I have limited emotional energy reserves with a side of three children – I have to be super careful with my worries, fears, etc.
So, a few years ago I made some pretty massive changes to the way I think about the opinions of others. I’ll invite/encourage you to do the same. But a quick disclaimer:
These are simple steps, and I promise that they’ll make perfect sense to you, but they’re not easy. Turns out I had become a bit addicted to the things that kept me chained to my perception of how others thought about me. Little about what follows was a quick, easy, “change of mind” kind of thing.
Insecure About Something That Never Mattered
I’ve been worrying about this for a long time – millions of hours spent sweating over my mistakes and shortcomings – how others might be talking about me, or laughing.
My habit began in middle school. I was a “dork,” surrounded by other kids who loved to poke fun about the way I looked, or something stupid I did. I had no idea how to handle it, so I agreed with them, and accepted their labels.
Like so many in our culture, I entered adulthood believing that I was only good if others thought I was good. If someone hated me, or laughed at me, that meant I was bad, and it hurt. The opinions of other people began to matter way more than they should have.
Having lived like that for most of my life, I can now declare with the utmost confidence that the negative opinions of others don’t matter. Worrying about them doesn’t “work.” It doesn’t do anything but bad things. Read more →
You don’t just wake up one morning feeling shame, someone has to give it to you
This is one of my favorites. You can do it in the privacy of your own mind and it will very quickly destroy your ability to be happy. Marginalizing happens when we consider someone, or a group of someones, to be lower than us – ie, we diminish their value as people, and it feels wonderful.
How to Marginalize People
To do this, you’ll need three things in your toolbox that most people have readily available. First, you’ll need to question your own value. this is the hallmark of depression – feeling like you never measure up, like you have to always be doing more – one tiny slip and the world will know how crappy you are. Most people deal with this by finding some arena where they might perform – work, physical appearance, money, things, influential friends – as long as these things are in play, self-value is seldom questioned. Take these away and a very shaky self-image emerges. I have a friend who always tells me about how much he appreciates himself, but spends a ton of time ripping a certain group of people. What he loves is that he’s a very responsible person – what he hates is people who are irresponsible. He’s a young guy and will live like this for awhile, but it will require a ton of emotional energy. Most guys wear out around mid-life, try like hell to find the self that was lost (usually with a Harley and a grip – ton of alcohol), then give up and get depressed.
Second, you’ll need to hold something close to your heart that you consider to be disgusting, deplorable, unjust, gross, unsightly, etc – a behavior, a “look,” a philosophy, a cause, an orientation – something that, when you see someone else doing it, makes you cringe, and something you don’t do, at least not in public. What I’ve found is that this thing that we hate usually reminds us of ourselves. My friend with the responsibility issues was raised with a lot of shame surrounding responsibility – there’s a mountain of unresolved hurt in that guy’s heart and it’s led him to believe that the only people with true value are the ones who are truly responsible – and that he’s a piece of junk every time he drops a ball.
Third, you’ll need to have been marginalized at some point in your past. Most of us have been there – this is a popular thing to do to people, especially to kids. We want our kids to a) not be completely insane and b) have great lives – so we push them, frequently using shame which a) is one of the best motivators ever and b) sends the very clear message “you’re only valuable if you ______.”
do your homework
get good grades
stay in shape
make lots of money
make me look good
Most of us are raised believing that we’re only valuable under certain conditions. If those conditions are broken, we’ll feel shame which, regardless of what you believe about human origin, is something humanity was never designed to deal with. Shame drives all sorts of miserable behavior – addiction, destruction, bad grades, bad relationships, bad attitudes – but you don’t just wake up one morning feeling shame, someone has to give it to you.
How you look at people can make you miserable
I’m going to throw out something that you may have never heard before. It will sound strange at first, it did to me, but I want to invite you to let this sink in for a bit before you do anything with it.
How you view people determines your ability to be happy
If you look at humanity in general and see something amazing, you have a better chance at happiness than you do if you ascribe value to people under more conditional terms. If the only people who are valuable to you are the people who add value to your life, or the people you look up to, or the people who perform well, your happiness will be just as conditional. If you’re reading this and (understandably) thinking to yourself “baloney,” I’ll bet you’re struggling, unless you’re really young and still have the energy to live under so many conditions.
When we were kids, most of us thought this way – that all people are essentially good, and we were happy. As we grew up we were taught to place conditions on the value of others – to find joy in looking down on people – which somehow resulted in our placing conditions on our own value. It seems that the older we get, the harder it is to be at peace.
Give it a shot – spend a day or two looking past the blemishes to see the real beauty of people (and leave some comments – I’d love to hear your stories). When the impulse comes upon you to judge someone, strip someone of their value, marginalize someone, resist – understand that the impulse comes from something inside you that has nothing to do with the other person. Go have a drink or two, watch a movie, meet with a friend. I promise it won’t kill you, but it will make it harder for you to live a miserable life.