Are you an over-thinker? Many of us are! Probably even more so for introverted and sensitive types.
We have the thoughts…and then we experience the “second-thoughts”…before the, “on-the-other-hand” change of mind swoops in from behind.
“Agh, I just don’t know what I should do!”
We are treading water in a grey sea of confusion and brain chaos. This is the point at which the ego butts in and finds a foothold from which to speak.
“It doesn’t matter what you do”, it says reassuringly…“just as long as people like you. So do whatever makes people like you. Oh and don’t do anything that might risk people not liking you. I mean, that would be ridiculous! Well, actually it would just be typical you!”
Assuming The World Revolves Around Us
It tells some of us that the world can see into every little flaw and failing within. It doesn’t matter how well we hide it, the threat of being exposed lingers like a dark cloud of potential humiliation, ridicule, and shame. So we stay small, keep ourselves to ourselves, and hope that no one ever uncovers the “shameful” truth.
While for others of us it is the encouragement to tie our self-worth to the number of likes and shares we get on social media; how hard we work. Or how much money we make.
It tells some of us that if the world stops paying attention we should shout louder, grow bigger, and act in ever more extreme ways. And for others, we need to do what’s necessary to stay “relevant” and “cool”.
“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.” – Olin Miller
We Ought To Care
Someone recently posted on Threads, “Care about what other people think, and you will always be unhappy”. I knew what he meant, but felt compelled to explore what was missing in the post. I replied that it can be good to care about what people think. It makes for meaningful conversations and opens up potential for deeper understanding about different perspectives we might not have considered previously.
As well as being part of any healthy interpersonal relationship, the truth is we do care about other people’s judgements. The thoughts and feelings of those closest to us, should matter to us. And the need to belong is a natural instinct for survival. We need connection, community, and a safe place to anchor.
But true belonging stops when there is friction to authenticity. We lose our sense of belonging when we use stories about who we’re “supposed to be” as a filter through which we act, speak, and think.
This happens when the ego tethers our choices, actions, and beliefs, to an outcome…being liked.
How will this be received? What will people think of me if I do this? How would they react if they knew what I truly enjoyed? What would be the consequence if I admitted that I don’t understand?
When fear of not being liked influences the choices we make for our lives, it alienates us from who we really are capable of becoming.
The Cost of Fitting In
As Brené Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, when the ego tells us how to act, we either shrink down to be liked (fear of exposure), or we ‘puff up’ to be worthy (demand for acceptance and approval). So, she says, “if the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble. But if the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay.”
This isn’t about not caring what people think. You can’t switch off your emotions if you want to stay connected to your authentic self.
But we can key into a different way of engaging with that voice. So that the IMPACT of what people think (or often more accurately, what the Ego is telling us people will think), no longer sabotages who we are and how we act upon what truly matters to us.
What is Authenticity?
Brown describes authenticity as a daily practice; “of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are”.
So what does that mean for us in reality? How do we even identify a voice telling us what we’re “supposed to be”?
We Lose Our Authentic Self When We Use What People Think as Our Guide
The voice of “supposed to be”, is pretty black and white. It generalises in massive ways, and holds no space for imperfection, messiness, and the in-between.
For the false-self there is a right and a wrong. A good and a bad. A “what you must do to attain worthiness”, and a “what you must keep hidden if you want to be accepted”.
The false self doesn’t like it when we entertain the idea that imperfection is part of life. And it hates when we realise that showing up without the answers is fertile ground for learning and growth.
In other words, it hates the truth!
When we recognise the false self, we can begin to observe it without judgement. We can sit behind it, and see the many ways it fogs our vision of what is true.
The authentic self on the other hand, knows we are fully who we are BECAUSE OF our imperfection, incompleteness, and lack of wholeness. It is in the heart of the messiness, chaos, and confusion that we belong to and connect with one another. It’s where we find our unconditional worth and value.
We could NEVER be good enough for the false-self voice, because it operates within unattainable standards.
The “True Self”
If such a thing exists in any meaningful sense, I believe a true self is the voice of compassion, gentleness, acceptance, love, grace, creativity, playfulness, and hope. Our authenticity sits behind the fog of judgement, comparison, criticism, scarcity, self-doubt, need for control and certainty.
The true self is like a torch that shines into that cloud. A light seeping through from behind the smog that blurs the truth of what sits beyond. The desperate demand for approval, acceptance, and affirmation. And the fear of being seen as we really are.
The authentic self sits beyond time and space. It’s who we are when we enter flow. At one with the task at hand. When we are engaged in deep conversation. And bringing some creative project into the world.
Acting Without Ego
Authenticity is a practice. It’s not something you either have or don’t have. It is something we continually nurture and practice over a lifetime. It requires courage to show up and do what we know is right, even when the criticism stings. Which it does. As Brené Brown reminds us, “cruelty always hurts”.
We can’t avoid this kind of pain without paying a great price.
The pain of leaving our creative ideas, contributions, and heartfelt care and concern, to rot away in the margins of our lives, is far worse. She says, that trading our authenticity for safety, runs the very real risk of experiencing, “anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief”.
Don’t Do It Alone
Although only you can find the light of your authenticity, this is not something that happens in isolation.
Authenticity is contagious. And as we encounter other people who live with wholehearted courage, compassion, and connection, we can’t help but be infected.
As it spreads and strengthens, the power of other peoples’ imagined (or real) thoughts and judgements, weakens.
Once it’s shining, it’s a light too bright to snub out. The criticism and judgement, that once caused us to shrink back or puff up, is consumed by the brightness of that light.
The weapons, although they can cause a sharp pain and temporary numbness, are ultimately blunt to our deep defences. And they no longer have the power to penetrate the skin around our authentic self.
We don’t try to hide or conceal those wounds. We wear them openly. They are part of the story.
And when we live with that gentle courage, it leads others to be seen, validated, and accepted…not as they are “supposed to be”, but as they truly are.