, the setbacks are getting to me. Submitting my novel to multiple agents and receiving rejections one by one twist my insides with pain. I am discouraged and fearful, and losing touch with the passion others have frequently admired. The worst is when they say I should stay positive, not giving heed to the emotions and pain I express. The silent message is not lost on me: just get over it. The pain does not matter, just be happy and positive.

But it’s never that easy. If there is one thing I have learned in my work as a mental health therapist, it is that healing from pain is never as easy as “getting over it.” It’s okay to feel angry, sad, discouraged, fearful, anxious, nervous, etc. Those emotions matter too, just as much as the happy ones. Contrary to what we think, ignoring those emotions only make matters much, much worse. I have seen it too many times in others in order for me to say this with full certainty. It is the pressure, the facade that are now choking my passion, creativity and ability to overcome.

The herd has a tendency to lead people into a shallow, confined existence, one we never come to see until the nihilistic thoughts and empty feelings gnaw us from the inside out. Social expectations can silence us and severely restrict us from actualizing our true individuality and potential. But the antidote is this: we need to give ourselves permission to feel, to experience the full spectrum of emotions in this life. We need to allow ourselves to simply be who we are. We cannot live a whole-hearted life if we do not acknowledge our full humanity. We are wired to feel, and things won’t always be easy or good… so we don’t have to lie and pretend that it always is.

Sometimes putting down the facade, in whichever form we have, is what we need.

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freeing ourselves from others

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I’m sure that there are those out there who feel pressured and overwhelmed by the thoughts and opinions of others. Everyone has their say, and there are some out there who feel a particular strong need to impress it upon others… even if it means ignoring someone’s free will and individuality. This has been getting to me as of late.

Lately, I’ve been getting headaches. And I knew it’s all been psychological; our feelings can manifest in our bodies in this way (i.e., somatic symptoms). When we get anxious, we feel tense. When we’re depressed, our bodies feel zapped of all energy. Our body, mind and spirit are all connected.

With all the craziness that has been happening in my life, I spent a good hour meditating last night and soon realized why I was having so many headaches. Everyone’s voices have been in my head, mucking up my thoughts and consequently my being. Anna, do this. Anna, do that. Anna, you’re squandering your potential. Anna, [insert opinion on my life here]… on and on it goes, all the things people are telling me to do, telling me how to see it and how to be. Until my brain finally exploded in pain, screaming, shut up! I’m so sick of hearing all of you!

I just want to hear me. I just want to hear what I need, and what my Inner Voice says is best for me. Only I know what’s best for me, no one else. Who makes you think that you know what my potential is? What makes you think you know what’s right for my life? No one knows that, except for my Maker. So don’t act as if you have some authority over my life.

I know I am not alone in feeling bogged down sometimes by the opinions and feedback of others who think they know what you should do with your life. I hope these words can help someone else, as they are the reminders I need constantly. Only you know what’s best for you. Only you know who you can and want to be. This life is not for others to live, but yours. You’re the one who’ll have to face all of the consequences of your choices. Not them. So they don’t get to have any say in how you live your life.

One technique I’ve been doing that has been helping is mindfulness meditation. You can find apps or scripts online, but it helps train your mind to be rooted in the present and to let all thoughts and people’s voices in your head go. And specifically in this case, it also helps to let go of all those opinions and should-bes. Mindfulness is a practice that orients your mind to accept yourself and the world as it is in the present moment. It’ll clear out all the junk in your mind, and give you the clarity you need.

We need to learn to let go of other people’s opinions of us, to stop letting their thoughts control us. It’s the only way we’ll be able to be who we are, our true selves. What they say does not have to go, and does not have to hold significance we do not want it to. It’s a self-care and self-love practice, by not forcing ourselves into a mold or into a kind of thinking that is not truly us. Some people may be too dogmatic, too judgmental, too needy, and try to force you to be someone you’re not, but they are who they are. It has nothing to do with us. Just let it all go. Let it all pass without judgment. It is what it is, and people will be who they are.

And the same also applies to us… allow yourself to be who you are. And let the rest of it go.

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.