I Know What You’re Thinking, Don’t I?
Do not let other people’s perception of you, real or imaginary, interfere with your perception of yourself.
This is something I preach. I preach to the people who feel like they are not enough, to the women who feel they are lacking something because the guy didn’t call back, and to the men who think they won’t be a man unless they win the game.
This is not only something I tell people, but something I truly believe as well. But if I advocate it as much as I do, why do I feel it is hard to take on the practice myself?
We have all heard It’s easier said than done. Of course it is. But why does it have to be?
One of my biggest fears, and my biggest vulnerability, doesn’t exist. It is only in my mind. I find myself creating situations in my head that do not exist and will probably never exist.
In these situations, a dramatic interaction of some sort happens where I am triggered to defend myself by saying something along the lines of You don’t know what you are talking about, you are not me or You can’t imagine what I have been through and you should hope you never will.
I am convinced that this made-up scenario will eventually happen, and not only will I have to defend myself, but also my insecurity. I assume that I know what people are thinking, because how could they not be?
The love of my life, Drew, died suddenly from a heroin overdose in March. Since then I have found myself in uncharted territory of isolation, loneliness, vulnerability, and insecurity. These are new feelings for me, as I would normally describe myself as a happy, outgoing, and confident person.
However, I now consistently think about what others are thinking of me.
Do I look too happy to still be grieving? If I flirt with a guy at a bar, will people think I am over Drew and that I don’t love him? If I start crying in the middle of the airport because the song that is playing is triggering me, will people think I’m crazy? If I don’t advocate for drug laws and overdose awareness, will people think I don’t care?
We all experience this one way or another. I would really like to say that I don’t care what other people think about me, and to some extent I don’t; however, when it comes to this uncharted territory, my armor is on, and I am ready to fight and defend. I have tried to analyze it and create steps to discover what it really comes down to.
Take this fear for example:
I am afraid that people will notice I don’t write on Drew’s Facebook page on the anniversary of his death anymore, and they will assume I don’t think or care about him. This is a real thought and fear that I have.
And this is a real response that I have come up with if and when someone questions me: Why does it matter? It’s not like he’s reading it. It’s not like I don’t love him. You have no idea what it feels like, and don’t you judge me for a second and think you know anything about me.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Step One: How likely is this to actually happen?
Not very. There is a good chance no one notices because we are all too built up in our own heads and lives to care or notice something like how often someone writes on someone else’s page.
Step Two: What is the initial feeling that is being felt?
Anger. I would be insulted if someone were to question my love, so of course I need to get defensive.
Step Three: Where does that feeling come from?
Maybe I’m angry because I feel guilty and ashamed.
Step Four: What does that feeling stem from?
I feel ashamed and guilty because I don’t want Drew to feel like I don’t care about him or love him.
Step Five: Who is in control of these feelings, and why are they really there?
I am in control. I am always in control. They are there because my insecurity of how I am being perceived by others in controlling how I perceive myself.
Step Six: What is the truth?
No matter what I do, I will still love him and he will still love me. And he didn’t check his Facebook when he was alive. He isn’t checking it now.
I try my hardest to even add some humor when I can in these situations. This one personally I like to picture, imagining him scrolling through Facebook watching cat videos and reading through people’s opinionated rants on gun control and global warming. It’s actually hilarious to picture.
So what am I really saying here?
I am saying that this big fear of people perceiving me in such a way that will cause me to create a response for a defense mechanism doesn’t exist. I am so worried about how I am being perceived, and therefore judged, by others, that I have forgotten that I perceive them to be judgmental, usually without even an interaction!
This perception then hides the confidence I have in myself to not only maintain a stable and healthy mind, but also survive life.
I have come to realize that what others think of us really only exists in our own minds. But from our minds can come dangerous thought processes that we internalize to make decisions about how we discern ourselves.
I have come to so many assumptions about other people making assumptions about me; I forget to ask myself, what is the truth? For me, the truth is, I am vulnerable. I am scared. And I am insecure. I am all of these things because the bottom line is that I am heartbroken. Finding the bottom line is what it is all about.
We are quick to judge ourselves but not forgive and understand ourselves. To rebuild, we must start from the foundation. My foundation is the feeling of heartbreak. Becoming aware of this can obstruct the negative thoughts and bring a new self-assurance and opinion.
And this new opinion comes from self-understanding, reality, and our own beliefs.
So the next time you get trapped in the web of assumptions, take a step back and do some self-reflecting. Remind yourself that you are not a mind-reader and neither are they. And most importantly, remember that only you can control your feelings, and no one else’s opinion, perception, or thought should change how you feel about yourself.
So let’s all try to get in touch with our deepest feelings, for that is where self-love lies.
Arielle Sokoll-Ward LGSW holds a Masters degree in Social Work. She has started a chapter of a grief recovery support group for people who have lost a loved one to drugs or alcohol. She enjoys traveling, writing, and public speaking, and is on the journey to find human connection and meaning.