UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young
The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us… the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls. – Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Again and again, over the years in my work I have encountered people who, to varying degrees, are over-concerned about what others think of them. In one sense, this is not surprising, for from our earliest school days, if not before, we are constantly being evaluated.
A report card would come home three times a year grading us on how well we performed – not only academically, but also athletically, artistically, musically and socially. Early on, we could see that those who were given a high score also received positive attention and seemed highly valued; they were often set up as examples for the rest of us to follow.
When we got older, we saw television commercials and magazine ads, which seemed to set a standard for what we should look like, what we should eat, drive, wear and perhaps even think.
In high school and beyond, most often one must conform to fit in and this may carry on into the workplace and even in the neighbourhoods in which we live. It may even be present in our extended and nuclear families.
What has transpired over all these years is the build-up of ego’s need for approval and its idea that pleasing others is the way to maintain the level of approval it requires. To upset someone or to behave in ways that would cause them to think less of us is terrifying for ego. Ego often even worries about what complete strangers might think.
The problem for the individual caught in this ego trap is that they spend inordinate amounts of time analyzing potential words or actions, trying to tailor them to what they think others would like to hear or see. After the fact, they then spend hours, if not days, reviewing what they said or did and worrying that someone may have judged them negatively.
In all of this, there is no room for being one’s authentic self or living one’s truth. Often, this results in depression, anxiety, anger or resentment. After all, we come here as pure souls, each individual and unique. We come to learn, but also to share the gift of who we are.
No one has all the answers or is perfectly evolved. It takes all of us working together to figure it out. Sometimes, simply speaking our truth raises the level of awareness in all who hear it.
It is not easy to shift from being ‘other-directed’ to ‘self-directed.’ Those around us may expect conciliatory or pleasing behaviours from us and take it personally when we decide to take our power back and be ourselves.
If we fail to do this, we are doomed to a life of frustration, uncertainty and unhappiness. It is like we are always on trial. We become so busy thinking about what others think that we have no time to think about who we are and what we want in life. For some, an entire life has been lived for others and they know no other way.
At some point, however, they realize they are not happy and even when they are, it is short-lived. The stress and tension of worrying about what others think may eventually create health problems. Before it gets to this point, it is time to break free.
We owe it to ourselves to allow ourselves to be the person we naturally and authentically are. We can start by simply noticing when we are thinking about what others might think of us or worrying about their evaluation. We can also notice when we are saying what we think the other wants to hear, rather than speaking our real thoughts.
Find the courage to be real and to deal with the possible disapproval of others. You came to this world to be you – not to be what others think you should be.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books and CDs, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.