I often notice people, especially at the school gates, who try desperately to fit in, to be part of the clique because they want to feel as though they belong somewhere. I know a little of how they feel. I’ve always felt a little on the side-lines, a bit of an outsider, a loner, when all around me groups of friends are laughing together, safe in the knowledge that they have their ‘tribe’ around them.
When I was growing up I spent a lot of time indoors, helping to take care of my twin brothers with my mother. Her husband, my stepfather, disappeared when the twins were born so she was left, single parent to five children, I was 10 years old. Consequently, because I needed to help out at home I missed out on many of those critical friendship interactions that kids need to go through if they are to become emotionally secure, well-adjusted and comfortable around friends.
As a result, I turned into one of those people who felt slightly on the outside around groups of friends. In fact, I actually preferred to be on my own, it was easier than navigating the sometimes-hostile waters of friendship groups. But there were times when I felt that I should try to make an effort. It is, after all, our biological imperative to be part of the group. If we were still living in caves we would seek group connection for protection, for a mate, for a share of the food – for survival.
In my efforts to fit in and blend into my preferred group, I tried to be the person I felt I should be, but in doing so it felt false. I wasn’t being my authentic self and I felt more and more on the fringes. I was trying to fit in, to prove my worth. But all I was doing was suppressing my own true desires for the sake of fitting in. I felt as though just being me wasn’t enough to make people like me and invite me into their friendship.
We all want to feel as though we belong; to feel as though we have found our tribe but sometimes the price we pay, pretending to be something we’re not, or doing something we don’t want to do, is just too much and it drains our power. When we’re young, we might wear clothes that we don’t like so that we belong, or we might drink alcohol or do drugs with our friends just to feel as though we belong. We might try to project an image of ourselves that is not the real us, such as trying to appear to be outgoing, when in reality we know ourselves to be introverted.
Since those days, I’ve come to realise that fitting in or not fitting in made little difference to my life. I came to truly realise that I was happier with myself or a small select group of like-minded people that I got along well with and who accept my quirks rather than a large clique who don’t really know me at all. I have since learnt that to be true to our own nature takes strength, but it allows us to be truly happy. There is no pressure to follow the crowd or be part of a group I have no real interest in.
I’ve also learnt to be proud of being me, of my uniqueness. My strengths and weaknesses, preferences and dislike are different to other people – I appreciating these rather than trying to be like others, with their likes and dislikes. Only by being ourselves can we grow and flourish and be our true selves. Only by being comfortable in our own skin, will we get to a point where no-one can make us feel as though we’re not quite enough.
The social media culture of comparisons lead too many people to feel as though they’re not good enough, not active enough, not slim or pretty or clever or popular enough.
But if we’re being who we really are, being our true selves, and we’re fulfilling our own potential to the best of your ability, then we are enough.
If we let go of who we think we should be and just be who we really are, we’ll no longer worry about who we are and why we are not good enough to be part of this group or that group.
A friend told me that when she meets with her village friends, about once a month they tend to have a few drinks. She doesn’t usually drink so on these evenings just one glass of wine would get her a little tipsy and she would feel awful the following day. Not least because when she’d had a drink, all her inhibitions disappear, as is prone to happen, and she would say things to people that she wouldn’t normally say when sober. The next morning, she would regret drinking and promised herself that next time she would not drink. The problem was that people expected it of her now, so it was not easy to say no, without looking like she was being unsociable.
For many months, she told herself that next time she’d refuse, but when another evening out came around she would feel pressured to join in with the drinking for fear of being excluded by the group.
Eventually she made the decision to avoid alcohol altogether. And despite her fear that she would no longer fit in, her village friends accepted her decision and respected her for it. Eventually she came to realise, that had they decided she wasn’t ‘fun’ enough then she’d have known that they were not true friends anyway and not worth her time.
