Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

For those who have done so, how did you get to the point where became comfortable with the idea you couldn't fit other people's ideas of propriety?

Asked by wundayatta (58638points) April 9th, 2011

I’ve had a kind of love-hate relationship with being myself for most of my life. It has caused me some serious mental health problems. But slowly, over the years, I have come to accept that I really can’t be who I think other people want me to be.

Not only can’t I please them, but it actually harms me more to try to fit in than it does to anger people who don’t like what I do. So gradually, I have come to the realization that it’s not just that I can’t be anyone other than who I am; I shouldn’t even want to be. The consequences of conforming are most likely going to be worse than the consequences of not conforming.

I’m still working on this, of course. But I’m wondering how you got to this understanding, or if you aren’t there, whether you think you can get there. If so, how? It is also interesting to know how you feel like you don’t conform, and how you came to accept that. If you can divulge that.

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19 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

My dad taught me alot about not giving a damn what others think of me,but I would say I really got it through my head when at age 25,I learned I was diabetic and had to deal with the things diabetics do.
It also dawned on me that most people are more concerned with their own lives and regardless of whether or not they like you or what you do,their business comes first.;)

peridot's avatar

This is a great question for me to follow.

Those aspects of me that I am personally okay with, I really don’t care what others think. In fact, I often take a certain perverse pleasure in any judgmental reactions I happen to see when being that authentic self. Heh.

As far as aspects I’m still working on (read: not comfortable with), am a bit more vulnerable there. It adds fuel to the next time I experience the previous scenario.

Bellatrix's avatar

So true @lucillelucillelucille. I think I am still learning this lesson, and especially where my family is concerned. My family agree with little I do/say/think and for years I found it very hard to deal with and to not feel hurt by their responses. It reached a point though where I said to myself, “I would not put up with this from anyone else, why do I put up with it from my family?”. I now speak to my family rarely and there is less anxiety about doing what other people think I should. Doesn’t mean I don’t feel hurt by being the black sheep, but I know I am living a decent life and if others don’t like the way I do that or my ideas and opinions… so be it.

YARNLADY's avatar

I was lucky enough to be in my early twenties during the hippie period, and I learned from my associations with others who were breaking out of the mold.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I had to learn to be myself and cease caring deeply about propriety as I started coming out of the closet. Luckily, I have a great therapist that I still see on a regular basis who helps me see what areas of my life are governed by those ingrained patterns pressed on me by family and society.

It’s a slow process, but I’m working on being more and more authentic as each day goes by.

optimisticpessimist's avatar

As long as I am being respectful of other people and not hurting anyone, I do not really care what people think about me. I used to care a whole lot and then realized no matter what I did someone was not going to be happy.

DesireeCassandra's avatar

There was a time when I tried so hard to be straight. I was raised in a hispanic/catholic family. So I always thought I was supposed to marry some nice boy and have lots of little catholic babies.

In my mid teen years I thought that my feeling for girls was just a phase, especially because I have always been very feminine, being taught though media and family I thought that if you were a woman and gay then you were “butch”.

I found myself trying to “find the right guy” and going though lots of men and thinking that something was just wrong with me.

When I turned 19 I finally started to come out as “bi” to my friends because I was too scared to say I was gay… Later coming out as gay I actually lost a few friends because of it and i still miss there friendship.

But really I learned that people like that were never really my friends. You just have to be yourself and do what makes you happy. In the end you will be around the people who really matter. :)

Earthgirl's avatar

I’m not sure what you mean by propriety but I think what you are getting at is the idea of conforming and fitting in. That has a lot to do with meeting people’s expectations of what is “normal” and not alienating people by having “disagreeable” opinions and behaviors. Society functions more smoothly they say, when people abide by these norms. But what would society be without it’s eccentric geniuses and iconoclasts? They are like the canaries in the coalmine letting everyone know that something is awry. There is always a need for people whose perspective and perceptions are different. These people can be abrasive or feel threatening so they and their ideas are not always welcomed but they are essential to the evolution of mankind. If in some small (or large) way you are different from other people, and this is not something you see as negative (you may even see it as a positive) but feel people in general cannot accept, I like to see it within the context of this larger perspective. We don’t know sometimes why we are different from other people or what meaning it has for them or even for us, yet we know what we feel and it cannot be denied. Honor your self and your feelings. Many great writers and artists were not appreciated in their lifetime. They were also misunderstood. If you can find even a few people who understand and appreciate you, I say that’s enough. It may be a little lonely, but at least it’s real.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. Everyone wants to be liked even Hitler, and will do some bit of cowing down to do that. I guess when you get to the point when doing what you have to do for you and not trying to do everything for everyone else. Which you pointed out never satisfies everyone, you start to look out for yourself. I came to that when I was always trying to do for others to be “the nice guy” even in times I had no obligation to give quarter on anything. Hardly ever did I get the same back, or at least not in the measure I metered it out. So, finally with friends and family I just said ”this is it, take it or go find it elsewhere”. No matter what anyone thinks unless you are dull normal or below no one really know what is best for you than you so long as you are sober and not clouded with addiction which shorts circuit your logic. To keep letting things be pushed or pressed upon you only causes frustration because others are getting where or what they want off your efforts but you can’t get where you want off your efforts because it is all being used up on them.

