(Originally posted Oct 8, 2018)
I used to spend a lot of time worrying: was I doing the right thing in that moment, or what should I do or say next so that others would think I was acceptable. I overanalyzed every situation, and agonized over how I thought I appeared by my words and actions. I spent my time trying to please others, and satisfy an invisible unvoiced expectation that I thought they had of me, which I now see was my own creation. Consumed by fears that I wouldn’t be liked, or something I would (or wouldn’t) do or say would cause others to form a negative opinion of me, or I’d somehow make myself look foolish – I often painstakingly analyzed what I should say or do– so much so I hardly said anything at all! (I’m still a quiet reflective person, but not as uncertain and fearful as in the past.)
Turns out, I’ve never (or extremely rarely) found out if people genuinely didn’t like me, or what I did or said. I probably judged myself more harshly than anyone else did; and even if others did or do judge me the criticism was pretty much all coming directly from me, to me – since I never heard the judgment from anyone else. Berating myself at every turn about how I must have just said the dumbest thing, I actually had no idea if they even heard what I’d said, or even interpreted it the way I thought they might have!
So often I would hear things in social situations like: You should smile more! You look so intense! Why are you so serious? Or people would not approach me at all in situations where I didn’t already have connections. Upon reflection, interestingly and ironically, I’m pretty sure that all my overanalysis and concern over what I thought others might have thought of me, or how I thought others were judging me – actually caused me to look intense, serious, and judgey myself – kind of like someone consumed with analysis might look (e.g. overanalyzing their last contribution to a conversation looking for faults, or labouring over what to do or say next)! In hindsight I was probably emanating exactly what I was trying desperately to avoid!
In an effort to help quell my fears over the years – friends, family, and acquaintances with whom I shared my concerns have said supportive things like: Don’t worry about what other people think! Just be you – you’re great! They’ll love you! First of all, thank you to all of you who have been so encouraging in this way throughout my life. But much like anything else, hearing or reading such phrases over and over doesn’t do anything to help unless and until you believe it yourself, and understand what it means for you, at your core. Believe that who you are in your heart is truly unique, acceptable, awesome, one-of-a-kind, and really know that you add value to this world, and you have things to share! You absolutely are and absolutely do (I’m talking to you, reading this now, by the way)!
So what, maybe your opinion is different than others’? Oh well, maybe you could have phrased something a bit differently that would have sounded “better”. Guess what? Chances are no one will really remember the nuances of that conversation later anyway, and your less-than-perfectly executed comment will soon be forgotten. They’ll remember something different that stuck out for them in your conversation anyway – likely something that you don’t even give a second thought to, or even remember, yourself. And another thing: just like a job interview involves you interviewing the employer as well as the employer interviewing you – maybe that group or individual in the social setting whom you think doesn’t like you, may just not be a good fit for you! That’s OK – there’s nothing wrong with you or them; you’re just not connecting. You will find friends and connections who fit you somewhere else. In the meantime, be your own best friend.
I’m not saying that we don’t want to fit in and have a social group accept us; most of us do. It’s human nature to have connections, a community, a tribe. But it’s also important to do and say what we feel is right and true for each of us, and not let fear govern us. Speaking your truth, from your heart, with genuine care for others to the best of your ability, doing the best you can – is all all any of us can expect of ourselves. Ultimately, this results in more honest, genuine connections and better outcomes for everyone involved.
Once I really let it sink in that no matter how hard we try, we can’t control what other people think about us – that meant letting go of the futile attempt to control a situation, and stopping the incessant wondering about what people might be thinking! Less consumed by my own inner analysis of how I thought I was coming across in a situation, I became more interested and able to focus on other people’s stories; the inner judgment went dormant. I was finally conveying my true self, not saying and doing what I thought people wanted to see. Speaking from and listening with my heart has made me a more contented person; which I think has made me a more joyful person for others to be around.
What helped me change my thinking? Meditation. Reiki. Counselling. Reading books which offered different ways to look at the world and situations. But most of all, the common thread within those things, is looking inward – not to criticize, but to love and accept myself. That may sound cliché, but it’s really the case. It wasn’t until I realized that it wasn’t about other people liking me, it was about me liking me, me treating myself as a friend – that things shifted.
I now realize now how much energy I expended, and how much joy I missed out on over the years – stuck in my head, full of shoulds and worries. But instead of lamenting lost time, I’m simply grateful to be able to reflect on this, learn from it, and share it – so maybe it will resonate with someone who thinks they’re the only one feeling this way.
These days, I do my best to keep worrying out of my life – literally! I decided about a year ago to make a conscious effort to remove a couple of words from my vocabulary (with a notable exception for this post): worry and should. This comes from recognizing that even saying those words brings to mind a certain weighed-down, low energy that doesn’t feel good.
If this story resonates with you, I encourage you to take a step back and consider what I’ve said above. Think what you might tell a friend who was expressing similar feelings – what would you tell them to help them feel better? Tell that to yourself. Be your own best friend. Release the inner analysis, just let it go – and notice how freeing that is!