I have largely been afraid of pretty much everything the whole of my life. People most of all. Afraid to piss them off. Afraid to hurt their feelings. Afraid of being misunderstood. And I walked and lived for a long time in that shadow. That cold, dark place where my perception of what others thought, felt or decided about me controlled me. I judged myself using their yardsticks and accommodated their needs, to my own detriment almost always. What did I get out of it? A delusion that I was choosing my life. I mean, I was, but not really. When you make a decision about yourself to accommodate or appease someone else, there is always a cost to you. And I have been learning a lot lately that the cost is high. So fucking high.
For so many years, I wanted approval. From everyone. Permission to be myself and for the most part I sought it out from the people least likely to give it to me. People who didn’t really like me, certainly didn’t get me, and many who really didn’t care much about me at all. And I somehow took it on as my personal mission to get those people, the people I should have spent the least amount of time thinking or worrying about, I spent so much of my time, trying to make them happy with me.
I lived for such a very long time in a place where I allowed the people who really didn’t even like me to tell me who and how I should be. And I did it happily. I did it with a smile. I did it while I slowly died inside. And then I blamed them when things felt shitty or weird or out of control. I felt victimized but it was really me all along making choices that put me in the position in the first place.
I have always had a strong desire to help people. I like people for the most part. I enjoy being of service and I enjoy helping. But what I did not have were good boundaries for myself and I had this horrific sense of self worth that allowed anyone to erode my self esteem, leaving me vulnerable to their assessments, ideas and manipulations. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have done something that has felt wrong to me because someone else wanted me to and I was too afraid to say no. Most embarrassingly, I have done this so much that I woke up one day and really had no core. I was just whoever I was with. I mean there were some things that I was able to hold onto: vegetarianism, Buddhism, political beliefs, societal values. And those are not nothing. But really I allowed others wishes, desires and ideas about who and what I was to be more important than what I thought, wished, desired for myself. And I became disillusioned and depressed.
It has taken a long time and I am not sure I will ever get to any destination that feels final. But I have made progress. I know who I am today. I know how I show up for life, others, myself, my friends and family, my children, my job. I know who I am and so because I know this, I am not so vulnerable to the manipulations of others. But, this is still an area I struggle with. And I think I will forever. I have learned, the hard way, that thinking that I have gotten over my co-dependency issues is a trap. The minute I think I am good has resulted in me coming to know later that I am actually all fucked up in this department again.
So where is the growth and how do you tell?
Well, today I believe that my own opinion of myself is the most important one. It isn’t that other people’s opinions of me don’t matter at all, it is just that I must hold a good opinion of myself and so long as that is my guide, I have found that I don’t often stray from that. Others may disagree but they only see what they want to see or what I am willing to show them. So much of today’s world is assessed upon incomplete information, quick, snap judgments that masquerade as knowledge. In truth, I know nothing about anyone else, just me, that is all I can know and that is a full time, life time job. Just keeping myself on track and not falling off into the craziness of caring more about what others think about me, than what I think about myself.
In truth, I do not want to think about myself all that much. I am so much happier when I am thinking of others. But I also cannot use others as a means of escape for me dealing with myself.
Today my life and goals are really simple. I get up every day and do what I think is necessary to feel like I am living a useful, service oriented life. I try to love and be loving. To show up for the people in my life and do my best work always. Most of the time I nail it. Really. Now I am sure there are a lot of other people who might disagree and they would be right because they have their own assessment of me, their own yardsticks. And I used to run myself ragged trying to also use their measuring sticks to judge myself. It was exhausting and in the end self defeating.
I am the only one that has to live this life. I am the only one who has to do this deal. And in the end I am the only one who has to approve of my behavior. I am not always going to get it right. And others will call me out. And that used to feel so awful...and it still doesn’t feel good. But I have come to accept that just because someone else doesn’t like the way you handle something or behave doesn’t make it wrong for you. It makes it wrong for them. And that is largely none of my business.
It is hard to stay in your own lane. Hard. People will trash talk you, judge you, tell their version of you to whomever might listen. But it doesn’t make it true. And in the end, my opinion of myself is the only one that matters. When I lay my head on my pillow at night and inventory myself and my day, my own evaluation of how I did, who I was and how I showed up, is the only one that matters...well that and God’s opinion. But God doesn’t do pillow talk. God lets me know when I am off base in much more direct ways. The resounding NO that I get from God has become something that I can count on, daily. And I have come to trust the stuff that doesn’t come. The stuff that leaves me wanting. The stuff that I want that is just not possible. This has become my salvation really.
So since God doesn’t really do pillow talk, it is just me, reviewing my day to see where I was selfish, self centered, failed to be of service. And that is the summation of my character. My day. And it is how I behave in a day that makes up my life. You may totally disagree with my assessment of myself. But that matters little. Because I am the only one who really knows.
In Buddhism there is a concept that states, “Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.” And this means that it is great to get the advice and opinion of others, but in the end, it is your own opinion or witnessing of your own life that matters most. And it has taken me a lot of courage and a lot of work to get there. And I will tell you that any amount of time spent feeling like I am doing ok, living a good life, being the best version of myself I can be, is time well spent.
It is a huge change to go from having others feeling, beliefs, wants and opinions be the most important and defining thing in your life to arriving at a place where you are content within your own skin, other people’s opinions be damned. It doesn’t make it always easy, but it totally makes it worth all the effort. Holding my own self as my principal witness is the hardest, best thing I have ever done. And it has taken a lot of courage...A lot. But it was worth every tear, every heart palpitation, every single hard moment to get to a place where I feel ok with who I am, what I am and how I exist in the world. And that is impervious to your wishes to the contrary...not in a fuck you kind of way but in a peaceful abiding sort of way...pretty damn cool really.