“Don’t change so people will like you; be yourself and the right people will love you.” ~Unknown
The need to fit in comes from our fear of being rejected. Because of this we might be a little too needy and will perhaps care a little too much about what others think of us. We will see their approval of us as a measure of our self-worth. But, our inauthenticity convinces no one and drains us of personal power in the process. A sense of belonging may feel comforting and safe but to sacrifice our true selves for the sake of it is not healthy.
To be true to our own nature takes strength, but only by doing so can we be truly happy.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Ellie works as a shop assistant, she’s been with the company for many years. She is always the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. She feels that she has accrued enough experience to be made supervisor, yet Ellie lacks the courage to ask for what she wants and her employers are happy to keep her where she is. If Ellie were to work on increasing her power then she could challenge management and ask for some recognition.
There is probably not a human alive who does not wish they had more power in their life. They might want power in their job or employment situation, perhaps a little more freedom in their marriage or family to make decisions. Perhaps they want a little relief from the relentlessness of young children. There is, and there will always be something else we would like more power over, but at this very moment a lack of resources, the authority or the confidence to achieve that power is lacking.
Power over whom?
If I were to ask you why you wanted more power, you would possibly tell me that you’d like more influence over your own life, that you’d like to have the power to make choices, and that you’d like a little more autonomy.
In the movies, characters want power for one reason only – to control others. Yet, for the majority of us, we don’t want to control others, we simply want to have more control over the direction our own life is taking, rather than it being under the influence of our spouse/employers/parents. One study supports this – that most of us wish to have power only over our own circumstances, rather than to be under the control of others. The authors of the study write;
“Power as autonomy is a form of power that allows one person to ignore and resist the influence of others and this to shape one’s own destiny.”
The study goes on to show that when some people achieve a certain level of power they no longer feel the need for it and they stop wanting it. Because at that stage they have a satisfactory level of autonomy. We think we want power over others, but chances are that what we actually want is autonomy over our own lives.
Power gets us places
We need power so that people will give us what we want or need, whether it be a job, a promotion, respect or recognition – with the result that we will have the kind of life that we aspire to. But it is not power over others that gets us the job that we want, it is power over ourselves that enables us to do what is necessary to get the job we want.
To get power we could go down the coercion route, using underhand tactics, manipulating and treading on others to get there, but that’s not true power. True personal power is achieving the life we want without treading on others. There is a sense of right that comes with having achieved a position of power through our own hard work, that enables us to control our destiny. No one can take that power away. Yet, an empire of power over others is unsecure and can easily come tumbling down.
Having power is having the freedom to control our lives and our destiny, which above everything else will help us achieve happiness, longevity and health. Having limited power in our lives is stressful because it induces feelings of helplessness. With little power we have little or no control; we simply let life happen to us.
Image credit: Capture Queen – Power
The film was utter rubbish but my friends all loved it. I couldn’t understand why. But the most concerning thing was that, as they tried to convince me just how good it was, I started to believe them. Maybe I’d missed some vital element in the film. Maybe I’m just not as smart as I think I am.
When it comes to matters of opinion, we tend to look outside of ourselves first before we have the confidence to form our own. It’s as if we need the validation from others before we can make a decision. Whether or not we’ll admit it to ourselves, many of us are strongly influenced by what others believe. We lack confidence when it comes to standing up for what we really think.
But when it comes to opinions there is no right and wrong – our opinion is based upon our knowledge and our perspective so why do we let others’ opinions overpower our own unique perspective on the world?
When we care too much about what others think about us too, we allow it to affect our lives and influence our self-esteem. Get called a “loser” often enough and we’ll start to feel like one, even if that’s not what we really think.
To see others’ opinions as more valuable than our own is giving away our power but we do it anyway. We cannot seem to help it.
The stoic, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his collection of personal writings:
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us—or a wise human being, even—and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions—instead of our own.” Meditations 12.4
But it’s so easy to be in this position. I had a situation not too long ago where a mum at my child’s school had taken a dislike to me, for some unfathomable reason, and I actually started to doubt my likeability. It took a lot of self-work and journal writing to get myself to realise that I was allowing this one individual to take my power. But why was I letting this happen?
