Day 66: Who Cares What Others Think?
I don't have an exercise to work on today. Something that is being discussed in a forum, however, got my attention. It feels like a deep root. The following two comments point toward it for me:
"I'm always trying to show how strong I am, as if by doing so I can 'undo' the times when I was overpowered. Part of me still thinks it's unacceptable to have PTSD symptoms at inconvenient times. It's ok to have a PTSD diagnosis, but heaven forbid I should have problems with work or parenting or running the household or shopping or any other part of life."
"so familiar - how dare I have any problems that could be noticed by anyone else or even me just because I have an unfortunate history." - dreamgirl
This is a barrier many of us encounter on a regular basis. The kind of wound we carry (those of use with SA history) is one society doesn't want to see. This relates, in some way, to another issue I started speaking about with my therapist, the issue of other people's judgment. She wants me to be less concerned with what others think of me.
We receive constant, conflicting messages on this topic in our society. On one hand everyone is supposed to be so independent as not to care about what anyone else thinks of us. We have to appear as though other people's opinions of us do not affect us. And, there is a certain degree of 'healthy' in this, I know. It would not be good for me to be consumed by fear of everyone else's opinion of me. So, it's not irrational to work to avoid such fear, such insecurity. That's one extreme end of the spectrum.
However, also in our society we are bombarded with messages about how to fit in. How to look. How to talk. What things to do. What things to own. We learn how to mirror other people in interviews so that we'll "fit in" with them. In the hiring process we look for people who match our values and behaviors. We pick people we like, who we deem worthy of working with us. In other words, we openly acknowledge and court the good opinion of others; we want them to judge us positively in a way that benefits us. This is what a performance evaluation is all about. This is was a customer satisfaction survey is all about. This is dating, this is being polite. In fact, someone who has no concern whatever for other people's judgment is a sociopath because they lack empathy.
If we don't understand other's judgment, we don't get that date, that promotion, that sale. The ability to recognize how other people judge us is essential to success in our society. But, somehow, we are not supposed to be outwardly concerned with what others think of us.
This feels to me like a gigantic, hypocritical lie to tell ourselves as a society. It's a crazy making contradiction. It's discordant. It's incongruous. It's an oxymoron.
And, it just plain pisses me off.
My inability to discern what others thought of me as child led to being bullied at school for years. They saw someone who was small and introverted. They saw a victim. For a long time I didn't know that. I didn't know how they saw me influenced how they treated me. Then I was told something completely life changing.
This is the source of my intensity around this issue:
I was in several violent fights and nearly institutionalized by the time I finished 7th grade. I was attacked and responded with horrible violence (when I was left with no other choice). I couldn't get away. I wasn't being helped. I was bleeding profusely from a cut on my head.
At the end of that school year my siblings and I went to visit our dad. He observed how very quiet and shy I was. He said to me, "You just need to look people in the eye and smile at them. They won't know what you're thinking."
I was young enough, and trusting enough of my father to simply accept what he said. However, I didn't accomplish enacting his advice until I started high school. My eighth grade year was just as violent as my 7th grade year, only in a different city because my family moved.
But, after another horrible year (and after gaining 10 inches in height - ouch that was a difficult year), I decided to give his advice I try. I was in a new place where no one would know me. They wouldn't have opinions of me as being small and vulnerable.
I walked around smiling at people. And they smiled back. And they talked to me. They sat next to me at lunch. They hung out with me after school.
I ended up with lots of friends from pretty much every social group. I learned that it didn't matter what I thought of them. It didn't matter if I was their friend. It only mattered that I smiled. I also learned to influence what they thought of me. I could cause different people to have different opinions of me. To some people I was a computer nerd. To some people I was an outdoors chick. To some people I was an honor student, a musician, a wild party girl. I had lots of reputations, all of which depended on who I was hanging out with.
This was an incredibly important lesson. I learned people have rules. If you figure out their rules, you figure out what they think of you. And, as a result, you can influence how they treat you.
So . . . I do NOT at all agree with the idea that I should not be concerned with what others think of me. My ability to attend to that has protected me, has made me able to function in a world I don't understand -- because people are disingenuous and will hurt you for no reason. It has made me successful in my career. It has allowed me to keep my children safe.
I admit it world. Right here. Right now. I care what you think about me and I use it to protect myself and my family. I use it to create opportunity and to help make the world a better place!