I spent the vast majority of my life doing things based on what others thought of me. Just about every decision I made was based in part or in whole on how I thought others would respond. I probably did it so often, I didn’t even realize when it was happening. Here’s just a few things that would be decided due to what others thought:
- What I wore
- What classes I took in college
- What job I would seek out
- Who I would be seen around in public
- What purchases I would make
- What kind of car I would drive
- Whether or not to smile and show my bucked teeth
- Taking off my shirt at the beach
- The need to be the center of attention
- Acting small and not contributing in certain situations
These are just a few situations I found myself in and there were many, many more. I even remember telling others that I didn’t care what they thought but that wasn’t even true. I felt so lost most of my life that I didn’t even know who I was. I remember taking on attributes of other people to feel connected to those around me. I remember watching a show called, Growing Pains, with Kirk Cameron. He was “the cool kid” who everyone liked and I remember he had this smile that would be accentuated by one side of his mouth. So, I would smile like him, raising one side of my cheek; kind of like a sideway smile. I remember noticing how someone would walk or laugh or use gestures.
There was a time in my early teens when I became aware of what I was doing and I felt like I was made up of different people. I didn’t know who I was but I knew where all of my parts came from. Because it was so important to me that I felt accepted by others I wanted to make sure those attributes I stole from others were ones that people liked. life was very black and white at the time. I either thought I was accepted or thought I was flat-out rejected. That left me in an extreme of emotions from feelings excited, happy, connected, loved, lovable, enough, and whole when I thought I was accepted. When I thought I was rejected I felt sad, angry, alone, not good enough, unloved, unlovable, broken, and worthless.
Of course, there was no in between or middle ground. I know now that this was because all my sense of self was outside of myself. What other people thought of me wasn’t just important it was my life line. It was the difference between feeling on top of the world or buried 6-feet under. All the while bouncing back and forth between those two opposing emotions. Life was never relaxing. I was working hard to find acceptance and it zapped so much energy out of me when I didn’t find it.
Life now is much different. There are still moments that I think of what others think of me. There are still moments when I think or know that if someone doesn’t think favorably of me that I have some feelings about that. Besides only having a minority of my decisions based on what others think I’m very much aware. I’m aware of why I make decisions even if that awareness doesn’t come until I’ve already made the decision. The benefit is that it allows me to understand why I’m doing things and to make changes in the future.
The other difference and quite possibly the most significant one is that I love myself. No not in the Egocentric- I’m better than others- kind of way. Rather, I know I am enough, I am lovable, I am whole, I am loved, and I am of worth. I know that everyone else is also even if they have forgotten, like I did.
When we accept ourselves with the qualities I just mentioned then it literally doesn’t matter what others think of us. In fact, it makes it very clear that what others think of me has everything to do with them and nothing to do with me. I know that when someone doesn’t accept me as I am in my fullness that it must be something from their past that has clouded their vision. We cannot judge others without first judging ourselves. That means if someone is judging me, they are judging themselves. That tells me right away it has everything to do with them.
Above all else it’s the meaning that I apply to the thoughts they may have about me. The difference looks something like this:
“He/She doesn’t like my hair”
They are a unique person with their own tastes vs I’m ugly and not good enough.
“She/He doesn’t like what I do for work”
Something in their past tells them that the work I’m involved with is less than desirable vs I’m not enough and less than they are.
In the two examples above the positive and loving response is all about that person. In the negative/fear based response my response to them is all about me!
You may not be at a place in your life where you accept 100% that you are whole, lovable, enough, of worth, and that you matter. If that’s true that’s perfectly okay! This isn’t about loving ourselves perfectly but rather being aware of our responses to other people’s thoughts and feelings about us.
The next time someone says something that causes you to have feelings you don’t like (i.e.; sadness, loneliness, rejection, anger) ask yourself if you’re making their reality about you. If you are, remind yourself that you are lovable, enough, and whole AS YOU ARE. Remind yourself that their thoughts and feelings are their reality and don’t reflect who you are as a person.
It takes a lot of practice but I can attest that as I work on this for myself I learn to have more love not only for others but also for myself. I also learn that I can live a more moderate life and not one as a victim to others’ thoughts and feelings.
I am Enough and so are you!