Your experience is yours and you can do with it what you will. Why is it we feel a need to dismiss, redirect, define, redefine, and otherwise interject our beliefs onto another’s experience? That question haunts me, but it’s really not important. What’s important is knowing it’s okay to ignore people when they do this.
Should you grieve in a certain way? No. Will there be people who negatively judge the process that works for you? Yes. Ignore them.
Should you feel ashamed that you have scarred skin? No. Will there be people who assume you are ashamed and intercede on your behalf even though that makes you feel diminished and dismissed? Yes. Ignore them.
Should you be embarrassed to wear comfortable shoes that support properly? No. Will there be those who make fun of you or gossip about your unfashionable choice? Yes. Ignore them.
Should you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you prefer dietary changes to medication when your physician indicates the end result will be the same? No. Will there be pressure to choose meds? Probably. Ignore it.
Should you feel free to ask questions of experts? Yes. Will there be those who push you to accept what you’re told as gospel? Yes. Ignore them.
Should you limit your dreams because you begin with a disadvantage? No. Will there be people who undermine you because they don’t believe you deserve your dream? Most likely. Ignore them.
We give other people way too much agency to alter our perceptions or behavior. We hope for connection and seem to believe that conformity will bring it. For a brief moment, it may.
So, what are some long-term costs of not being true to yourself?
Limited intimacy. It feels flattering for people to conform to us so that can bring momentary connection. But ultimately, it is impossible to deepen intimacy when one party is not being genuine. The relationship will get stuck.
Diminished quality of life. If you give up the depth of your experience, apologize for it, or twist yourself in a pretzel to please someone else, it diminishes your sense of self and your quality of life.
Less likely to feel fulfilled by achievement. If you choose to put energy into work or activities that someone else would choose for you, you may be wildly successful by another’s standard, but you won’t necessarily feel fulfilled. Giving energy to things that are personally meaningful can feel more satisfying even when you’re judged less successful.
Feelings of frustration, anger, and loss. There are situations in which being yourself can pose physical or emotional danger. In these situations, choosing to conform may save your life. It is okay to make this choice. In fact, it’s smart. It is also okay to feel the frustration, anger, and loss that doing so may leave in its wake.
Constant tension. If you are in a constant fight with yourself, you create unrelenting internal tension. This may lead to outbursts that threaten relationships. Or it may cause your children to feel anxious.
Substituting judgement for listening is a shortcut that saves time. It makes our lives appear less messy. It can save us embarrassment. But it usually requires a level of denial that diminishes our lives.
Learning to actively listen, hold space, and be compassionate can begin by doing these things for ourselves. Set boundaries, allow yourself to feel anything you feel. There is no right or wrong here. A bad thought does not make you a bad person. A violent impulse does not make you a bad person. You can still choose good behavior. But it’s important to see and accept all your parts.
Once you can clearly see your experience, own it. There’s no need to apologize for the way you perceive something. This is true even if you have some form of PTSD. Your experience is your experience. Other people may feel differently in the same situation. That doesn’t make you wrong.
Ironically, we act as though we value uniqueness, but that value often ends very near our own norm. Actively owning my reality doesn’t just enhance my life. It helps me recognize how broad the human experience can be.