In the place where my power should have been, instead there was fear. I should have shrugged it off but anxiety got the better of me. A fear that developed many years ago when I was at primary school when my best friend would find another best friend to play hopscotch with and I would be alone.
Fear is there to protect us and make us realise that we need to increase our own power. This power comes only from within us, and it helps us to weather the storms of day-to-day life.
But we can only weather the storm when our power is strong and stable and deep enough. Like the strong roots of a tree. The bigger our power roots are, the more wind (in the form of others’ judgements of us) they can withstand.
Unstable power comes from listening to others’ empty opinions of us and believing them. We can listen but it is only through knowing ourselves and the power we hold that enables us to stay strong and not tumble at the first sign of a gale.
Loa Tzu wrote “Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.”
When we listen and care about what others say about us we are allowing them to affect our sense of worth, which is tied up in their view of us. We are limited by their perception of us.
I held a job many years ago in which, foolishly, I enabled a colleague’s approval of my work to determine my sense of worth in the company. The colleague in question held much influence and because I didn’t pick up the job as quickly as she thought convenient, she wrote me off as incompetent. Pretty soon I felt incompetent and eventually I left because I felt that I lacked ability.
My power was diminished to such a level, that when I left the job it took a good few months to build it up again, along with my confidence. But, had I possessed a stronger inner power I would have been able to stand up to her like a warrior defending my land. Instead I was left feeling powerless and demoralised. I don’t blame her – I allowed her to take my power away from me.
When we care too much about others’ opinions and ruminate too much on them, the thoughts that result become destructive. Quite simply, we are sacrificing our own happiness for the approval of others.
But, paradoxically it takes power to resist others’ influence on your power. This power must come from inside. You cannot look to friends to give it to you. Unfortunately, other people don’t always have our best interests at heart, so you much seek that power within.
By all means seek the opinions and advice from others but ultimately, how you deal with any situation comes down to you. Learn to strengthen and use your power so that other people have no influence over you.
If we have personal power we act on our own intelligence, and whatever the outcome of our endeavours we know that we have acted with integrity. We have our own back, so to speak, and we don’t need others to approve of or validate us in any way. Ironically, that is when we are likely to be more influential over other people.
When we care too much about what other people think, it’s because we are afraid of being rejected. We all yearn to belong somewhere, because it makes us feel worthy, validated and accepted – to fit into society and into whatever ‘club’ we feel a sense of belonging to. But the person in whom we put all our power when we care too much about their approval, holds the key to the club.
In the job I just described, I wanted to belong, I very much wanted to belong. This company was in an industry I very much wanted to be in, and I saw my colleague as the gatekeeper. She could sense this power that I had unintentionally given her, and she abused it, simply because she could.
To try to endear yourself to others is to risk looking desperate and to give them your power on a plate with a salad garnish. It’s not good for your self-esteem and chances are they’ll dislike you even more for being so goddamn desperate.
It can be very difficult to simply stop caring about what other people think of us. After all, no one likes the idea that others dislike them. We want to feel as though we belong, it gives meaning to our lives, and if we belong we’ll know that we have people who have our back should life get difficult. But to do so at the expense of our own power means that we will always be singing to someone else’s tune.
Image: UBC Learning Commons Singing Cartoon
The playground can be a frightening and inhospitable place. But it can also be warm, friendly and welcoming. It all depends on how powerful I feel on any given day.
There are times when everybody wants to talk to me; I’m the centre of attention and people laugh at my jokes. But other times I am a social leper, navigating a shark pool of dirty looks and sideways glances. Perhaps I’m a bit paranoid, but I do feel as though I must have sprouted tentacles or made some drunken admission that is now making the rounds on the gossip train.
Yes, mood has a lot to do with it. Like when your kids scream at you from the moment you wake and it sets your mood for the day. But I believe it is personal power that determines whether we feel like garbage or gold on any given day. And in my experience this feeling of power can wax and wane constantly depending on the situation we’re in, the people we speak to, and whether our power ‘tank’ is full or running on empty.
