overcoming what other people think

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Oftentimes people will say ad nauseum that you shouldn’t care what other people think. My response to that used to be, “Easier said than done.” I think this is a sentiment that echoes with many people.

But during my self-revolution quest in the past five months, I began to ask myself, why is it hard to not care what others think and not take things personally? And that is a very loaded question… everyone’s answer to that would be different. But if I were to attempt to boil down the reasons in an overview, it would be this:

Family of origin. Any issue or problem in our relationships can be traced back to our family of origin. Why? Because that is where every human being learns how to relate to another human being–be it functional, or dysfunctional. Maybe you were abused, and in your search to feel like a “good boy” or “good girl,” you try to please others. Or maybe you were shamed by your parents or family when you attempted voice your thoughts or assert your individuality. Or maybe your parents pressured you to be someone who they wanted you to be, regardless of what you wanted or how you felt–so you learned other people matter above you. I could write a book on all the possible ways family can affect us. But bottom line, it is helpful to look at how your family may have taught you–explictly or implicitly–to care what people say or think.

Lack of personal boundaries. Although this can be traced to your family of origin, boundaries are important to mention because they affect us in our present relationships. When you have too rigid of boundaries, you don’t allow people in and you suffer a dearth of intimacy and social connection. On the flip side, when you have too open of boundaries, whatever anyone says goes, and you give up all power over yourself and your choices. Both extremes are dangerous spaces to be in. Someone with open boundaries will be the one who overly cares what others think, because they have not yet learned that not what everyone says is right or true (in actuality, a lot of what others aggressively claim can be flat out wrong or illogical). But people with open boundaries don’t consider that possibility, and operate with the belief that everyone else is right and true, and they are wrong. Boundaries are necessary in this light, because it is essential to know where you stop and the other person begins.

Lack of identity. This too can go back to your family of origin. But for whatever reason, a person has not developed a strong sense of self, so they depend on others for acceptance and approval–it is like the cocaine hit to your sense of self. But then it disappears, and the person looks for the next hit, the next person to give them approval. They conform to what “sounds good,” sometimes borrowing others’ identities to gain a semblance of stability. On the flip side, someone with a strong sense of identity may face criticism or rejection, but is able to consider each individual instance with rationality, judging what is true or untrue to them. They can support a viewpoint they agree with without hesitation, or they can reject another’s opinion without growing angry or reactive.

I write this in hopes that this may inspire others. I, like many others, cared what people thought–I would seek to please others and make them happy at the expense of myself, while growing reactive when people said hurtful things. My last relationship was a perfect example. But it is by enduring that dysfunctional relationship I realized how much my thoughts and behaviors were hurting me.

If I were to simplify the many lessons I learned from that experience, and provide some tips to others who may be going through the same journey as me:

1. Boundaries are essential to a healthy relationship, not just for the other person, but for you. You do not have to put up with hurtful or abusive behavior from others if it affects you negatively. Everyone has different tolerance levels, so find what yours is. Our well-being matters and it is up to us to take care of ourselves.

2. How people act or react to you is a reflection of who they are, NOT OF YOU. I would bold this one ten times more if I could. If you’re like me and have a tendency to blame yourself for everything, this is important to know. Even if by chance you are being hurtful to someone else, there are healthy ways of asserting yourself in those circumstances without disrespecting them. And it works conversely. How you treat others is a reflection of who you are.

3. Your thoughts and feelings matter. ALWAYS. What matters most though, is that you understand that within yourself. If someone disagrees and invalidates you, as long as you validate yourself, it won’t matter much what others say. Even if the person doggedly tries to convince you that you should feel something different, or that your needs are not important, remind yourself that that is untrue, because everyone’s needs, including yours, are always important.

4. It is okay to reject another person’s worldview. People have opinions, it doesn’t mean they are always right or true. If you’ve considered someone’s worldview and it does not resonate, then you are allowed to reject it. All of us are trying to find our truths, and not every shoe will fit.

There is hope for change, if you are willing to do the work. I personally am still a work in progress, but I feel like I’m arriving to a place in my life now where people’s thoughts and reactions don’t matter as much to me anymore. The reason for that is because I’ve taken time to know who I am, and in that knowledge, I feel assured in trusting myself and my judgments. Sometimes people are right, sometimes they’re wrong, but it really comes down to discovering yourself and what you stand for–then the answer you seek will come easier and clearer.

 

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facing the unconsious

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The fear inside me grows heavier and heavier. All the darkness and pain scare me, yet I have no idea why. It’s as if I am staring into the eyes of a monster, but I can barely make out its face. It resides in the deep recesses of my unconscious, and my startling inability to discern its name, appearance or nature leaves me without any words. All I know if that when I sense its presence, I am overcome by a deep need to abort. I run the other direction.

And here, is where my insight falls short, my awareness runs out, my tendency to shift toward positivity breaks down. Nothing works. I am up against an enemy that I do not know.

Freud argues that our unconscious is composed of unrealized, and often socially unacceptable, desires and wishes, along with traumas and painful memories that our mind has worked to repress. Most of us are only aware of things existing on the conscious plane, unless our developed defenses are challenged and/or we work to build our self-awareness of the ways our unconscious leaks out in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Considering this, my current situation is pushing me up strongly against my normal defenses. I am sitting in the in-between, within the tension of what I want to do, and what is best for me. I am at the brink of self-sabotaging, and I know it, but the other, darker part of me is fighting for control, pushing me to run. Run from what? What truly scares me is my inability to answer that simple question. I don’t know. But here I am, pushing, running, numbing, kicking and scratching, anything to keep me from falling in too deep, from being captured and seen. If I move enough, never stay in one place for too long, I’ll somehow be safe. There is safety in my evasions. And this is why I cannot settle. There is something in the water that will get me if I do.

Nothing makes much sense, because logic and intellect sink like swords in quicksand when you are up against the creatures of your unconscious. There’s a reason why we are running away and repressing them in the first place.

There is one thing I do know for sure. In order to get to the healthier, better place, we have to venture through the thick of the unknown forest. We have to rise up to our monsters, our demons, and make the choice to push up against them. If we run, they win. If we repress, they’ll continue to control us in our ignorance. It’s so much easier to run… but by running, we are choosing to live in bondage. This is uncharted territory, and this is the difficult call: to trust, and to have faith. Trusting in God, trusting in yourself, trusting in the fact that despite the arduous nature of the journey, if you keep trekking, you will make it out of the forest. You will overcome someday. The call is for you to submit yourself to the unknown, and have faith that through all the dark and pain, you are reaching a better place, coming closer to a healing you so desperately need… closer to becoming a better you. The more you challenge and push up against yourself, the clearer your inner self becomes. The more control you end up gaining.

The journey, therefore, calls upon courage. Courage is not a personality trait, as some may believe it to be, but an act that anyone can do. It’s about making a choice. Despite fear, I will press forward. I will enter the tension and allow myself to be moved. Here we stand at the precipice, faced with our choice: to jump, or not to jump? That certainly is the question.

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.