Ralph Waldo Emerson
How often have you pulled up to a stop light next to a guy in a convertible sports car, who obviously lives at the gym, is wearing a gold chain, dark sunglasses, and a sleeveless t-shirt (and sometimes, if you’re lucky, a left-over mullet from three decades ago), who starts revving his engine as he looks around at the other cars around him, sizing up his manhood against the Ford Taurus’ and Toyota Prius’ of the world, and thought, “man, that guy is awesome. I want to know that guy. I want to be that guy. When that light turns green, I’m just going to sit back here in awe as he squeals his tires…”?
Never. You’ve never thought that.
But that guy desperately needs you to be impressed. He doesn’t know why, but he does. He’s craving your approval, even if it’s only for ten seconds at an intersection. And the truth is, we’re all that guy.
I don’t drive a sports car (not a chance I would pull that off), but until about two or three years ago, I wouldn’t leave my house without make-up on. Not even to run to the grocery store for a few things.
And I still over-think how I’m dressing; too casual, will “they” think I’m being disrespectful; too dressy, will “they” think “what, do you think you’re hot stuff coming here all dressed up like that?”; too formal, “what are you, an idiot?” And I’m no different from anyone else when I feel embarrassed that someone’s tagged me in a cringe-worthy picture on Facebook.
We’re biologically hard-wired to care about our social standing because back in our cave-man days, without social acceptance, we would have starved to death had we been rejected by the group.
The need to be socially accepted for survival isn’t as necessary anymore, but that desire to be liked is still there. We typically refer to it as self-esteem, and it’s largely nurtured or inhibited by our parents, then our adolescent and teen peer groups, and by the time we reach adulthood, if we’ve endured any rejection, belittling, ridicule, bullying, or the like, those scars are still with us and likely going to stick around for years, if not the rest of our lives.
The way we minimize the pain of being socially rejected, is by becoming what those with the largest influence in our lives expect of us.
I have always struggled with caring a lot about what people thought of me, which inevitably meant that I wouldn’t entirely be myself, and that just guaranteed that they really wouldn’t end up liking me.
I’m embarrassed to admit that there have been countless times in my life where I’ve allowed people to take advantage of my kindness, or my fear of not being liked, when in actuality, I don’t really like or care for that person, or at least how they treat me. Subconsciously, a lot of the time we’re thinking, “I don’t like you at all, but I’m still going to need you to be really impressed with me, okay?”
I once threw out an extremely expensive pair of boots because someone I allowed to have too much influence in my life made fun of them. Ugh. Seriously? I let those comments bother me to the point of never wanting to wear them again, but I’m sure that person had forgotten all about it a few minutes later.
I wish that I had realized much earlier in life that most people are too self-absorbed to care too much, or even think about, anything that I’m doing (we’re all self-absorbed by the way, except for maybe the Pope and His Holiness the Dalai Lama).
Consider this; of your best, closest, truest, most honest and loyal friends, would any of them reject you if they found out you were going broke and may have to file for bankruptcy? Would they care if you told them you’d never graduated college or even high school because you couldn’t make the grades and that you’d always struggled academically? Would they care about how you look first thing in the morning? Or that you’d gained 40 pounds? Would they care if your brother’s been in and out of rehab ten times? Would they care that your kid not only didn’t make honor roll, but that they’re failing two classes? Or that your kid is really smart and still didn’t get into a magnet school? Would they care that you keep missing out on promotion after promotion at work, but you’re trying the best you can?
No.No.No.No.No.No. They wouldn’t care. That’s why they’re your closest and truest friends. Because they love you no matter what you do, who you are, and what’s happening to you. They’ll love you through financial disasters, marriage trouble, weight gain and parenting fails. These are the folks you can be your real self around.
What I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, is that we’re not necessarily concerned with whether or not we actually like certain people, we just need them to like us back, or minimally, be impressed with us. This is why middle school girls dress like every other middle school girl. The fear of looking/being/acting different is very real. And not everyone grows out of that phase. In our adult lives, it sometimes takes facing something truly life threatening, or devastating, to shake us up and make us realize we’ve got one life, it’s short, and living it to satisfy other people is miserable.
I’m a work in progress, I still care about what someone would think if they saw that I dropped my daughter off at school in fleece pajama pants every once in a while (hey, I don’t actually have to get out of the car), or that I have no idea what’s “cool” anymore and have to ask my 12 year-old (and am I just getting old, or is the younger generation’s music really that bad?), slowly but surely though, I’m getting there.
What about you? Are you getting better at caring less about other people’s opinions or thoughts of you? Or have you never really struggled with that? I want to hear from you!
Me, feeling confident at a shop in Breckenridge, CO