Why do we so whole heartedly believe other people’s opinions of us?
It’s like because someone says “You are…” - we think they're speaking the truth about us. And even worse, when we’re told something repeatedly, or strongly, or from someone we respect or love, we truly come to believe it. It becomes internalized, and then it becomes our story.
It’s natural that as young people trying to understand ourselves and the world, we’ll trust our elders and our peers to know what they’re talking about. It’s almost like because we think we don't know what we’re doing, everyone else must have it all figured out.
We feel alone in our struggle and we’re taught from a young age not to communicate our heavier emotions. When a child is told not to cry because they miss their mom, they’re being taught that sadness is wrong. Likewise when they yell and cry because they're hurt, they’re learning that fear and anger are wrong. We’re bullied into listening to other people's demands and opinions of our emotions, rather than listening to and learning from our own.
Can you recognize what stories you tell about yourself that actually began in other people's discomfort with how you were expressing, or being, yourself?
When I was little a lot of emphasis was put on the fact that I had trouble spelling. Like, A LOT. And it came from a lot of different directions. So much significance was put on this aspect of who I was, that I started developing shame around my intelligence. Being bad at spelling quickly snowballed into being bad at english all together. And while we’re at it let’s throw in geography, science, math, language…blah, blah… just learning in general. (To credit my teachers and parents, they had no idea that spell check would be as helpful as it is today.)
My point is though, I came to define myself by this infinitesimal aspect of a struggle I was having, something I was told I was BAD at. And to me it was a HUGE deal. It kept me from writing on the board in front of the class (even though I loved it because I loved my handwriting). It kept me from writing in front of other people in real time and from letting them read things I had previously handwritten. It even kept (keeps) me from typing in front of people, lest they see the crazy way I try to spell “necessary”. It kept me from trying all sorts of things I was sure I would fail at. Which pretty much included everything I didn't already know I was good at. Can you believe that my fear of failure - which may stem from how my ability to spell was received by my community - kept me from learning to ride a bike until I was pretty old. Or that the stress I once felt for spelling quizzes, is linked to the fear I feel today when someone suggests playing a game I’ve never played before?
My example may seem pretty light hearted. But this phenomenon can bring us to some very dark places.
I still have moments of panic when I know someone’s about to be let in on my secret. But I’ve learned to love this part of myself and laugh at the my phonetic spelling attempts (which I still think make more sense).
These parts of ourselves that make us different, and difficult, are the most beautiful elements of who we are.