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I want to break down why we care so much about perception. Because I believe caring about what others think about us is so damaging and keeps us away from knowing what we believe about ourselves and knowing ourselves. I personally admit that I think a lot about how people perceive me, and it’s rooted in so much shame, pride and fear.
The desire to know the perception of others is really a deeper desire for control, and for me is a form of anxiety. If I could control how people see me, technically I could control outcomes in my life, and I think selfishly that’s a want we all have.
My authenticity is hidden under layers of my own perceptions of worth, and a masking layer is applied everytime I think negatively about who I am. This is so hard with mental health struggles because some conditions create repetitive negative or intrusive thought cycles, such as my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I also tend to feel like I am not worth being around because I have these conditions, and therefore I am starving myself of value and now am hungry for approval from others to replace what should be my core values.
I imagine a lot of us due to the fast pace of media, the pressure it creates, catchy headlines and misleading or emotionally charged information is making it difficult for us to know our values. To study what we care about, our opinions, and then therefore, finding people to uplift those opinions and strengthen us.
So the question becomes, despite the above, how do I free myself from wanting that control, and ultimately nixing the need for external validation? What is the discovery process for identifying our values in a world that doesn’t give a lot of space for formulating self-opinion; for having a belief system, and even giving work life balance to achieve a form of self care and exploration?
I’ve learned that starts with peeling back the layers of negative thought and letting more of my authenticity appear in the cracks. For me, this is what that process looks like:
ONE: Identifying what I value and what I believe
Taking time to educate yourself in your belief structure is crucial to adjusting the course of your life and giving you direction. We are so often sold on the idea that exploration of beliefs is a lifelong process. While this is true, in the evolution of what we believe, it is not an excuse to avoid making firm statements, truths and ideas during our daily lives, starting in the present. I personally have become fearful of making firm statements, because there are not a lot of safe spaces to express new thoughts and strong ideas today, especially if it counteracts the majority opinion.
An example of this for me was confirming and standing up for my religion. It gives me structure, faith, and direction. I now know what to give time too in my educational process, in the people and experiences I look for, and that gives me confidence. It takes away negative, doubtful thoughts and gives me a truthful narrative. If you walk through life without confirming any truths, and you are constantly evolving with sporadic media and emotional voices, or thinking you need to recreate who you are constantly, you are opening up all those cracks for doubt, confusion and exhaustion. Being malleable and deepening education is key, but not anchoring yourself anywhere can create circles, and constant needs of reassurance. You have the ability to make time for this mindset change in your life – and therefore, you don’t need to go on autopilot (aka, be runned by your anxiety driven thoughts).
TWO: Taking care of my physical and mental self
Investing in yourself daily, in whatever way you are able, no matter the amount, gives evidence that you believe in yourself, and that you matter. This might be in the form of reading, boundary setting, drinking the green juice, going for a walk, journaling, whatever works for you. By neglecting to do this over long periods of time, you are putting value on other things over yourself. If we value other things, we are telling ourselves what we care about, perhaps work, or the opinions of others. Investing in yourself with the highest currency, time, is one of the ultimate forms of self care and with the bonus of giving us back from control that we might be seeking in validation.
THREE: Being kind and focusing on loving others
When I become very self aware for many days and hours, it usually means I am under distress or I am becoming more self-centered. A lot of us shutter at the word self-centered, which is totally understandable (me too). However, self-centeredness is actually a great indicator that we just need to adjust where our focus lies. This can also include taking inventory of overall spatial awareness, awareness of others, and doing a check on our ignorance or assumptions. Taking the light off of us and shining it on others is a great way to improve connection in relationships and our community. Acts of kindness; sending a text, making dinner for someone, etc, can really re-ground us in gratitude and emotional needs. It gives us a better understanding of the human experience. It also allows us to sometimes exercise a sense of vulnerability. Kindness often requires empathy, or taking a risk, or sharing a part of our story.
FOUR: Making gratitude a requirement in my day, like eating a meal
Gratitude is a word often used in methods to improve happiness, being in the present, reducing anxiety and so on – and while this isn’t a new concept, the reminder of gratitude is important. One of the ways I’ve improved my gratitude dialogue is by viewing gratitude as a requirement, like eating meals in a day. As a Christian, I get the visual prompt when eating to pray for my meal, and often try to slip in other words of thanks for parts of my day that once seemed insignificant.
Pairing a visual cue, like mealtime, with the act of giving thanks, can help rescale the balance between negative thoughts and dialogue in your day.
FIVE: Taking inventory of the content I am consuming; social media, music, conversations, books, television, etc.
This is a habit change that so easily goes under my radar it’s scary; but when I switch up my media I notice an overnight and overwhelming change in my mindset. I also believe this is a habit we don’t need to constantly be strict with, but be strict with checking in with ritualistically. If you find yourself struggling to keep a more positive persona about yourself; your worth, value, age, appearance, success, and so on, it may be catalyzed by your consumption.
This is something you can do today to make a potentially big impact for your tomorrow.
SIX: Staying curious; exploring new things I might enjoy like new wine, or foods, a hobby, even a style of clothing or cosmetics, books and literature, etc.
Trying new things gives us permission to fail. Sometimes it’s a small consequence such as regretting a takeout selection, and sometimes, it’s taking a risk and quitting your job in pursuit of your dreams. Demonstrating to yourself and others that you decided to feed your curiosity, that you are worth investing in yourself, gives you a foundation of personality and authenticity. Therefore, minimizing the need to look to others for answers and approvals when you’re already seeking them yourself. By being curious you want to learn about the world and those interests point towards what you love, and when we focus on love we gain gratitude and joy and that also reduces anxious feelings.
SEVEN: Investing in things I believe in (such as goals, people, activities) even if others don’t understand the level of commitment or why I am putting the time/effort
I think strong authenticity, values and characteristics appear when our doubts are at their highest level. When we call upon ourselves to invest time and energy into a dream, a goal, despite the statistical odds, or others opinions…we are betting on ourselves. We then bet again, bet again, bet again, until we get the outcome we want. In this circular process we stop caring about other people’s bets or validation because we’re too busy rolling the dice, and finding out new things about ourselves while we build strength and stamina along the way.
In all these methods, the pattern is to get too invested to care, dig, explore, educate and lay firm foundations that are so strong that validation from others, or from this broken world are weak against what you’ve created.
I want to break down why we care so much about perception. Because I believe caring about what others think about us is so damaging and keeps us away from knowing what we believe about ourselves and knowing ourselves.
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