josie's avatar

See @lucillelucillelucille
I remember distinctly fretting to my mother about what people might think if I did this or did not do that.
She said (paraphrasing) You would probably be disappointed to find out how little they think about what you are doing. They are too busy thinking about their own stuff.
Not that it made 100% sense at the time, but as the years have passed, it turns out to be true.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

By not giving a fuck?

SavoirFaire's avatar

Being yourself is much more than simply acting on your impulses and/or not caring what other people think. In fact, that can become just another excuse for never improving yourself. Being ourselves is not an act that can be done in isolation, for our relationships with ourselves are tied in to our relationships with others.

Also, it seems to me that thinking about being yourself in terms of non-conformity is not the way to go about it. I think of all the high school students who are non-conformists together, just creating a different kind of normal in a different part of the cafeteria—a new propriety that can be just as stifling. Maturity requires an attitude of not caring what is and is not ordinary so long as it is authentic to you—an attitude where the fact that almost everybody believes/likes/owns x is irrelevant to your decision to believe/like/own x or to not believe/like/own x.

Earthgirl's avatar

SavoirFaire There is a lot of truth to the idea that those who criticize us teach us more than those who blindly or falsely accept us. In this way someone who disapproves of you and causes you to reflect on his criticisms and change for the better can be a good thing. But I think too often that criticism is not well intentioned. There is ostracism and snobbery, especially in high school. And that is why those kids are bonding over their sense of not fitting in. They may not all agree with each other or think the same way but thye know what it’s like to feel unnaccepted. Sometimes the thing they are not accepted for is looks, social awkwardness and so on. They may be trying to change it but are unable to be like everyone else. They may be posing as a Goth or some other fringe group just to reject the social norms they can’t or won’t adhere to. Some may angrily reject the norms, others may defensively cocoon themselves in a counterculture they don’t really believe in but which accepts them warts and all. If only the criticism came from a sense of wanting to help the person it wouldn’t be so hurtful. It would be more appreciated. Being oneself is a continual evolution that involves being aware of how you really feel about life, and about your role in it. Not conforming for the sake of not conforming or just simple rebellion against the norm is not what I would recommend. But being yourself does require the courage of your convictions.

wundayatta's avatar

@Earthgirl You make it sound so noble. By being different, or having different ideas, a person could serve the advancement of mankind, or something like that. You could be right, but it doesn’t seem likely that many of the people who are nonconformist will turn out to be useful to mankind.

There’s non-conformity, and they there’s NON-conformity. I’m sure everyone thinks they are different. Well, not quite everyone. My daughter is convinced she is normal, but then, she’s in high school. But I can’t think of another person I ever met who said they were normal. In fact, most people said they were weird and seemed quite proud of it.

We have terms for people who don’t fit in. Some will say that they march to the tune of a different drummer. Those are the kind ones. But others will say the nonconformist is dangerous and will either hurt people or hurt society in some way or another. This is particularly true if there is a group of nonconformists—like homosexuals, or the mentally ill, or people of the wrong race or nationality.

I think what I am talking about is a bit more personal, and trying to tell yourself that you could be the vanguard of some important new thing… well, it’s just not credible. What I mean, of course, is how you become more comfortable in your own skin. Did you really tell yourself you were the vanguard of the future? Did that really work?

I’ve always kind of wanted to be popular. It seems like being normal and nice and friendly and beautiful would make you popular. However, I never seemed to be able to be any of those things. That was ok. I felt good about being different. Not thinking like ordinary people.

But then there were the things I did that really did make people sneer and put others down when they found out about it. I didn’t want to suffer that. I didn’t want to suffer those sneers. I also didn’t want to stop doing what I was doing because it was fun, and it made me feel good.

It was as if I could get away with it as long as no one found out. In other words, I had to stay in a closet of some kind. That puts a stress on me. I don’t want to have to be in a closet. But I don’t want the disapproval I’ll surely get if I come out of the closet. I also don’t want to be in the vanguard advocating for rights for whatever it is that sent me into the closet.