It is personal power that determines whether you feel so completely super-charged that your husband/partner hangs on your every word, the kids do as they’re told, first time, and everyone else is listening intently to what you are saying. Or lack thereof, where your conversations are interrupted mid flow, or your kids ignore you even after you’ve shrieked at them for the 23rd time to put their FLIPPIN’ SHOES ON!
Thankfully we can manipulate power to our advantage. Sports personalities do it all the time (read Bounce by Matthew Syed for more information) They have mantras, and affirmations to try to influence how they play. We too can do the same when we enter the school gates, when we walk into our dreaded office of employment when we feel nervous at networking events or meet up with domineering friends.
So how do we fill up our power tank?
Start by listing everything you’ve ever achieved that you’re proud of – include jobs you’ve had, qualifications you’ve worked hard for, a difficult situation you’ve recovered from, your children, or your home. Then, list all the people who love you for who you are. People for whom you don’t need to pretend to be someone else. This list will form the basis for your power tank and as long as you remember the items on this list, your tank will never be empty. Do as the top sports performers do and give yourself affirmations to repeat to yourself each day. I often do this when I’m on my way to meetings or network events when I’m nervous.
Then add to the list by doing things that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Actions that you might consider brave such as talking to people you don’t know, or offering your help to some cause or person who is in need. These things have a huge effect on our personal power. Ween yourself off Facebook – this is a sink hole into which all your personal power will disappear, leaving you feeling worthless and powerless.
It is hard work, obtaining and holding on to power but once we have it, we can use it in any situation. When we fill up our tank of internal personal power, then we have the qualities to respond with power in every other area of our lives, including disallowing others to have a negative influence on us.
One study on personal power shows that most of us wish to have power only so that we can control our own circumstances. The study authors write, “Power as autonomy is a form of power that allows one person to ignore and resist the influence of others and thus to shape one’s own destiny”.
So from now on, I want you to enter those uncomfortable situations with your power tank set to full. Remember that no one can take your power, not even those two-faced mummies/colleagues/aquaintances who look you up and down, then turn around and giggle to another, in an attempt to feel powerful themselves. They are simply trying to take your power because they don’t have much of their own. Fill up your power tank and you can bat them away like an annoying fly.
We all have those moments. The kind where everything in our life seems a bit shit and we feel hard-done-by. For some, those thoughts last a few moments, for others it lasts for weeks, or months. It’s not helped by Facebook either, where everyone else’s life seems so much more fun.
But what if I were to tell you that there are ways to help you get over it, ways that will help you to appreciate your life exactly as it is? All it takes is a moment of imagination, to create a scenario in which things are vastly different, worse than they are now – whether it’s a real memory or imagined.
Remember a worse time in your life
Last year I was in a job I hated. Actually, it wasn’t the job that was insufferable, it was the company and their treatment of staff. It was the behavior of one individual in particular, that ground me down in the end.
That was a period in my life where I struggled to get up in the morning. Every day created an internal conflict for me – should I stay, tolerate the intolerable person and hope that sometime in the future I would end up in a position I’d enjoy, in another department? or should I give up, leave and return to freelancing. Eventually, I could stand the job no longer and I quit. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
So now I’m back to freelancing, and without a doubt things are looking up. I’m earning the same salary as I was when employed, but I’m no longer glued to a desk for the majority of the day, I no longer have to ask to go for a pee (slight exaggeration there but after many years’ freelancing being employed definitely felt constraining) or speed home from my place of employment to avoid being the last parent in the playground to collect her children.
So, whenever I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed due to too much work, or underwhelmed due to too little work (the ebb and flow of freelancing!) or I’m simply having a shite day, I think back to last year when I’d go to work feeling anxious, I’d come home in the afternoon feeling anxious and didn’t sleep properly at night due to feeling anxious. And when I think back to that time, I thank my lucky stars that I had the courage to leave that awful place, and it immediately makes me appreciate my life as it is now – shit days and all.
