No matter how much we know within our minds that other people’s opinions of us do not matter, and what truly matters is only how we see ourselves, it is much more difficult to embody this notion with confidence and own it as truth.
When we feel a strong desire to pursue and do something that goes against a deep-seated self-image and identity, we usually say: “what will people think, that’s not how they know me,” or “I’ve never done that before,” or “they’ve never seen me in that role.” All that means is: “I need to behave in a way that’s familiar to others, and if I don’t, I’m afraid they will judge me.”
When we feel stuck in an identity and behaviors that are constricting due to what others may think or say, it’s because we feel as though we must preserve the (perceived) image they have of us. We feel compelled to continue being who others think we are, based on how we behaved in the past. And oftentimes, we give into that lie. But it is not our responsibility to keep being the same person we once were to keep others comfortable. Our responsibility is to become who we were meant to become – and a big part of that includes shedding old beliefs and doing what we’ve never done before.
What gets in the way of change?
You know how to be your old self really well as you’ve done it your whole life. Even though that old self is constantly engaging in hurtful behaviors, even though it’s continuously criticizing everything you do, even though it’s blaming everyone else for its fate, even though it is anxious and full of fear, and even though it allows itself to be treated poorly…You just know really well how to be that old self.
With the new identity that’s trying to emerge, there comes a lot of fear. It’s as if you are leaving a cocoon of comfort and safety to become a butterfly. But what you are afraid of is just a feeling. That’s right – a feeling. You are afraid of what it will feel like if you were to be judged, criticized, or given an opinion you don’t like. The only result is an uncomfortable feeling. Remember that, your power is in feeling and acknowledging the discomfort without allowing it to decide for you.
What to focus on instead?
Even though you know how to be this old self, there is something new seeking expression. You may notice snippets or an unfamiliar identity that’s dying to emerge. It comes in daydreams, imaginations, fantasies, desires, thoughts. Perhaps it’s a bit uncertain and shy, and maybe you don’t allow yourself to entertain it for too long. But it keeps coming up and you can’t help but wonder “what if this could be possible, what if I can actually do this, what if I pursue this seriously, what if I bet on myself, what if I trust myself for the first time, what if I go against who I’m expected to be, what if I invest in myself, what if I don’t have to keep doing the same thing just because I’ve always done it…”
When you find yourself in a predicament in which you notice yourself making decisions based on what you think people will think or say, it is important to challenge those beliefs instead of taking them as facts. If you believe these thoughts, you are more likely to choose the most comfortable action (non-action) to appease the discomfort and keep yourself in complacency. Acknowledging fear is important, but if you allow it to decide for you, you will never do anything new again.
Here are some questions and thoughts to ponder.
To stand in self-trust and power of doing what feels right to you and to not give into the opinions of others takes continuous work against deeply engrained beliefs. It takes trust that it may be time for change and that an identity you held onto for so long feels too tight and constricting. It takes continuous self-permission to allow the expression of the new identity. The best thing about this is that you don’t need to create a new identity, you simply allow it to express itself.
Always remember that people who truly matter and want to see you happy and successful will always support you doing something wonderful, enriching, and purposeful for yourself.
Deep change takes giving up, discomfort, not knowing, trial and error, obstacles (both mental and physical), and radical belief in oneself! Wanting different results always requires a different action.
Being in that space between comfort of the known and the discomfort of change is where most people tend to give up, give in, take shortcuts, and try quick fixes. No shame in that, we all prefer to be comfortable - we want the easy route. But comfort is often constricting and it hinders experiencing the fullness of life, change, and growth.
A quick fix is appealing, but ultimately, it’s only a bandaid. It’s only going to appease you for a short while and give you the appearance of things being fixed, healed, and changed. But bandaid doesn’t heal old wounds, that we often carry from our childhood. Over the course of our life, we create strategies to make that wound less visible and less panful, until we come to a point where these strategies become too difficult to manage and we realize that it’s time to heal that wound.
Realizing that the power to heal past hurts and change your life has been in your hands all along is one of the most freeing, yet scary things. Honor that, give yourself compassion, thank yourself for being honest, and for wanting more.
First, be brutally honest with yourself and ask:
What do I need to give up?
What is no longer serving me?
Where have I been giving up my power?
Where can I take more responsibility for my life?
Only you have answers to these questions. They may be difficult to face, but facing them is what will propel you forward. This is where deep, long lasting change takes place and is so worth it!
If you don’t want to do this work alone and want a therapist in your corner, I’d love to guide and support you through both the tough stuff and through the victories.