"To hide your true self from the world, because you fear judgment is a waste of your essence. It's a life half lived, and a spirit dimmed."
That has been my mantra that I have made up for myself. I have needed it lately as I face a new challenge. If you read my blog very often you might know that I set up challenges for myself all the time.I reevaluate where I am, and where I want to be constantly, and then decide what I can do to reach those new goals. To be stagnant is to stop growing as a person, and that's not something that I can tolerate in my life. I have to keep my mind sharp, and my ideas fresh. I'm always pushing the boundaries of ideas, and goals, but in a quiet, contemplative sort of way.
My newest challenge to myself is to build confidence. This entails many steps. It means I have to like myself. It means I have to invest more stock into what I think than what others think. It means I have to take risks that others might not like me, or respond favorably to me.
This has not been easy.
The way that I have always handled myself was to play it safe, except
in big situations where the consequences were really heavy. This would often mean not speaking at all in front of people I don't know well, or responding to public pages on social media, because my comment might not be liked. I worried about people liking me. I worried about people judging me. I dimmed down my personality to try to make it as smooth as possible to avoid conflict.
To conquer the mountain of building confidence I have to let that worry go, or at least not let it stop me from expressing myself.
Let me give an example.
Let's say I am on Facebook, and I see something on one of the satire sites I follow. I'm a really sarcastic, sweary person by nature. I am actually really good at writing satire, because all I have to do is pretty much write/say what I am thinking. I want to reply to the the post, because I have something funny (to me) to say. My instinct says to keep it to myself. Maybe other people on that page won't like it. Also, all of my friends will see it, and some of my friends list in composed of the extremely conservative, Christian community that I live in, and I know they'll not appreciate my humor. They may even be so offended they'll unfriend me. One F-bomb could be the last F-bomb they'll ever read from me. It's a hard choice to make for me. I have grown up feeling like I'm invisible, and no one likes me. Being unlikable is a feeling I justifiably fear. However, I ask myself, "Has making myself so small I almost disappear into anonymity ever worked for me? Has it ever ever gotten me any real friends?" The answer was no. It didn't. It may have stopped me from entering into conflict with others, but it never served me any other purpose. It damaged my self-esteem. It hid the real me from others. Every time I keep quiet when I want to add to a conversation I reinforce to myself that my thoughts don't matter.
So, I swallow my fear, and post anyway. To my surprise my comments sometimes get up to a few hundred likes. To my surprise, I am not standing there (figuratively) exposed while feeling ashamed, and embarrassed like I envisioned I'd be. It's been quite the opposite. I have been having fun. I've been enjoying the newfound freedom to be myself.
I have also been doing this in real life. If I have something to say I say it during conversations, instead of running it through my head ten different ways trying to decide if it's the right thing to say right now. Nothing has happened that would indicate this has been a bad decision so far.
Though, I want to caution others to not push people they know that are shy to do this. We will do it when we're ready, and harassment only serves to grow that fear rather than diminish it. Also, the same goes for telling people not to care what others think. That's not something we're all able to just snap our fingers, and do. Some people have social anxiety that cannot simply be undone by deciding to stop being anxious. It's ridiculous to assume that it can. Some of us have had some pretty hard lives where we were abused, and demeaned in ways you can't know. It's not something most victims talk about. Abuse from parents, and peers leave scars, and sometimes PTSD. If I can tell everyone I know one phrase to stop using right now, and forever is " Stop caring what others think, and you'll be __________.". It fills me with rage whenever I see, or hear that statement. It's the equivalent of telling someone with severe OCD to stop caring about whatever their obsession is about. It's not helpful, and it really is downplaying a real issue.
I have been exploring what it is like to open up to the world, and let my light out a bit. It's like a flower blossoming in a corner of the garden that had gone unnoticed as a bud. I'm exploring what it's like to take in all of my environment, like a flower does in the elements, while risking exposure, but finding it more rewarding than not. I may not be everybody's favorite flower, and some may not like me at all, but I can't let my quality of life depend on their opinion anymore.
Do you have any experience with this? I'd love to hear your stories.