- By: AmorFati
I find myself having this conversation frequently in a variety of contexts, but it always goes something like this…
Friend: “I wish I could just say or do [something about something]”
Me: “Well why don’t you?”
Friend: “Because I’m afraid what [person/people/group] will [think/judge/talk] about me.”
Now, given, I grew up in a somewhat unique expierence. I was always The Weird One, and my parents didn’t exactly discourage my expressions of self that were different from other kids. When I was 6 and wanted pink hair like Cyndi Lauper, my mom let me get pink streaks in my hair. “Why not?” she said… of course I was teased…mercilessly…by all the other kids at school. It hurt, but I couldn’t do anything but own it. There are a million of these stories through out my childhood- I was a B cup by the 3rd grade (believe it or not, this did NOT make me popular), my mom was known in our community as being “weird”, our family car was painted uniquely, My mom made art (and jewelry) out of roadkill, which I proudly wore not really understanding that other people wouldn’t see it as cool. High school was pretty much the same, some struggle for identity, in a constant battle with other people’s perceptions. I was the only goth kid in my high school, other kids beat me up, threw rocks at me, called me names, I’m pretty sure there was even an after school club dedicated to hating me.
It wasn’t fun at the time, and I spent most of my childhood and adolescence alienated from other kids my age- the kids who teased me and hated me and called me names. I found myself hanging out with an older crowd, people who had already graduated (or dropped out) but had enough life expierence to have a better understanding of the outcast loner that just never quite fit in… As an adult I’ve been able to embrace my “otherness” and I don’t allow social perceptions or the concept of “social norms” to guide my behavior. That is not an excuse for being impolite, or a justification for treating other people like crap, because I do still have a moral compass, but it’s my own unique moral compass that I’ve developed over years of questioning my own (and society’s) values. This is how I ended up with tattoos on my face, willing to loudly voice my opinions regardless of how unpopular they are.
All this may sound like a sob story, but I’m grateful for my childhood education in human cruelty. Where I never found acceptance among my peers, I realized there were other people, other groups, other social structures that liked me for who I was, and it allowed me to realize that there will always be people who hate you, for whatever reason, and on the flip side there will be people who genuinely appreciate you for who you are, and that you are capable of controlling who is in your life and how they affect you.
But I’m constantly amazed how many people I meet, still, as an adult, that are so scared of other people’s perceptions that it limits their ability to really be themselves. I’m talking friends decades older than me, friends the same age, younger people (although I tend to think insecurity is just the hallmark of youth). Here on the internet people are constantly getting upset, having their feelings hurt, and being deeply affected by the comments of total strangers. I find this somewhat puzzling, but I realize that not everyone has had the same life expierence or come to the same conclusions that I have.
So here’s a quick guide to being secure with who you are, being comfortable with your own feelings, and being able to maintain emotional independence without feeling stifled by other people’s responses…
1. Own your feelings: When you expierence your own feelings, you have to allow yourself to feel them without guilt, and process them appropriately. When you voice these feelings to others, they may have a negative reaction (there’s nuance here of context and wording, but I’m attempting to be general). The negative reaction people have to your feelings is not your responsibility. If you are being honest with yourself and others (excluding people who are being intentionally hurtful), that’s the best you can do for yourself. You need to give other people the space and respect to have their own feelings and realize that this is not something you can control, nor is it something you should take responsibility for.
2. Whether you say it out loud or not, you are who you are: Altering your behavior to please others doesn’t change your impulses, your thoughts, or your feelings. Stifling your own thoughts, feelings, or behaviors for others doesn’t make you less of who you are, it just controls other people’s perceptions of you. When you try to do this, you build up walls, and you do not allow the other person to fully know you or accept you for who you are. This is how people end up with secret lives, cheating on their partners, and often ruining intimate relationships. Honestly communicating what you want and being up front about it can be uncomfortable, but it prevents the scenario where you end up letting someone that you love down, because you’ve never honestly shared who you are with them.
3. When people say mean things to you, your perception of yourself must be stronger than theirs: If all it takes is someone saying something mean or stupid to you to throw you into a state of emotional upset, it’s usually because you’re hurt that someone is perceiving you in a way that’s different from how you perceive yourself. If you are secure, confident, and happy with who you are, insults lose their power, because you know your own truth about yourself. I’m not upset when someone tells me I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in God. My very lack of belief in God means that I don’t believe in a hell. My faith in my own beliefs is strong, I don’t worry that I’m actually going to go to hell, you may as well tell me I’m gong to heaven, their perception is incapable of altering my belief… I can’t be upset by someone else’s belief I’m going to go somewhere that doesn’t exist. But ultimately it’s all about what you believe about yourself. I’m not fat, if someone called me fat, I would laugh at them. I might be put off by their rudeness, but I wouldn’t be upset by the content of the comment itself. Because no one can make me believe something that I don’t.
4. Remember that people are (by and large) stupid: People who don’t know you will always make assumptions, stupid people will share these assumptions with you. Manners are a separate issue, but if you allow the judgement of people who don’t even know you to affect how you feel about yourself, you give them power over you.
5. You don’t need to try and control the words and thoughts of others, all you have to control are your own words and thoughts: If you can follow step 4 above, you may realize that when you are hurt by something someone else says (back to #1, owning your feelings) you realize this is a deficiency in yourself. You will never be able to control the actions of others, all you can do is do your best to let insults roll off your back, or put yourself in an environment where you are around people you actually…you know… like and care about. If someone makes you really uncomfortable, or you’re feeling constantly insulted, remove them from your life without it being a huge deal. Online? De-friend or block them. Offline? Stop hanging out or talking to them. This really isn’t THAT hard. It won’t stop assholes from saying stupid stuff to you, but it will reduce the opportunities for it to happen. Work on this in conjunction with controlling your own feelings, and remembering that you don’t have to allow other people to upset you just because they are negative, insulting, rude, or have different values than you do.
6. Love yourself: The last and hardest tenet of them all. We’re all works in progress, we are all constantly growing and learning and evolving as individuals, but part of growth is acknowledging your flaws, and accepting yourself for who you are, and loving the whole package regardless of your faults. There’s always work to be done, we can always be a better version of ourselves. However knowing you’re on the right path, that you’re working hard on the parts of yourself that YOU don’t like (fuck other people) can bring you into harmony with your own journey. No one else can know your experiences, no one else is even capable of judging your path, being who you are in the face of all that might try and change you- now that’s fucking empowering.
I’ll wrap this up with one of my favorite quotes, because that’s how I roll, and no matter how articulate I try to be, someone else has already said it better.
“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield but to my own strength.” -Rabindranath Tagore
This is a guest post from contributor AmorFati. We live in a culture that allows the shame and judgement from others dictate how we live our lives. AmorFati’s guide can help us stop living our lives solely to please others and start becoming more emotionally comfortable in our own skin.