Survival of the social
Human beings are social creatures. Belonging to a group is not only a nice feeling, it’s crucial for living. This need for social approval is hardwired into the brain from primordial times. It was a survival mechanism. People who feel isolated, lonely and excluded tend to have poor physical health, often sleep badly, with poorer immune systems and even a lower life expectancy.
It’s no wonder that many people try to be accepted by others.
The danger comes when this desire for acceptance and approval causes you to change how you behave, what you say, what you think – and who you are.
Most people want to feel like they belong and are wanted, but this desire for validation and approval from others shouldn’t change how you behave. People-pleasing is something everyone does from time to time. But it’s not a self-pleasing activity. Physically and mentally exhausting, it ultimately doesn’t bring rewards – to anyone. When you twist yourself into shapes set by others, or squeeze yourself into their boxes, you are being inauthentic. Not being true to yourself is hard work, and when you’re not really being yourself, you’re unlikely to be able to do your best work. That means you’ll never really feel good enough, causing your self-esteem to dip – and making it even more likely you’ll look elsewhere for validation.
The dangers of peer pressure on young people are often discussed, but they can be just as damaging for adults. Pressure from those around you can cause you to behave in ways that aren’t true to yourself, even if you don’t always realise it. Just like young people, your self-confidence and self-worth can become reliant on others.
If you’re constantly putting on different masks for different people, you’ll begin to lose track of your own identity. You’ll be pulled in multiple directions – and end up feeling messy and tangled as a result. When you change for others, whether it’s through external pressure or an internal sense of low self-esteem, you lose what matters: personality, individuality and that unique essence that makes you who you are. Although receiving approval from others might boost confidence in the short-term, in the long run you’ll be undermining your self-esteem, which comes from being comfortable in your own skin.
This pressure is not always external. It often comes from within. Most people enjoy the feeling of gaining someone’s approval and, like an addiction, keep going back for more. But the more you alter your behaviour or words to line up with what other people want, the more you train them to believe that this is what you will always do.
Life is too short to be doing things that you simply don’t want to, just to make someone else happy. Of course, there’s always work to be done, chores to be carried out and money to be earned, and you can’t live every moment in a blissful state of relaxation. But that doesn’t mean that those moments should be difficult and feel as though they are not really you.
Ultimately, it’s your life you’re living.
Be true to you
Kylie Zeal, life coach and author of Seven Freedom Elements, specialises in helping people to develop self-esteem and confidence. She says that one of the biggest dangers of changing yourself to please others is regret. ‘If we look at the top five regrets of the dying, one of them is: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.” Too often it’s too late before people realise the importance of staying true to themselves.’
You don’t have to be the same as someone else or agree with them to bring value to them. Petra Zink is a personal branding strategist and career coach. She says that it’s important to find your uniqueness. ‘This is the only thing nobody else can compete with. Knowing and owning our strengths and how we can use them to bring results to others is what makes us valuable.’ Your strength lies in the very ways you are different, not the same.
Tasha Miller’s company, Jubly-Umph, is all about inspiring women to stay true to themselves, not to change for others and ‘to stay weird’! She has built an online community of women who support each other to be proud of the things that make them different – things that in the past they may have been bullied and ostracised for. ‘The benefit of staying weird is that you don’t need to change for anybody else,’ she explains. ‘Instead you take pride in the things that make you different.’
Not everyone will like you. Not everyone will approve. But that’s okay. That doesn’t mean you have to change. You’re unique, special and worthwhile. Just as you are.
This article was originally published in Issue 14 – Embrace the Positive