“How hurtful it can be to deny one’s own true self and live a life of lies just to appease others.” ~June Ahern
Growing up I felt lost, separate, and different from everyone else in my family. After all, everyone else was a fit; they pursued the same hobbies, had the same aspirations, and even thought in the same way (everything was very black and white with hardly any grey areas). I was interested, it seemed, in everything they were not interested in.
I had a different way of looking at the world. Any task I was asked to do I did my way, which, of course, was wrong and not fast enough. No matter how hard I tried to please, to get attention, to be listened to, I failed.
When my parents weren’t judging, criticizing, and shouting at me, I felt invisible to them. Because I believed everything they said to me and about me, and sensed that I was a disappointment to them, a part of me slowly started to give up. When my grandparents supported and encouraged me, especially when they realized I had an interest and talent for athletics, I felt great.
As far as my dad was concerned, it didn’t matter whether I succeeded or failed. He managed to find something wrong with everything I did.
Because I put so much importance and belief in what he said, instead of feeling proud of what I had achieved, I felt empty, not good enough, and like there was something wrong with me. To say I had low self-esteem would be an understatement.
In my early twenties, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so, still trying desperately to fit in and please them, I ended up working in a bank. They thought this was a respectable job, but I hated it.
Over time I realized I didn’t know myself or what I wanted anymore. I’d lost contact with how I truly felt. I tried to be someone that they would accept, until I realized that person didn’t exist and couldn’t be found.
I sought fulfillment in external things, buying clothes I didn’t need and drinking too much at parties.
I often became disappointed with friends, because I relied too heavily on their judgments and opinions to feel okay in the world. I put huge expectations on others to give me the love and acceptance I didn’t have for myself. My self-worth and confidence depended solely on what other people felt and said.
I put too much pressure on myself to reach a perfection that didn’t exist. I often felt anxious, had panic attacks, or just felt a sort of paralysis when I tried to do things that I really wanted to do, and wanted to do well, because I feared I couldn’t get it right. In fact, I felt like this whenever the real me would try to sneak through and show up.
But not taking action and always checking and worrying whether I had offended anyone or said or done the wrong thing just left me feeling sad. Somewhere deep inside of me I knew I could do something worthwhile, if only I could break this cycle.
It took a long time, but eventually I realized that I couldn’t find what I needed from anyone or anything else until I found it within myself first.
I realized that only I could fill the void and emptiness inside. Being a people pleaser in order to be liked just made me feel resentful. I had to stop blaming other people for things that happened and the way I felt, which, I admit, was not easy to do.
Slowly, over time, I faced the fact that I am responsible for my own decisions—no one else can make me do anything I don’t want to do—and I don’t have to put so much weight on other people’s opinions or believe my own criticisms, judgments, and negative thoughts.
I realized that thoughts are not facts but simply words we use to try to make sense of the world. And our choice of words can determine how we feel about a situation. I could choose my words, my thoughts, and thus my feelings.
I knew I had to find ways to listen to myself, not everyone else, and deal with my anxiety. After all, at best, others’ opinions are just that—opinions, which are based on their thoughts, perceptions, and judgments rather than facts. Here’s what helped me do just that.
Learning To Listen To Myself And Tapping Into My Inner Wisdom
Whenever I felt anxiety about what other people think, instead of resisting it I allowed it to be present. I used my breath to ride the wave of emotion, by breathing deeply and slowly into my belly. I welcomed the emotion by really feeling it, noticing where it was in my body, and being curious.
At the same time I started to become aware of any thoughts and judgments that came up. As I listened I brought my attention back to my breathing, so as to not indulge and engage with various thoughts. This prevented me from getting lost in specific thoughts and feelings.
I found that, with practice, the feelings would subside and I’d feel calmer and better able to observe and be aware of how unsupportive most of these thoughts were. I practiced various forms of meditation, in particular a kundalini Yoga meditation called Kirtan Kriya – Sa Ta Na Ma Mirabai Ceiba. I found doing this meditation everyday for at least forty days very helpful.
This meditation helped me feel balanced and neutral, neither very happy nor sad, nor any other emotion.
From this neutral position I could observe and be a witness to what I was automatically thinking, formerly without conscious awareness. I quickly realized how crazy some of my thoughts were, and in the realizing I could let go of their hold on me.
Being able to observe and be the witness to what was going on inside my mind, not engaging with unsupportive thoughts, and allowing the feelings to come and go, enabled me to feel calm and centered and to see things from different angles.
This practice also started to give me the time and space to decide how I wanted to respond, rather than react instantly without awareness.
Over time I learned a lot about myself. Most importantly I learned to like, love, respect, accept, and forgive myself. I was able to stop beating myself up, cease being my harshest judge and critic, and start allowing myself to take action.
This helped me discover what I loved and didn’t love doing. I allowed myself to make mistakes and concentrate on what really interested me, by allowing myself to do more of what I wanted to do. As I got in touch with who I really am, I found I had more unconditional love and tolerance for others.
I felt happier, clearer, more emotionally and mentally resilient, and more connected to myself and others. And I was less thrown by life’s challenges. I was able to trust myself and my intuition, which made making decisions easier. I can handle my family now, no matter how they choose to show up.
Most of the time I am able to respond in the way I choose to, authentically, assertively, and with compassion, my self-respect and self-worth in tact. I am me, and that feels freeing.
If you also give too much weight to other people’s opinions, worry about getting their approval, and beat yourself up in your head, perhaps meditation can help you too. Learning to sit with your feelings and observe your thoughts, instead of believing and acting on everything that pops through your head, is the key to making peace with yourself. And making peace with yourself it the key to living the life you want to live, regardless of what other people think.