How We Are Perceived: To Care or Not To Care

By Michael Laster
Jan 20th, 2014
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We are confused.

Many of us think the only way to find true inner happiness is to be in a state of mind where we can stop caring about what other people think. We want to be in a place where we can follow our own path and chase our excitement moment by moment without hesitation, and without fear of judgment.

Now if this were at all easy, everyone would simply do it IMMEDIATELY. But we procrastinate. “One day I’ll break through,” we tell ourselves. “I’ll speak my mind like someone from Spain speaks Spanish. I’ll be myself like just like they say in that Audioslave song. And I’ll do what I want like Eric Cartman on Maury!” (wha-eva!)

This is the common attitude of teenagers and young adults. We know we’re being held back by something, and we just can’t wait to overcome it. This is because as we went through adolescence, most of us made an unavoidable and painful trade off: In exchange for blissful innocence, we gain self awareness.

Before adolescence, we simply ARE ourselves all the time. Why would we be someone else? Our parents love us for who we are, the world thinks we’re just adorable, and friendship comes naturally without any drama. Money is something we may desire, but it’s just a thing, not a purpose. Love is just this harmless word used in Disney films that makes girls giggle and causes the boys to want to vomit. Death is something that only happens to old people, pets, and soldiers. But not us! We’ll live forever! Right?

Then adolescence knocks on the door. Or more accurately, it just rudely barges in, unannounced, entering at different times for different people. “Why is everyone except me thinking about sex so much?” Or, “am I the only one thinking about sex this much?” If you’re a boy, there’s a pressure to grow out of shyness and become outgoing and independent. If you’re a girl, there’s a pressure to physically grow into a shape that’s pleasant to look at so you can become popular and successful, just like all the “happy,” glamorous women on TV and in movies. There’s a pressure on us to keep up with all the funny videos online, listen to the music everyone is listening to, and have stories about all the fun things we do outside of school so you’re not labeled as boring.

But wait – there’s more! On top of this, we have to learn all the things we’re told is important to learn, which for some reason, has stopped being as fun as it was in elementary school. God forbid you intuit that all these pressures and unspoken expectations seem slightly… messed up? If we start to act out or get depressed because we sense that such an artificial judgmental environment isn’t conducive to our personal path of creative, outside of the box self expression, then lucky us! The chemicals in our brain must be out of balance.

Many don’t need pills. Many breeze through school with little difficulty, make lots of friends and have a healthy dating life. Many have a great experience in college, get a steady job, and rent a nice, roomy apartment. So if life is going great, why does it seem we still care so much about what people think about us? Why can’t we just enjoy ourselves and be like a kid again?

The reason we can’t be kids again is that ignorance is bliss – once we’re done with adolescence, we simply know too much! We’re conscious of the consequences of certain actions, or lack of action. We know what’s considered normal and abnormal behavior, we’re aware of what’s considered a talent or what’s considered a flaw.

The solution is to integrate the awareness that we learned in adolescence with the lack of self judgment we want to recapture from childhood. There are many ways of doing this, and this article isn’t meant to be a step by step how-to guide. The main point is, we can’t put on diapers and try to make time go backwards. We need to move forward and find a way to enjoy ourselves without trying to do away with self awareness.

The emotions that come with self-awareness are not a bad thing. True, we want to be the creators of our own reality and be able to choose optimism in every situation – we want the ability to keep our cool even if everyone on Earth except you spontaneously turned into Bill Cosby.

But our capacity for insecurity isn’t something to beat ourselves up over – it serves a powerful evolutionary function. We innately do want some sort of feedback from the world as far as how effectively we’re contributing to it. If we feel we’re contributing successfully, our brain rewards us. If we feel our existence is pointless, our behavior becomes self destructive.

This need for purpose can only be satisfied by us alone, but our journey based on fulfilling this purpose requires the help of others. This is why it’s slightly delusional to want to detach completely from what people think of us. What happens when we try and fake being completely detached from others’ opinion is we turn into someone like Donald Trump, and no one wants that.

The more we take people’s perceptions into consideration, the wiser we become. We need others to help us with our self evaluation, but without letting it affect our self-worth. Ultimately, we should be able to comfortably tweak how to make our contributions to humankind as our self awareness grows. Once free of the unhealthy type of self-judgment, we’re motivated to give back to the world — not because we’re expected to, but because we want to.

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