We’ve all had conversations in our head with people who aren’t there. Coming up with a better argument than we had in reality, explaining ourselves, showing off to them. It happens. In fact, sometimes we don’t even recognize it’s happening, until we accidentally say something out loud and are startled by it. Aware or not, those faces exist.
One of the key factors to coming alive, is beginning to understand and differentiate between who we really are and who we’ve been told we are by others. The reflections we receive from others are often skewed, like a funhouse mirror. And if we’re empathetic, we’ll look at it from their angle, see the logic in it, and take it on as our own. This forms an identity in us.
“I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am ” -Thomas Cooley
Most of the time, these reactions from others are stored away in a less conscious part of our brain, and we begin reacting to them, without remembering why. In fact, there’s so much of this happening inside of us, having been stored up from childhood, that the person we are behaving as is nowhere near the true reflection of us. So how do we fix it?
Step one: Recognize Those Faces.
When you feel a sense of shame, or guilt, or pride, or fear, take note of any faces that pop into your head. Who are they? Can you figure out why you are seeing them in this particular moment? Do they matter to you? What’s your fear?
Is the emotion you’re having how you really feel?
I remember when I fell back in love with Counting Crows a few years back. I listened to their album, and was really drawn to it, but I wouldn’t admit to myself that I liked it. I suddenly stopped and checked for a face. Oddly, I was picturing a friend from high school who I’d recently friended on Facebook, and in my mind, I thought she wouldn’t think the Counting Crows were cool. Like it would make me a frumpy, out of date mom or something. She was so insignificant to me, yet I was subconsciously letting her control and define my taste in music. And for all I knew, she loved the Counting Crows! It was just my perception of her thoughts towards me that formed it. Once I realized what was stopping me, I could let it go and enjoy the album. And I played that thing out!
Sometimes recognizing where it’s coming from, and realizing it’s not you, is all you need in order to be freed. Other times, with recognition comes the need to distance yourself from key people in your life. It is not weak to get rid of those who control you so you can grow. There tends to be an ideal that we should be strong enough to not care what other people think. But if we want to come alive, we need to deal with truths, not ideals. And the truth is, caring what other people think is human nature. Is there a place where we transcend this? Possibly. Is there something we can do to make ourselves care less? Yes. The more aware we are of our truth, the more we will love ourselves. And the more we love ourselves, the more people who don’t love us for who we are will seem like the ones who need to change. But never lie to yourself about this. Truth, not ideals, is what sets us free.
So start taking note. Become aware. And ask yourself the question, “Is this coming from me, or has someone else given it to me along the way?”