What sent me in there is no noble thing. It’s just something personal. Something people could easily call selfish, if not immoral. I don’t want to be a bad boy, even though I want to be a bad boy. I want it to be cool to be a bad boy, but it isn’t.

It’s just like being mentally ill. People argue that we should come out as mentally ill. If people saw all the one-in-five people who are mentally ill, and saw all the ones in their family, the theory goes, they would stop looking down on them or being scared of them. They would stop treating all mentally ill people like lazy cretins with no moral fiber.

But I don’t want to be the first one out there. I don’t want to suffer that shit in order to make a point or make it easier for others that follow. So I pretend that I am a normally healthy person, even though I have this unhealthy history. It’s not so much being ok with myself as I am, as it is the issue of being willing to advocate for who I am. And then, the inconsistency is that I’ve been working all my life to help other people gain more rights. When it comes to myself, I don’t want to do it.

Earthgirl's avatar

Wundayatta Ok, ok, I get your point about the noble thing! I really didn’t mean that I see myself in the vanguard of those forging a new society….I guess what I do is tell myself that I am not the only one that has felt that sense of being a fish out of water. I am in good company, lol. I mean, lots of people may pride themselves on being different and unique. But it depends in the end if what you are different and unique about fits in with what is admired by others. Sometimes being different is not better, it’s just different. How do you know which is which? What signposts do you pay attention to? Most people look to others for confirmation. You can be different and be admired and accepted. You can be different and be scorned and rejected. What if the people who accept you are not the ones you admire? Their acceptance doesn’t mean much to you then, does it? What if the people who scorn and reject you are not the ones that you admire? Their scorn and rejection may sting, but in the end, it’s not something you can choose your path by. All I am saying about the famous and brilliant people that were not accepted is that thank God that in some cases they prevailed, they persisted in their mutiny against the standard bearers of their day. Many times they were ahead of their time. They suffered for it, but they didn’t back down.

Now, in the case you are talking about, you are labeling your own behavior bad. Maybe it is bad and you need to rein it in. We can all have self-destructive impulses. We need to know which of our impulses are growth promoting and positive and which are liable to be destructive to ourselves and the people we care about. Bu in your question the caring about other’s opinions did not seem to refer to people you personally care about. It seemed to refer to the general public and larger social circle.

Popularity is a slippery goal. If you become or present yourself in a way to gain popularity but are not true to yourself you feel like a fake, no? And do you make yourself into the person everyone admires only to find out that they want something else this week and you didn’t get the memo? Damn.Slippery.

ratboy's avatar

I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

I was born at that point; like Zelig, I’ve always fit in with everyone. I am the vanguard of normalcy.

augustlan's avatar

I wouldn’t say I don’t care what other people think of me, because I do. But, I accept that not everyone will approve of me… the odd little life I live is not for everyone, and I’m finally ok with that. More importantly, though, I approve of myself, now. In the past, when others disapproved of me, I agreed with their assessment. “Yep. I suck.” No more!

I spent years thinking I wasn’t a very good person (particularly that I was a bad wife and mother). I continually tried to be a different kind of person, the one I thought I should be. (Something like a mix of ‘happy homemaker’ and Gandhi, probably.) Needless to say, I utterly failed in that attempt. Like you, fighting against my nature caused an enormous amount of mental anguish in my life. It took a lot of therapy, with a therapist whose opinion I actually respected, to be convinced that I wasn’t a bad person, just a different person. The ways in which I am atypical don’t harm anyone, therefore they are not bad. They are only traits, neither moral nor immoral. Not being a good housekeeper isn’t the end of the world, after all.

I acknowledge my strengths and my faults. If the faults are serious ones (especially if they are hypocritical or go against my moral beliefs), I work on improving in those areas. If they aren’t at that level, I accept them and move on.

laineybug's avatar

I’m kind of to that point, I’m weird and I know some people will disagree with my strangeness. To me if people are truly my friends, then they’ll accept me anyway. I’m pretty much ok with myself, but I still worry about what others think sometimes. Sometimes I still hold in my feelings around people, my friends have only seen me cry once or twice, but I’m working on that. And @augustlan you were never a bad mother, and never will be. Even though you’re not a good housekeeper you taught me to be one kind of and so you’re right, it’s not the end of the world. To me you’re absolutely perfect and a wonderful mother.

Earthgirl's avatar

I was thinking about what it means to be true to yourself on the deepest level and I remembered that someone else had said it so much better than I ever could. I accidentally discovered this book in my high school library and it became a very important influence on my thinking. Psychotherapist Carl Rogers book “On Becoming a Person”-this is an excerpt for anyone who cares to read it. It is written very simply with not too much psychobabble.

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