I once read that the most prevalent anxiety disorder in the modern world is the quest to be normal. As a Psychologist, I have yet to find a satisfactory definition of “normal.”
It is well-researched that a sense of belonging and acceptance is a core need for humans (see Maslow’s Hierarchy). Being a welcomed part of groups such as family, friends, work teams or other social relationships reduces anxiety, promotes life satisfaction and staves off loneliness.
But there is a law of diminishing returns. Sometimes we want to be accepted so much that we make ourselves miserable. Teens are particularly susceptible to this (Remember the angst caused by peer pressure?).
Our desire to “fit in” doesn’t go away as we reach adulthood. While we are not as susceptible to peer pressure, we still spend a fair amount of time comparing ourselves to others and adjusting our behavior in an effort to be accepted. Consider the last time you interviewed for a job, gave a presentation to a group, or went on a first date. If you felt uneasy or anxious, it was probably in part due to a desire to be liked.
While this is a natural part of being human, the good news is that we can be ourselves and connect to others in an authentic way, while worrying less about those people with whom we don’t seem to fit.
Here are some things to consider:
– Not everyone will like us. When we accept this truth, we can relax a bit. We attract people who are meant to be in our lives and repel those who may not be the best match for us. Trust the universe to have your back on this one. (Read more in the Blog “What Others Think” from March 17).
– Many people are so focused on their own impression, they are not noticing our flaws. Think about it – if you are worrying about how you are coming across, chances are that others are too. This is a key reason it’s hard for many of us to remember others’ names when we first meet them. We are focused on our own first impression.
– The human brain is hard-wired to keep us safe, and therefore tends to have a bias toward the negative (situations that may present danger). Due to this, we often spend more time reflecting on situations where we have been rejected. When in doubt, take a few minutes to consider the people and social environments where you feel accepted. There are likely more than you think.
– Appearances are hard to keep up over time. If you “shape shift” (take on different personality characteristics and behaviors based on who you are interacting with), you will quickly get exhausted and people will eventually see through to your authentic self. There have been many relationships that have broken down over time because they began misleadingly. And ironically, the less you look for others’ approval, the more they give it to you.
One of the most compelling reasons I have found for being authentic is that if you are always striving to fit in, you will never STAND OUT. In order to fit in everywhere, you need to tone down and become vanilla, which is okay, but lacks pizazz, dynamism and vitality. If you are pleasing everyone, you are likely CAPTIVATING no one.
So be yourself and go out and captivate this week!