I have been thinking lately about how many of us try to adopt an attitude of “don’t give a fuck-ness”. I have thought that if we can reach a level of not caring what other people think of us, that this is healthy and shows self-esteem. I’m questioning it. (Prepare for stream of consciousness, abstract thought, that will most likely be in need of some tidy up later).
Our self-esteem, whether we like it or not was developed by the way our parents interacted with us. We are born helpless little creatures (full of bliss and joy), whose very survival depended upon other people. As infants we didn’t question if we were worthy of food or cuddles. We weren’t born questioning or doubting our ability to have our needs met or accomplish things. As we begin to get older, yet still completely dependent on others for our survival, that’s when things get fucked. Parents, often unaware of their own behaviors or real underlying reasons for those behaviors, accidentally teach us we are only “worthy” of things and love if we conform to how they want us to “be” in the world. They conditioned us for various ways of “being” through reward or punishment. In unhealthy situations, this often violates our personal boundaries or creates a situation where we weren’t allowed to have any boundaries at all. Disapproval that shows up as abandonment or abuse when you are a child can threaten your very existence and survival. Your immature mind knows it could mean literal death, so in adulthood we still feel an intense panic about it. No matter how healthy or unhealthy our parents were, we are conditioned to seek their approval. That becomes our perception of reality. And that’s usually where our self-esteem gets tied to the wrong things.
Not caring what other people think is a “disconnect” of sorts…I mean we are all here together experiencing this thing called “life” together and whether we like it or not, we are interdependent to some degree. To decide not to care and disconnect feels wrong to me deep down…it’s almost like deciding to be narcissistic in some way…cutting yourself off from the flow of life. If someone is giving us approval, we are on board with that and think “Yeah, they really see me for who I am”. If someone is disapproving, critical or withholds love and affection, we feel broken, hurt, and unworthy. This makes us want to say, “They don’t understand me – therefore I will decide not to care”. It’s reacting to disapproval of us with another disapproval of someone else (which is actually kind of fucked up). It’s more of a coping mechanism than a healthy life strategy, don’t you think?
Love and “belonging” feels more important actually than shelter or safety. We will risk shelter and safety to have it – or even commit suicide if it feels bad enough. Could Maslow’s hierarchy of needs be wrong?
I’m quite certain we all have at least one person in our life whose opinion of us really does matter to us. So, if you acknowledge it does matter what other people think about you and you decide not to disconnect, but try to approach things in a healthy and loving way (to yourself and others) …what does that look like?
Well, I think it might be an opportunity for self-awareness and growth… But we shouldn’t let someone else’s opinion be our entire self-concept. I think the first step might be to acknowledge that it feels “personal” and may hurt. Validate the feeling. (Validation is confirmation something is logically or factually sound – not if it’s right or wrong). Validate or recognize your feelings and thoughts are true to you regardless of if it makes sense or is logical to anyone else… it’s truthful and real for you. If your parents and their lack of self-awareness did not validate your feelings and thoughts appropriately when you were growing up, it is now up to us to do it for ourselves. And we can do it for those around us… It is acknowledging that the person feels what they feel or thinks what they think. Each person is allowed to their own “truth”. It exists for the feeler or thinker whether we feel it or think it or not.
If someone else’s truth makes you feel hurt, there is already a sore or wound from your past that needs to be healed or analyzed. Until it’s healed, we will continue to attract people and situations that cause us to finally look at it. Shame, embarrassment, abandonment, etc. are the feelings of unworthiness and can be tracked back to the origin. Once you figure out why it triggers you, you can acknowledge and heal those old hurts and you won’t feel that way anymore. Instead of avoiding disapproval – we need to become okay with being disapproved of. We need to be willing to feel the pain of it…and unconditionally sit with the feelings. You can shift your attention from what someone said or did and instead focus on how you feel, so you can figure out why. The why is key – and it’s your issue and your responsibility to deal with it – not anyone else’s. Trust yourself to be willing to face these emotions and live through it.
I think also we need to be clear on what aspects of ourselves that we personally approve of – deep in our core… (not what someone else approves of) for a semi-solid foundation of “who” we are. Then we can come from a more emotionally strong place to analyze the other crap. If you can find the positive intention behind why you have let what someone said about you or thought about you make you feel hurt… How does it serve you? Keeps you feeling included, not alone, worthy, lovable… you can reach for understanding. I know it seems to not make sense – but there is always a positive intention somewhere that when the link of “how it’s connected” to your self-esteem is healed, will bring about something good.
Love yourself enough to not take what others think to a point of spiraling into the abyss of negativity and self-doubt… try to see it through the eyes of an “observer” if you have to. Maybe the story you are telling yourself is flawed? (Maybe you aren’t unlovable, etc.) Find out what your needs really are and try to meet them. How much of what is appearing to be disapproval (or abandonment) is just self-reflection of what you are thinking and not even their true thoughts? Most of the time we don’t even really know what someone’s true thoughts are…we just assume we know or make it up to fit our flawed story of what reality is.
We should think about and try to understand how it relates to us and the other person…is there any truth behind what they said? Are there any useful aspects to the criticism? Is there any awareness to be gained? Why are they saying or thinking those things? Consider their point of view…what needs do they have that are not met and coming out as criticism of you? What disrespectful feeling actions are they taking because they have an unmet need? We all have these “little child” versions of ourselves inside that are acting out in some way to have our needs met. Acknowledging this is one way of understanding why people do the things they do and helping us to grown in our own ability to have compassion.
I think it’s important to let the thoughts and feelings settle for a moment before reacting or “fighting back” with criticism of our own of them. Like when you walk through a tide pool and all the silt gets disturbed and you can’t see what’s in there…wait a moment. Let things settle so you can see clearly. Relax a moment… maybe get clarification…then share how it makes you feel… work toward a meeting of the minds and deeper understanding. (If the person in your life is just fucking with you and continually trying to control or manipulate you, belittle or devalue you– this is abuse and you need to rethink if you want to be in relationship with them.) I think it’s important to place yourself in a position of non-judgement…their thought or feeling – or yours, is not “right” or “wrong” and in need of convincing one way or another. It just “is”. (I’d rather be happy than “right” anyway)
Meet your own needs –- take a moment to ask yourself…what do I need right now? Often, left unchecked, when we feel disapproved of or abandoned by someone, we react by doing it to ourselves even more…we hurt ourselves worse, deprive ourselves, reject ourselves, add a bunch of unwarranted negativity and just make it worse. Maybe just take a little time to do the things for ourselves that make us feel relief on a physical, mental and emotional level. Take a walk…connect with nature and ground ourselves, journal – whatever soothes you. Give yourself some self-validation…it is okay to feel hurt. We can’t control others, but we can approach ourselves differently.
If you take a little time to trace the origin of the unmet need, validate your feelings about it and find a healthy way to meet that need, then things won’t hurt us as badly and we will react less. We will “care” what others think but approach it and respond to it differently and not allow it to cause an uncontrolled spiral nosedive into despair. If we all consciously learn to do this, then maybe society as a whole experiences more healing? And love? And we contribute to the elevation of the collective consciousness?