Image courtesy of *Zara
Who’s in control of your life? Who’s pulling your strings?
For the majority of us, it’s other people – society, colleagues, friends, family or our religious community. We learned this way of operating when we were very young, of course. We were brainwashed. We discovered that feeling important and feeling accepted was a nice experience and so we learned to do everything we could to make other people like us. We didn’t want to be singled out by the crowd for being different because this wasn’t such a nice feeling. We learned this way of being so well that, as adults, we continue – mostly through mutual peer pressure – to keep each other in check. Like sheep without any need for a sheepdog, we keep each other in line.
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” – Oscar Wilde
It works both ways. First, we are afraid of disapproval. Am I dressed right? Will people laugh at my accent? Will I look stupid? Will I make a mistake? When we feel that others think badly of us, it makes us feel bad and so we try to avoid this.
Second, we all want to feel important and so we crave the positive attention of others. This is one of our basic needs, according to Dale Carnegie, author of the multi-million best seller, How to Win Friends and Influence People. And so when people stroke our ego and tell us how wonderful we are, it makes us feel good. We crave this good feeling like a drug – we are addicted to it and seek it out wherever we can.
We are so desperate for the approval of others that we live unhappy and limited lives, denying huge swathes of ourselves and failing to do the things we really want to do because we’re worried about what other people will think. Just as drug addicts and alcoholics live impoverished lives to keep getting their fix, so we impoverish our own existence to get our own constant fix of approval.
The drug is so addictive that most people will not give it up – they will keep looking for approval because the hit is so intense. But, just as with any drug, there is a price to pay. The price of the approval drug is freedom – the freedom to be ourselves. Do you want your drug or do you want to be free? You cannot have both. If you want to pull your own strings, you need to stop giving away your power – you need to genuinely stop caring what other people think about you.
The truth is that it’s all an illusion anyway – you cannot control what other people think. People have their own agenda, they come with their own baggage and, in the end, they’re more interested in themselves than in you; in fact, they’re thinking about themselves ‘morning, noon and after dinner,’ as Carnegie wrote.
If we try to live by the opinions of others, we will build our life on sinking sand. Everyone has a different way of thinking, and people change their opinions all the time. The person who tries to please everyone will only end up getting exhausted and probably pleasing no one in the process.
So how can we take back control? If we are truly ready to give up the drug of approval and importance (which most people are not), I think there’s only one way – make a conscious decision to stop caring what other people think.
This doesn’t mean that you should start to treat people badly, step on them or use them. Why would it? I read somewhere recently that the world would be terrible if nobody cared what other people thought of them. But why so? We all know what’s right and wrong. I have written before about guiding your life by means of a set of values – not values imposed from the outside by others, but innate values which come from within. If we are driven by these values and not by the changing opinions and value systems of others, we will live a more authentic, effective, purposeful and happy life. We will be actualized and successful.
Only one question remains – do you really want to be free?