For people managing anxiety, the goal is to recognise and accept who we are, ultimately becoming content with that person.
I am writing this during Coronavirus lockdown. The quiet atmosphere has helped in many ways. Many normally anxious people are looking relaxed and well. Worry about money and the economy increases, yet social pressures, anxiety about what other people think of us, has lifted. The concern about our place in society, our worth in social terms, has eased away. We know who we are, in our own homes. We understand our role in the family; we know we can act-out and we won’t be rejected.
A sprinkle of Zen wisdom
A Zen story tells of a couple who bought a donkey to save their tired feet. Thin from eating less for months to purchase said beast, the couple rode the donkey together to market. People gossiped as they passed, saying how cruel the couple were, putting two people’s weight on the donkey.
The next day, the man rode the donkey, with the woman walking alongside. Louder gossip followed them, with people calling the husband unchivalrous as he rode along in style, his wife walking beside.
Another day passed, and this time the wife rode the donkey, as her husband walked. Some called the husband cruel to make a lady ride; others claimed the wife had made her husband walk.
People judge with limited knowledge
People comment casually on what they see, without having all the facts. When both husband and wife had ridden the donkey, onlookers did not realise how much weight they had both lost, buying less food for weeks so they could buy a donkey, Day two, and passers-by were unaware that the woman had not yet learned to ride a donkey solo, and being shown by her husband. By day three, the people who judged them could not see the blisters on the soles of the man’s feet as he walked beside his wife, riding the donkey.
On day four, onlookers judged, unaware that they were leading the donkey back to market to sell it, because the weary couple found the criticisms and judgments so painful.
Why did they find these opinions so painful? Humans are generally social animals. Emotions: caring what other people think of us, have helped us to survive in groups, where as individuals, we would have perished.
A tremendous tool like the social brain is delicate and not always dependable – like all things, it has its benefits and its drawbacks. Being overly sensitive to what other people think, can lead to poor mental health and paranoia. This gage of “am I acceptable or am I not?” presupposes that there is a measure for acceptability.
Stop trying to calculate the incalculable
Questioning whether people think well of us or not, implies we can somehow read others’ thoughts. People’s good opinion of us, in any event, is changeable from moment to moment. Sometimes it is helpful to ask “Does this person like me?” but most of the time, it really is not.
YOU make your decisions and you alone can validate them. What other people say, think and do is casual and fleeting – they change their minds with varying information and different moods. NOBODY has all the information relevant to you.
People constantly make judgments without adequate information: partly to make conversation and partly to plan their own actions. External opinions are irrelevant and often unhelpful. Internal validation is all that matters. If you are living according to your own beliefs and levels of what you feel is acceptable, it is on you to say “I am doing the right thing”, to have the courage of your convictions. Whatever you say or do, people will judge you, as they judge everything. Judgments are temporary and meaningless. Even your own judgments about yourself are temporary – one moment you might like yourself and the next hate yourself – that is ok. YOU are ok as you are. When you encounter people socially, when people judge you casually, remember you are the same person before their judgement as you will be afterwards. Other people’s judgment is often wrong for you and YOURS is often right.