Creating my happy life on the other side of fear.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The opinion of others

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As long as I can remember, I have always had at least two "problems" in my life at any given time. I put problems in quotation marks because often, they weren't actual problems - more like nagging little troubles. Those troubles - frequently born from an over-active imagination and an inflated sense of my own importance -  were constant companions, often for months, until replaced by new, more pressing ones. They were seldom resolved, because they weren't actual problems that needed solving - just my own mind playing nasty tricks on me. 

The most recurring theme has been other people. I have worried about other people endlessly in my life: How they perceive me; if they talk about me behind my back;  do people generally think I'm a nice person? 
I was obsessed with these questions. I can remember as far back as grade one being worried about that. Being popular was what I wanted. I wanted to be the person everybody likes. The thought of someone not liking me was giving me anxiety - I didn't think I could stand it.   

Even as a teenager, I was never able to adopt a "I don't give a shit"-attitude. How much easier life would have been if I had! Instead, I somehow managed to be on the outskirts of several cliques, welcome with all of them, not really a part of any of them.  
I had two steady boyfriends (back-to-back, not simultaneously) since the age of 15, which gave me a much-needed sense of acceptance - if a boy liked me, surely I was likeable?

That house of cards came crushing down on me when I broke up with my second steady boyfriend at age 20. I did it for, what I believed, noble reasons: I liked him a lot, but got the sense that we wanted different things in life. How cliché, right?
For the first time in 5 years, I didn't have the validation that having a boyfriend had given me. Boy, did that ever mess me up. I had forgotten how much I relied on that emotional support - it was like having walked with a crutch for 5 years, and suddenly it was cruelly taken away from me. It felt like an amputation - I didn't feel whole.

The crux of the problem, of course, was a thorough lack of self esteem. Being uncomfortable with yourself is a terrible state of being. Making yourself dependent of the opinion of others is such a vulnerable place to be - if you need other people's approval to like yourself, you are in a constant state of fear.
Fear that the affection will be taken away when you misbehave. Fear of making mistakes, and paying the price in form of the loss of a friendship. Fear that you have to earn the privilege of being liked: by being funny, supportive, generous, outrageous. If friends borrowed money from me and forgot to pay me back, I would never ask them for it, because I didn't want them to think I was stingy. In grade 11, the boys in our class would often eat donair during lunch break, and then blow their garlicky breath into us girls's faces. I not only pretended not to mind, but one time went as far as taking one of the guy's gum from his mouth and popping it into mine (SO gross, right? What was I thinking??). All in the name of being one of the 'cool' girls.

During my twenties, some things changed a lot, others didn't. Once again in a solid relationship, my confidence grew by leaps and bounds. Finding my footing in a new country also helped tremendously. I hosted parties for 30 people without thinking too much about it, learnt to cook (somewhat), was a part-time mom to my stepdaughters. My body confidence grew as well - having shed those extra 25 college-pounds, I finally felt comfortable in my skin.

But one thing stubbornly remained the same: The opinion of others still had the power to make or break my day. I desperately wanted my stepkids to like me, and was terrified of messing up the relationship. Same applied to Richard's group of friends - it took me years to get over the nervousness that overcame me every time we would meet up with them.

Wanting to fit in led me to participate in things I didn't actually want to do. Small things, like going clubbing when I have hated clubs since the age of 23. And bigger things, like treating someone unkindly, just because a friend had a feud with her.
I assumed that's what you did for friendship. But it felt wrong. How much was I willing to do in the name of being liked? Was it really worth it?

The short answer is: no. What I have come to realize is that we have to be true to ourselves. We have to do what we feel is right. Nobody should sacrifice who they are for the sake of gaining the approval of others. At the end of the day, I want to feel good about what I have done that day, not ashamed. When I have made mistakes, I want them to be mine, not mistakes I have done because of someone else. I want to be comfortable in solitude, feeling at peace with myself, not awash in guilt.

This time of year, when darkness is winning over light, has always lent itself to reflection. In years past, those reflections were tinged with sadness, dark thoughts, and the ever-present feeling of guilt.

Over the last year, I have been on a mission to stop letting the opinion of others effect me so much. I came to the realization that I have no influence over people's attitude.
No matter what I do, there will always be people who disagree and dislike me.
Trying to please everybody is crazy!

And you know what?
Those "problems" I started this post out with have all but disappeared. Instead of chasing other people's approval, I am working on becoming a person I can be proud of.
While it is, and probably always will be, a work in progress, I gotta say: It's going pretty well.

How about you? Do you care what others think about you? Or are you able to just "shake it off"? 

Love, Miriam
  
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6 comments

  1. That was very candid, Miriam. I applaud your honesty and bravery to talk about such things. So many people probably feel just like that, but are too afraid to say it out loud.

    In my youth, I had phases where I cared deeply about what people thought of me.. and it sucked.. Thankfully I find that every year that passes, I just care less and less. And good for you for consciously making an effort to change. It is very freeing!!!!! Screw people! Bless the ones that love ya, and those who don't clearly have something wrong with their brains. That is what I tell myself. Haha.

    Go girl!

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  2. I try to live my life so that people think I'm kind. Beyond that... I don't really care. If people think I'm crude, etc... don't care. As long as they can't say I'm a mean person that all I give a shit about. But even then... you could be the kindest person in the world and there are STILL going to be people that don't like you. Just gotta be a YOU that YOU can be proud of at the end of the day. A you that YOU like. :)

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  3. Something I noticed about people I admire was that they were just comfortable in their own skin. They were just themselves and didn't apologize for it. I'm not saying I'm good at that...but once I noticed it other people, I tried to make it a goal for myself.

    Go you! I think you're awesome.

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  4. I wish. OH how I wish I didn't care what people think about me. It would make my life so much easier, truly. And what's most frustrating is that here I am, trying and trying to stay healthy, work out a few times a week, etc. and while it's good to do, sometimes I wonder "why?" Like, am I doing this for me or am I doing it for other people? Even sometimes when I just want to put on yoga pants and a hoodie and trudge off to class...I'll take a few more minutes and actually get dressed before going. And then no one cares anyway. Goodness gracious, college is frustrating!
    In terms of how I act, I know I can be a people pleaser. But I've been working on staying more true to myself, and while it can sometimes be hard to stand my ground and not bend under pressure, I've been getting better at it :) Thanks for sharing!
    ~ Samantha

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  5. I definitely still worry what other people think about me, but definitely not as bad as I used to be. The sad thing for me is, I've slowly realized that part of the reason why I am so worried about other people's opinions of me, is because I am constantly judging other people. Now this is not fair and totally wrong, but it's the truth. I still sometimes find myself judging other people, whether it be their clothes, their hair, their opinions on matters, etc. and as much as I try, sometimes I find those negative thoughts crawling in to my mind. I just have to constantly remind myself that we're all just people. We all make choices and unless those choices affect me directly, my opinion has no say in the matter, and that goes the other way too. As long as what I am doing or saying, is not affecting other people, then it doesn't matter what other people think about me. We are all responsible for ourselves, and I have to stop thinking that what other people do or say should matter so much to me.
    Clearly this is still a work in progress for me. I think deep down I will always be slightly influenced by my worry about other peoples opinions, but everyday I am working to be a more independent me :)
    -Linds

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  6. What a honest and brave post! It's hard not to worry about what other people thing. Mine branches more from insecurity and not feeling "good" enough I think. It takes time to get to know yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin, I think it is just part of the whole life "process" :)

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