“Why do you care do much what other people think?”
Let’s step back in time a tiny bit, shall we? Actually, it’s not such a tiny increment when I spend more than a half-second thinking about it.
Have you ever been to a therapist who REALLY doesn’t “get” you? I don’t mean a therapist who calls you out on your shit and you just don’t happen to like it. I mean another human being, who happens to be a therapist, who truly just doesn’t “get” you. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of running headlong into a few of them. Of course…that’s assuming that their reactions, spoken and unspoken had anything to do with me, and nothing to do with what they walked in the door with. Maybe I just didn’t “get” them. Whatever the source, the connection just isn’t there.
But sometimes, despite that, you take something away from the experience that sticks with you – because it hit on something real.
College was easily the worst time of my life. I went to college at a “traditional” college student age of 17 and I really did grow up during the process of completing my studies, if that’s what you want to call them. In light of the GPA I ended up with, I’m fairly certain that I didn’t do as much studying as I should have, but that’s not what this post is about. Not directly, anyway.
After a few years of social maturation, during which I lived about ten after-school specials worth of pain and late adolescent drama (and right there I outed myself as a Gen X-er just by using the phrase after-school special…sweet…) – I literally fled college. Oh yeah.
I moved over an hour away, back to my parents’ house for a bit and then in with a family friend. I worked full-time, and with the permission of my University, I decided to finish my degree mostly at a community college closer to my parents’ house. I also took correspondence courses through the University. These proved a richer academic experience than any I had at the University during my physical residence there, for a variety of reasons, many of which I really can’t blame on the University.
It was freedom, both physically and emotionally. I was only required to attend the University once a week to maintain my connection, and so I took a playwrighting course. I would pop up on campus and when I ran into people I knew, I wasn’t effusive about where I had gone and what I was doing…because I decided that I frankly didn’t give a shit what these cliquey, judgmental, stuck-up pseudo-intellectual asshats thought, or what they were doing, or what they thought about who I was dating and whether they thought I was cool enough, and whether the fruits of my brain were interesting enough for them, and whether I did enough drugs to “hang” with the cool kids, and all of their fucking hypocrisy and…I reclaimed my soul, basically. And why had I even given it to them in the first place? Who knows. I guess it’s what dumbass kids do. Part of growing up, they say. If it’s so normal, I don’t know why it took me so long to forgive myself for the whole experience…but that too, is another post.
The point is that during that treacherous time in my life, I DID care. I did care about what people thought, and so much of the feedback I got from other people (who were carrying their own insecure baggage) related to them thinking I was weird, or unusual or flawed in some uncool way, because they arrogantly assumed that it was their right to say so. And because I, myself, wasn’t sure who I was exactly, or who I should be, and where I fit in, and why it mattered, it burned me up from the inside out.
So one day, I’m at the community college, after my flight from hell. With a gut both anxious and leaden at the same time, I get up and leave my class. I end up at the counseling center. In truth, I did this a few times, while I was there, because I had a lot of shit to sort through, but on this occasion, I remember meeting with this therapist who I really just didn’t feel a connection with. She felt like a “mom” to me and that was the last thing I needed right then. I didn’t need a mother condescending to me. But she did ask me one question that has stuck with me: ” Why do you care so much about what other people think?”
It was in relation, I believe, to my angst about trying to figure out what to do next with myself. I’d left University, I had a plan to graduate, but what was I going to do next. Her question really pissed me off, because it was delivered in such a condescending and pitying way.
(I ended up coming up with a plan, but the plan isn’t what’s key here.)
But she was right. Why DID I care, and wasn’t all of that wasted caring about what people thought, the very think that brought me to that miserable moment?
It’s common to humans, to silently “ask” others to define us for us, so we don’t have to. We look for groups that we can be part of. Many folks with ADHD struggle with this for a different reason…many of us feel so ungrounded within ourselves, and within our environment, that we insist that others define us. Again…another post for another time. I can’t say this wasn’t a factor for me. I was pulled in so many directions, and so easily…normal adolescent development on the one hand, but amplified to a degree that wasn’t really helpful.
It’s the “cool” thing to say that you aren’t part of a group because you’re sooooo original. But we’re all original in our own ways. And yet almost all of us desire to be part of some type of group, or at least to find a place in life where we feel like we “fit”.
She asked me why I cared what other people thought, in a fairly superficial way. But really…we all care, on some level. It’s a human thing.
I have been thinking about this because of something a friend posted on Facebook the other day. It was an infographic about how mothers see themselves, versus how their children see them. The short version is that the mothers surveyed were sadly critical of their bodies in a variety of ways. But when their children were asked how their mothers looked, the children said that their mothers were “beautiful”.
They said that their mothers were beautiful.
Children will think what they think. People will think what they think. But whether they love us, or hate us, their opinions are subjective. Children must love their mothers not purely because they are lovely creatures (they really are for the most part) but also for survival.
I don’t mean to be totally cynical – my first thought was “this is so wonderful, moms really need to stop being so self-critical”. But also: We probably shouldn’t rely on a children for our sense of self worth.
We must create a safe space within ourselves, to cultivate our own core, without self-abuse. Until we are able to engage ourselves in that process, we are vulnerable to our environment’s opinions.