A deep, unshakable peace of mind comes from knowing who you are and being OK with how you see yourself. The surest way to upset that peace of mind, and to be in a constant state of mental turmoil, is to base your self-image on what others think of you. Or what you think others think of you. It’s like living your life in a perpetual “selfie state,” seeing yourself through their lens.
So if Mary is envious of your success, when you’re interacting with Mary you will feel like you are not worthy of that success. That you somehow cheated to get to where you are.
If Morgan is a liar, when you’re with Morgan, you will feel that you can’t be trusted.
If Sandy is super insecure, believing that she doesn’t measure up to others, when you are talking to Sandy, you will feel like you are somehow conceited and hurting Sandy’s feelings.
Meanwhile, you’re just being you, and, in truth, you worked hard to get where you are, you are always careful to tell the truth, and you are definitely not conceited. So these thoughts are misleading you and causing you to question yourself.
But all of these feelings are filling your head because you are seeing yourself through their filters.
Ditching the selfies altogether
What if you stopped seeing yourself through other people’s lenses? What if you stood solidly, as a separate entity, with your own beliefs and convictions? What if you were able to start every day knowing that you are basically a good person who tries to help others, and you kept that perception clearly in your mind as you went about your day?
What if you saw Mary and Morgan and Sandy as separate entities, and realized that they were projecting their biases and beliefs into your interactions with them? What if you didn’t take those perceptions personally, but just thought, “Oh, well, that’s Mary being Mary. She is always that way, whether I am with her or not.”
Interestingly, this makes it easier to love and help and even forgive the other people in your life. Because you’re not imposing their anxieties and character weaknesses onto yourself, you will be stronger. You won’t be weakened by their negative thoughts.
One of the first things that struck me about my husband—whom I saw for the first time when I was twelve years old—was his presence of mind. Another way of describing that was that he was completely “self-contained.” He wasn’t looking for approval. He was always totally engaged in the moment, observing everything going on, but he wasn’t being swayed by the behavior of others. He was a prime example of what people mean when they say, “he had a certain peace of mind.”
When you are constantly trying to figure out what others are thinking of you, and then using those perceptions to cobble together your own self-image, your mental and emotional life gets incredibly complicated.
At the very least, there will be anxiety as you try to resolve the conflicts between varying perceptions. One person admires your honesty; another doesn’t trust you. One person celebrates your success; another resents you for it. One person thinks you’re not trying hard enough; another thinks you’re trying too hard.
Sometimes we can be mostly self-contained, but One Person in our life throws all that self-confidence out the window. It might be just because they are manipulative and they know how to push our buttons. It might be because we love them so much and we are determined to please them and want them to love us.
In these situations, we think that “they” are the problem. We keep hoping they will change, and we keep trying to help (or make) them change.
In fact, they are not the problem. We’re the problem. We have become obsessed with their perception of us.
How we feel about ourselves is largely determined by how this One Person feels about us at any given time. So if they are upset or grouchy, we are worried. If they are silent and non-communicative, we think we have done something wrong. If they don’t really need us as much as we need them, we feel inadequate.
So much stress comes from these types of psychological sparring matches. They are a complete waste of time and energy, robbing you of what could be calm, productive, and happy days.
You don’t have to leave this One Person to change everything. (Although I do highly recommend walking away if the person is a jerk. My definition of a jerk is a person who makes life more difficult for others. It doesn’t matter why or how; what matters is that everything is more difficult when that person is involved. You will never regret walking away from a jerk.)
But before you change your situation, be sure. Work on changing yourself. Stop seeing yourself through their eyes. Stand solid on your own two feet. Feel separate and complete. Observe. See them for who they are. See realistically what they are saying and doing. Work on understanding why they are doing it, and accept it for what it is.
Then decide what you want to do in that relationship. If the other person is not a jerk, they will respond positively to your changes and the relationship will improve. It could even get really, really good.
Being self-contained does not mean that you wall yourself off from others and stop loving. Quite the opposite.
We are much better able to love when we are not twisted into knots trying to figure out how we are perceived by others. We can give freely, we can laugh at ourselves, we can comfort ourselves and others, and we can enjoy all the goodness in our lives and flourish because of it.