“Be yourself. People don’t have to like you and you don’t have to care.” – A random and anonymous quote I stumbled across recently on social media.
This is great advice. There are two problems with it. We don’t always know who we are, and we absolutely care what other people think a great deal of the time.
I don’t want to care. It’s simply a hard habit to break. I struggle with truly believing I’m not the centre of everyone’s universe. That’s not the explicitly stated belief of course, but worrying about what other people think of you does come with an enormous assumption – that people think of you at all other than in a fleeting sort of way.
When I think about it rationally, I realize I’m not number one on anyone’s mind. I might be at certain moments, but overall, not so much. I’m not first in my parent’s thoughts, or my kids’, or my friends’. I’m probably not first in the thoughts of the lady behind me in the grocery store line, even though anxiety tries to differ. Anxiety tries to suggest she’s judging me in all kinds of ways and finding me insufficient, the reasons for which my brain is only too willing to enumerate.
In a way, I wish the lady in line was thinking about me, obsessing even. I wish I could talk to her about it, or to that guy who looked over while I was driving, or to the cashier, or my friends or my family. I wish they thought about me a lot. I wish they had some conclusions about who I am.
If I knew who I was, then I’d know how I’m supposed to act and what I’m supposed to be.
When you struggle with your self-image, “be yourself” is useless advice. It makes me want to curl my lip because I truly don’t know who “myself” is. I know some stuff; I’m aware of some of the labels: daughter, mother, sister, friend. I know I’m mostly kind and mostly gentle. I know I’m ethical or try to be to a degree that often amuses my friends. And yes, that stings. I know I’m neurotic. I know I’m officially middle-aged. I just don’t know what it means when you bundle it all together, or even if you can.
I don’t know how to take all the bits and pieces and put them together into one package, into what feels like a single persona that I can trot out for consumption by the masses.
“You don’t have to care” is so much easier said than done. Except when I’m depressed. Ninety-nine percent of depression sucks but the complete detachment from other people’s feelings is nice. When I’m depressed, I no longer have a single fuck to give.
Unfortunately, though I perceive it differently at times, I’m not always depressed. And, when I’m not, I care a great deal about what other people think of me.
I’m working on it. I’ve made some improvements that are not insignificant considering I’ve spent my whole life hustling for perfection to ensure external validation.
I no longer waffle on a position that is proving unpopular with the group. I no longer let my opinions get pushed to the side and dismissed. I no longer let myself get pushed into doing things I don’t want to do or out of things I do. Behavioural successes indeed.
But underneath the action changes, I still worry. I still get nauseous and anxious every time I stand my ground. I still wonder each time if this is the action that will see me abandoned and alone. I wonder if trying to be myself, whoever that is, is a mistake.
Sometimes, there’s fallout, which I hate. People aren’t pleased when they don’t get their way. Choosing my wishes over someone else’s and not caring, would be easier if it didn’t bring so much guilt.
“Realizing that what other people think about you is not important—because we’re all just passing through—is freeing. It’s not a hall pass for bad behavior. On the contrary, it frees you to do the right thing regardless of the criticism that may come from it.” (The Daily Stoic)
Another great piece of advice. Unfortunately, it too is scant on the “how to” regarding learning not to care and figuring out who you are. But then, answers given by other people are rarely worth as much as the ones you come to yourself.
So, not caring and figuring out who, exactly, I am are things to keep working on, even if I wish there was an app for that.
Are you able to be yourself? Do you care what other people think of you?