We all struggle with the concept. It hits most of us for the first time in our teens–the pressure to conform, to be what others want and expect of us.
Somehow, we dismiss this when we leave our teens, thinking it is all behind us. But for most, I suspect it is not, and worse, for some of us, it started long before our teens.
Luckily for me, it was brought home to me once again, and I must own up to the fact that I have still not completely removed this cancer from my system. My personality is still driven to one degree or another by it.
Maturity knows no age as we all come to realize. Being who we are, being “comfortable in our own skin” is something to be striven for, and as I said, I suspect most think they are, until someone criticizes us, and we realize that we are still held all to tight by the tendrils of wanting to be what is expected of us.
As I said, mostly we encounter this in our teen years in the form of peer pressure. We want to be part of the crowd, and that means liking what the “crowd” likes and disliking what it doesn’t. Sometimes it causes us to do really shameful things, things we know to be wrong, merely to be accepted.
For some of us, it’s far worse than the general stupid behavior that our parents used to complain about, ending in the often heard phrase, “well would you jump off a cliff just because your friends did?” Some of it is generated by our parents themselves.
I’m not just talking about the parents who assault their kids and thus create children and later adults, who through fear, are willing to do anything to curry favor. More to the point, curry love. No, the parent who denigrates the kid, calling him stupid, ugly, fat–these esteem killing sentiments result in adults with low self esteem and they too are willing to conform to others expectations and desires in an attempt to feel wanted and, yes, loved.
I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, and I deeply felt the pain of not being the ideal. Though I was above average in intelligence, nobody cared much about that. Beauty was still the key to success for girls. Girls were wives and mothers in the making, college was just a means to that end, hopefully nudging up the scale of income.
I was chubby and wore glasses. Not ugly, but not “cute” either. Kids made fun of me, dating was a painful and not often met hope. I was willing to do a good deal to be part of some group, and be accepted. And even there, I suspected I was thoroughly disposable, the one who if late, would not be waited for. (I was never late as a result, and still am not).
Added to that I had dysfunctional parents, who both were good at ridicule. My brains were no big thing, expected as it were. So I was often taunted as being clumsy, stupid (in anything of importance- of which school work was not), fat, etc. My mother once exclaimed regarding my slightly buck and crooked teeth, “why you seem to have inherited all the worst qualities of both me and your dad.” (the teeth were straighted by orthodontics of course)
As a young adult, I latched on to anyone who was kind and supportive, and tried my best to be to their liking. This certainly included men, and I suspect a whole slue of women would agree with me on this. I became that which they desired. I became an enthusiast of football, or prize fighting, or interested in science fiction. I learned about muscle cars, I learned to love hiking or X-Files. It didn’t matter. If he liked it, I liked it.
Worse for me, was always to be criticized by someone. Not just any criticism of course. If I was learning something and the criticism was clearly intended to improve my work, so much the better. But if it was of the kind, that suggested that the person just plain didn’t like ME, well then I was deeply hurt.
Not just hurt, I was devastated. I would relate the circumstances to others–had I done anything wrong by their estimation? Was the other person being unreasonable? In most cases, I went to the person and restated my case, sure they had misunderstood. Usually they misunderstood nothing, they still reiterated the same complaint.
I couldn’t let it rest, I would grouse, replay, rethink, re-discuss, all in an attempt to rectify the situation. I couldn’t handle not being liked by someone. Usually of course, I was forced to, and often, in my younger years, this took the form of getting all my “friends” to agree with me and to avoid this person. After all, if they were my friends, they should, right?
Maturity comes of course, in realizing that we are all put together a bit differently. We don’t all like apples, we don’t all like Johnny Depp. The world would be a bore if we did. A person may need a certain type of friend. I may not be able to fulfill that need. That doesn’t mean I’m lacking, it means what it means.
For indeed, no friendship or relationship lives or dies by whether I truly like football or Mozart. Sure, we can have casual acquaitances whom we get together because we share some hobby or sport, but those who care for us, ultimately care for who we are in the deeper part of our psyche.
It’s whether we are kind, warm, loving, compassionate, empathetic, and so forth. If we are fudging on those factors to retain someone’s love, then we are but putting off the inevitable break, when they discover the truth.
Being true to self, means being who you are, even when you know it will bump up hard against the beliefs of someone you care about, or don’t care about. It in fact can’t respond to that at all. It means we are simply in all things true to who we are, letting the chips fall.
In my recent experience of feeling rejected unfairly, I started down the same path of justification and explanation. But I stopped, thanks as usual to the wise man I married. I can’t be and am not what someone else expected or wanted. So be it. I am who I am, like me or don’t.