Imagine life without your spouse/lover/children
There are days when my two boys massively get on my nerves, I won’t lie. And even though I love them to bits, at times I wonder if I’m cut out to be a parent. But then I imagine life without them and immediately I am struck down by a horrible, almost physical wrenching pain in my gut, at the thought of not having them with me. It is an unbearable, unthinkable thought and it immediately makes me appreciate every ball-breaking, whining, moaning, fighting, stubborn, infuriating moment of them. To their surprise, at times like this, I cannot help but grab them and hug them tightly.
Imagine you had an accident
It seems a little morbid but imagine you were the victim in a horrific accident and were paralyzed from the neck down. Your whole life would change in that moment. No longer would you be able to feed yourself, bath yourself, go to the toilet by yourself. No longer would you be able to cook, clean, walk, run, play tennis, do the shopping, kick a ball around with your children, make love, work, write … I could go on but I think you get the picture.
Now doesn’t that make you think? What do you do to appreciate your life today?
We’ve moved house recently, and I have to say that, without a doubt, it was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. The expectation of how it will be (like clockwork – smooth and stress free) was dramatically outplayed by the painful reality (hair pulling-out distress) not helped by the four of us coming down with possibly the worst ever case of the flu
I wonder if previous generations look to bygone days as often as we do? After all, nostalgia is a hot topic at the moment as shown in our increasing interest in vintage clothing and bouffant hairdos, antique furniture and aged crockery. Frugality, reminiscent of the war years, is en vogue too; making do and mending, growing our own (competition for allotments is fierce in urban areas) and the struggle against food wastage, not to mention the rise in our frequenting of charity shops and the like for the hottest (nylon-inspired) fashions.
My phone pings, it’s another text from a friend. We’ve been playing text ping pong since 8 0’clock this morning and each time I reply to her I feel just a little bit guilty that I’m not actually talking to her face to face or over the telephone. I’ve come to realise that I’m actually putting my household chores in order of importance over her.
I nudge my husband who is knee deep in ‘cyber world’. “Hey,” I say, “what shall we have for dinner tonight?”
He looks across to me blankly, then something dawns and his face lights up. “I’m sure there’s an App for that,” he mutters. A quick flick and he’s downloaded something on the iPad. I wouldn’t mind but everything I ask, every discussion we have, turns, in one way or another, into an opportunity for him to gaze at one of the many screens that adorn our home.
Ive done my new year’s resolutions for this year but with the few lovely days of sun we’ve had recently I feel compelled to write about my hopes for the garden in the coming summer. The sun always brings with it a feeling of anticipation for the warm days to come.
In March of this year I was getting excited. I had intentions of putting our large garden to good use –growing all kinds of produce with the hope of becoming inter-dependent. Rather than depending solely on my husband to provide for us, instead I would help to lower costs where I could by growing my own produce. Oh the plans I had. Soups, casseroles, jams, chutneys, all from produce from the garden.
Family relationships can be the cause of much anxiety – petty rivalries in our childhood relationships can so easily extend into adulthood. Of course I am talking from experience; my own family drive me nuts. My brothers, all four of them, banter with and tease me as though we were all still teenagers. The competitiveness between me and the oldest of my brothers is beyond a joke, despite my better judgement.
Friends have said that the weather in Brittany is much like Cornwall; a bit of sun, plenty of rain. I guess a small part of me wanted to believe it was actually like Ibiza, especially as we were staying in a caravan.
We were the last to arrive. All the others were sat, pens poised, minds blank, ready for the onslaught of numbers that was to come. There were visible sighs of irritation as we were ushered towards a free table with our number books.
It suddenly hit me like a slap around the face; I do actually, really, truly love gardening. I couldn’t quite believe it actually. No, I said to myself, it’s not true. This is just a phase. You’ll grow out of it.