A few weeks back on my writing Facebook page, I volunteered for an AMA (Ask Me Anything… it’s Internet lingo, my friends). I thought for sure a few people might ask about my drastically different stance on guns or why I voted for a Democrat or why I call myself a feminist or why I’m no longer conservative or why I prefer Marvel to DC. All the really pressing questions of our age. I hoped the possible questions might give me a good segue into tackling more difficult subject matter that I might be too cowardly to write about otherwise.
Instead, I only had a few questions from my loyalest of readers (I know, there’s only really 10 of you reading this, and mom, you don’t count despite how many times you click on this post). Yet, there one question asked that I can’t stop thinking about.
The question: Where does your fear of what others think come from?
Whoa. Deep. Cuts right to the core of my issues with writing regularly (aside from my Twitter addiction and lately, the pull to play Fortnite – both of which are just ways to avoid processing some thoughts).
*Goes and checks Twitter, instead of writing. Hey… stop dragging me, Hannah.
Fine, I’ll get back to writing…
I’m not sure why my brain works this way, but writing truly helps me process whatever it is I’m going through. And yet this nagging fear of how I’m perceived by others is something I’d love to excise out of my life. Forget grammar or too many ellipses or careless spelling errors or verbosity (thanks, Dad for that gift), my biggest weakness as a writer is a crippling fear of what other people think.
So, as I pondered this incredibly deep question, I did what any good writer would do. I talked to my therapist. But that involved finding a new therapist after recently breaking up with my long-time therapist. Long story, but I promise eventually, I’ll write about that as well.
In my first appointment with New Therapist, she said I’m afraid of losing people in my life. Something might be said or written or revealed that brings loss. And I think that’s true to a point. I look back at my youth, those formative years. And yeah, I witnessed tremendous loss when I watched my parents take an unpopular (but righteous) stand in a religious environment. A spiritual family was torn asunder, friends abandoned each other, even familial relationships were damaged because of this stand. And I wonder if that’s not just one reason this fear has taken root in my life.
I also am well aware that I suffer greatly from people-pleasing. Years ago, when I started therapy, I wanted to tackle my propensity for perfectionism, my struggle with performance (fear of failure), and my addiction to people-pleasing: the three P’s I called them as they vexed me. I’m happy to say the perfectionism and fear of failure don’t strangle me like they used to.
But dammit, I can’t abandon the people-pleasing aspect of my personality. I had a friend on Twitter tell me to just embrace being myself and learn to give the rest of the world the middle finger (and now half of you reading this just got severely offended… maybe I am making a bit of progress in this area, after all). And I’d like to learn to not give a damn what others think just half as much as he’s embraced that new found freedom in his life.
At the same time, my religious background certainly affects this to a point. One verse that always struck me as a way I’d like to live my life is in Romans 12 and it says “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” So, instead of focusing on the “if it is possible part,” I think I just focused on the “live at peace with everyone” and have for too long let making others happy dictate how I live my life. I’ve confused others’ happiness as the metric that says I’m living at peace. But is it really peace when I’m miserable? No. I don’t think so.
And in crafting an image that I think makes others happy, I step into a dozen different closets and hide a dozen different aspects of myself. I value integrity and authenticity, and yet I feel like I’m in a constant tug of war of authenticity and people-pleasing. And frankly, it’s not up to me to manage if you like me or approve of me. This is a battle I will never win and will just leave me miserable and exhausted.
On a side note, when you grow up in a religious environment that says you have to abide by a certain checklist of rules in order to be a good Christian, you begin to apply that to other areas of your life. I modified my behavior to ensure I was checking off all the important rules so that I’d be seen as a good person, striving for a twisted sense of holiness that is unattainable and the opposite of grace. New Therapist told me to learn to give myself grace, and I told her that’s a real issue in my life because I grew up fundamentalist. Not exactly a grace-centric environment that teaches you the tools you need to give yourself said grace.
Now, another aspect of why I’m afraid of what others think has to do with a little phrase I learned from reading The Five Love Languages. And this is a rather new epiphany I had that I’m still working through.
One of my main love languages is Words of Affirmation. So, if I write something a little controversial or if I admit to something that might not garner everyone’s approval, any anticipated negative feedback gives me pause. My brain interprets it not just as disagreement, but a loss of love. In regards to Words of Affirmation, your feedback, your words hold more power in my life than they should, I believe.
I know that people can disagree and still love each other. My brain tells me that’s true based on my experiences in life. But if you should say, “You have no moral center because of how you chose to vote or which church you attend or what cause you support or what you don’t believe anymore” that stings. It’s like a knife to my soul and the wound takes so very long to heal. Disagreement, when done properly, is quite okay. I know that. But damn, I still fear disagreement will lead to disapproval. What can I say, I’m a work in progress and I’ll ponder this particular point for a while, yet.
I’m being very vulnerable here in writing about this fear. But it’s good for me as I sit here and try to process my tendency to people-pleasing. Also, and this is a huge problem, for some reason I greatly underestimate the friendships I have with people. And I have been told by friends that is upsetting to them. I’m stereotyping them based on what I know about them… which is exactly what I don’t anyone to do to me. I realize this is a blind spot in my life. And I’m working on it.
All this to say, I’m going to find a middle ground. I’m not jumping in feet first and giving everyone the middle finger (Sorry, Hobbs, not my style), but I’m also going to begin to be more open about who I am and where I’ve landed after five years of questioning everything and learning to accept myself entirely as I am. I’ve been hiding too much for too long. To borrow a motif, I’m hiding in a closet within a closet within a closet within yet another closet. Hell, I’m halfway to Narnia hiding behind a sea of coats in this little wardrobe.
So, Wendy, I hope this answered your question. Maybe? If not, it certainly caused me to think about the topic the last few weeks. And I’m hoping that throughout the next few weeks and months, I can make progress with both my writing (I have a novel I’m trying to finish, too) and my people-pleasing induced fear.