I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’ve worried about how other people perceive me. I tend to be quite aware of what social image my words and behaviours create in other people’s minds. I’m not sure why humans are so hyper-aware of other’s opinions of us but, evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense that it would have been important for us to be harmonious in our tribes. If we didn’t fit in, we’d get left behind and become prey. Fair enough. But nowadays, caring what other people think of us has lost its evolutionary benefits and has instead become a source of anxiety.
WHY IT’S HARMFUL
When you aim to be perceived in a certain way, you stifle your true character, your self-expression, and your creative process. I find that my desire to control how other people view me comes from the fear of being misinterpreted, underestimated or thought of as stupid, heartless, or unaware. Thus, when I feel as though I am not being perceived the way I’d hoped, I feel a bit anxious. I’ve spent time in my head calculating how to come across a certain way instead of fully expressing every part of myself and focusing on what’s important to me.
I think this fear of judgment, criticism, or not being perceived the way we want to is one of the biggest obstacles in expressing ourselves creatively and living out our dreams. Firstly, we’re distracted from actually doing the work/being the person that comes from within because we’re doing the work/being the person we think will get us appreciation instead. Secondly, we may never really push the boundaries and forage towards our wildest dreams because were creating/working/living within the realm of the narrow goals or predetermined lifestyle other people have set for us.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Sometimes, I think we try to control how we are viewed by “fine-tuning” how we behave. But I think doing so will only cause us worry or let us down. There will always be misinterpretations and there will always be people that don’t like what you do, what you say, or who you are. You literally can’t please everyone. It’s such an exhausting mental process that is completely useless! In no way does it move us forward and it sure as hell doesn’t let us express ourselves fully! When I only use the parts of my creativity or aspects of my personality that are acceptable or appreciated by everyone, I’m letting an untapped pool of creativity and personality lay dormant.
I find we sometimes try to change how someone looks at us by indirectly letting them know what they should think of us. This can look like highlighting certain qualities about ourselves that we like, hiding ones we don’t, or exaggerating the behaviours that make others focus on the fact that we are x, y, or z. This just doesn’t feel authentic to me! Of course we’ve all done it and it’s tempting to cultivate a character for others but it will never lead to real fulfillment and satisfaction. It’s the most satisfying thing to actually be ourselves, fully, in every arena of our lives.
Sometimes all we fear is misinterpretation, but there are other times when we want to be perceived as someone who we actually aren’t. If you want to be confident but you don’t feel like you are, change that, don’t just try and convince people that you are! Become someone you’re proud of! If being confident is meaningful to you, put in the effort. When I want to cultivate a certain quality, like confidence, I want to make sure that I’m doing it for me and not because I want other people to think I’m confident. Actually being confident means you’ve put in the effort to practice confidence in the moments when doing so is most difficult. Telling people you’re confident isn’t what makes you confident, it’s actually feeling it, for no one but yourself!
HOW TO MAKE THE CHANGE
I often think to myself “what if I just stopped trying to be perceived in a certain way and just did things and said things because I thought they were the right/kind/me thing to do?!” Oh my god, what an idea! Wouldn’t life be amazing and care-free?! Well, it’s possible!
By drowning out the voices in your head that tell you you need to be more this or that, you can really focus on what excites you! What feels good to make, what qualities do you love about yourself, what hobbies light you up, and what lifestyle do you want to lead? Share your interests! Make deeper connections with people by letting them know who you really are! Dress how you feel, not how you think is acceptable. Make your surroundings reflect who you are on the inside. Surround yourself with people that appreciate the real you, not people who have expectations of you or who are not really themselves.
WHY IT WILL BE HARD
We are very social creatures, and looking to others for cues on our behaviour is helpful to keep us aware of how we treat others. I don’t think that forgetting about what other people think of us needs to turn us into jerks. It doesn’t mean saying fuck you to everyone and existing independent of collaboration. Instead, it means not letting the need to please come in the way of freely being who you are and doing the things that you feel you are made to do.
Caring about what other people think exists in many areas of life. It makes us unable to embrace the “weird” things about us. It makes us feel negative emotions, like embarrassment, loneliness, and shame. It makes us feel removed from others. It makes us hate our physical appearance, personality traits, or areas of interest. It makes us doubt our capability to complete things and be successful. It might even make us think we are bad or unworthy. These things are hard to get over but by addressing the fact that many of these things come from the fear of criticism and judgement, we’re able to stop the cycle of being guided by social structure and opinion and instead be guided by our personal interests and desires.
If we all focused more on guiding ourselves rather than being guided by others opinions and we all started appreciating when others do the same, the world could look a little different:
- We could embrace the weird things about ourselves that actually make us special rather than trying to cover them up and missing out on the feeling of true expression and authenticity.
- We could feel less marginalized or misunderstood because we would no longer need to justify our mental illness, our “flaws” or our “oddities”. Instead of having surface relationships because we want to be “acceptable”, we could start connecting on deeper levels about things that matter to us.
- We could feel better about our appearance. Instead of feeling as though we need to fit a certain look/style or be a certain size, we would be able to use our appearance as another way to express who we are.
I think this is where the fun begins! This is where we truly start living and being the individual only we can be!
Be sure to respect your process of change as well. If you gain respect or a following for something and your creative process or desires turns in another direction, you may find yourself continuing to create/like things in the old area of interest to please your following. However, you may begin losing yourself and your potential to create new things that represent who you are now. Humans evolve and that’s just natural. Don’t feel as though you need to stay in a box because people like you when you’re in it. There will always be lovers and haters and if you need to step out of that box to grow, then you do it!
The point of all this is so that you can experience the immense joy and being yourself; of true self-expression. Something that has given me great joy as of late is acknowledging and using my strengths, creating things that feel good to make, and being proud of my interests. I find that I used to try and highlight particular interests around particular people or groups of people that were interested in the same things. Now, I remind myself that being authentic is more important to me than being liked.
I also feel vulnerable even sharing the fact that I care what people think of me. But, again, I remind myself that I think it’s more honourable to admit this than pretend it isn’t happening. Being vulnerable is admirable to me because our drive to have other people think we “have it all together” is strong, even though it only gets in the way of real connection. I know I appreciate people who unapologetically like what they like even when it is controversial, “lame”, or outside of the norm. Why? Because I know they’re being themselves!