By: Sarah Normandin – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
I have a love/hate relationship with other people – I think most of us probably do. On one hand, I think I’m pretty good at forging connections, on the other hand, I’ve been devastated when my ability to get along with others doesn’t go the way I planned. I’m a person who depends — to a certain extent — on being likable, and perhaps this is a delusion, but I tend to get along with others pretty well. However, when that doesn’t happen, when someone decides that I’m not for them, I struggle with losing control of the situation. Because when people like me, when people approve of me, I feel safe. That safety comes at a high cost though, because making everybody happy is a lot of work. It’s downright exhausting. And, as I’ve discovered, is not a feasible long-term strategy for mental health or general wellbeing.
If there is one question I get often asked, it is something along the lines of – how do I not care when other people don’t like me? And I understand it, maybe more than most, as I’ve already said. As you may be aware, one of the basic tenants of self-help 101 is that we would be better off if we didn’t care what other people think. This sounds like a promising idea – if you don’t care, then you can live fearlessly, free from the emotional burden of other people’s opinions. And, I’ve tried this approach before, many times, mostly without success. The problem is, I actually give a shit. In fact, I care a lot – maybe too much. I find it absolutely impossible not to. It’s just how I’m made; it’s how I’m put together. And once I began to accept this about myself, I figured out that it may be actually really helpful to take other people’s perceptions of me into consideration.
You see, all those pieces of advice, all those people telling you you shouldn’t care, are wrong – at least in my experience. Because you care. We all care. And because we care, we know we are human, and that is a beautiful thing. Caring means that you are engaged with the world. Caring is what makes us connected. Caring means we love and hope to be loved back. Without caring, who would we be? Robots? Aliens? (no offense to either) Caring is an essential component of the human experience.
For a long time, I thought that caring about things made me weak, made me vulnerable to other people’s perceptions of me and other things I couldn’t control. But, ultimately, caring is what makes me, me. Caring means I love people, which means I want to have good relationships, which means I want to feel safe and secure. Caring affects my choices, the way I treat people, the way I interact with my community, the way I live in my environment. Caring also means I get hurt sometimes. It means I face disappointment and fear. Caring can be a challenge, but I’m ok with that because I want to care. If you care, you’re alive and not the other way around. And I value all my experiences, the good and sometimes the bad and occasionally, the awful ones, too.
So, I think what we expect, when someone suggests that we should or encourages us not to care, is that we will find a way to avoid our emotions. We don’t want to feel what we think we might feel if we cared. And I get that – I really do. Our responses and reactions are scary, so we don’t want to deal with it. Most of us were never taught how to process, let alone manage our feelings. But my suggestion is that rather than trying to control circumstances, or our engagement in circumstances to keep us in our preferred emotional state, we actually start noticing what happens when we care and what beliefs or thoughts come up for us when caring about something deeply gets us into an emotional cluster fuck.
Say you’re worried that someone thinks something about you that makes you uncomfortable. Instead of trying to run away from your anxiety, instead, ask what is this situation telling me? And what it’s telling you is that this person’s opinion of you matters to you. But why does it matter? It matters because you want to be liked and accepted. Why do you want to be accepted? Because it feels scary not to be. Will you be ok, even if someone doesn’t like you? What if it is about them and not you? From there, after you’ve answered your own questions and realized why the opinion matters so much, then you can decide maybe you don’t want to care. Maybe if they like you, you still won’t be safe.
And even if you do care, it doesn’t mean that you need to take it personally. There is a difference. You care, you may even notice yourself feeling badly or worrying that someone doesn’t like or is upset with you, but then you remind yourself not to take it personally. That someone’s response to you is probably about them. And this is the really hard part. You allow yourself to feel the feelings, observe where they are coming from and then remind yourself that it isn’t about you and go on with your life. So what I’m really saying is – it’s ok to care, it’s even normal and incredibly human to care. Feel the feelings the caring is giving you and instead of cultivating an attitude of disdain, cultivate one of bravery, knowing that even if someone doesn’t like you or something about you, you can be ok. After all, it’s not their acceptance that will ever make you feel safe, it’s only your acceptance of you that can do that. Because in the end, caring about each other, caring for ourselves is what makes us human.
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Sarah is a therapist and coach who has been supporting women for over 12 years in creating lives that align with their own values. As a mother and a wife, she understands the complexity of modern life and how to manage stress while juggling many responsibilities. She believes in having fun, taking naps and saying no as often as possible. If you’re interested in exploring motherhood, imperfection and doing less to have more–or just want someone to tell you to take a break, you can find her at sarahnormandin.com.
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