When I was a teenager growing up in Dublin and battling with that very typical desire to ‘fit in’ by being and doing what I thought everyone else was, my mother would trot out her standard line – “Would you jump off a bridge if someone told you to?” As one of only a few black kids around at that time, finding things to help me ‘blend in’ was very high on my agenda. I thought people would overlook my differences or even my ‘flaws’ such as my parents not being together, the big scar on my right leg, and whatever it was that I thought was ‘wrong’ with me that stopped my father from being in touch, if I kept up with whatever I perceived the trends to be. The thing is, this is not untypical of being a teenager whether you stick out like a sore thumb or not. We pretend to like bands we don’t like (The Clash), we claim to enjoy watching things that actually leave us scratching our heads in confusion (Twin Peaks), we contemplate dressing in things that in retrospect, we know we would have looked ridiculous had we followed through (Goth and grunge gear), and we convince ourselves that if we don’t lose our virginity or go to various ‘bases’ that we’re abnormal, so we even contemplate pretending to have done some of these things.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop in our teens and I realised recently when I was reading this really great book to my daughters, The Little Girl Who Lost Her “No” (Amy Starkey – and a BR reader too!), that we can go from people-pleasing kid who’s afraid to say no to their parents, friends, and bullies, to grown-ups who still haven’t found their ‘No’ and so we end up putting our need to please ahead of our misgivings and authenticity. Next thing we’re pretending to be something that we’re not, ‘putting out’ for fear of upsetting, and accepting crumbs because apparently, it’s the ‘done’ thing.
When we’re growing up and not sure of who we are, authenticity seems like a pain in the bum that will cost us friendships and ‘cool’, but there comes a point when we do have to recognise that there’s only so long that we can defer to ‘others’ and operate on autopilot for, before we wind up in pain from not being willing to listen to ourselves. It’s even tougher when we actually have a sense of of who we are, so our needs, expectations, wishes, opinions and feelings, and yet we go ‘off brand’ or ‘off message’ and end up feeling lost and adrift from the people within our Circle of Trust.
We follow instead of being – we diverge from our authentic self, something that we can’t be in any danger of actually discovering or trying out when we’re too busy trying to keep up with the Jones’.
I hear from people who effectively argue that there’s a trend for not respecting one’s self, for screwing around, for never committing, for using people, not being honest, being rude, lacking responsibility and the list goes on. Of course, there are ‘trends’ for everything – there’s big trends, regurgitated trends, and micro trends. Basically, we can find a trend for most things – it’s how businesses sell to us, it’s how the media come up with their scaremongering stories based on ‘research’ that are normally aimed at striking fear through women, and it’s how people who want us to do what they want (even if it doesn’t suit us), ‘sell’ it to us and it’s also how we legitimise our own behaviour and thinking.
If we adopt a trend, it’s because it speaks to who we are as a person or we are unconsciously (or possibly consciously) following a trend because we don’t have the confidence, and yes sometimes the responsibility, accountability, and even integrity, to be who we are. We’d rather follow the trend and be assured of being in the herd even if the herd hurts or even mauls us. ‘Following’ is regarded as safety in numbers (no vulnerability) plus when we rely on being ‘directed’, we don’t have to think plus if things go awry, we may even feel inclined to blame the herd.
Sometimes we find it hard to do right because it feels as if we are only compelled to be and do the things that speak to our hearts and souls when everyone else is doing it too. It’s a bit like, if we were in a crowd of people who were all doing something shady, we might feel as if we no longer have to bother doing what’s right or just plain ‘ole authentic to us – our values.
On some level, we regard being different from someone else as ‘wrong’. We perceive it as a cue to question our position and choices. We may even see differences as an attack, when really, they’re just somebody going about the business of living in their way.
There are always going to be people who diverge from our own values, there are always going to be people who do and think differently, and there are always going to be people who follow their own trends. Truly being authentic is the result of being and doing the things that speak to your values, your heart, your soul, and basically who you are as a person. It means you’re willing to ‘go there’ regardless of whether you get consensus.
Of course this isn’t ‘easy’ but then it’s not a walk in the park to follow the herd plus when you focus on being you, you don’t have to contend with the blame and shame that kicks in when you feel as if you sold you down the river, or deal with that wounded feeling that you get from that sense that even the ‘fake you’ isn’t accepted. Family is a prime example of where you can learn about what it’s like to deviate from the trends. Some are thrilled when you strike out on your own and see it as good for the team and progress, and some… feel threatened. I recognise that I’ve ‘gotten on’ with both sides of my family when I was a compliant pleaser. Strangely enough, these also represent the most miserable times of my life…. When I started to step up for me, some common ground (living in the past but also pretending that a part of the past hadn’t happened), was lost. Over time, I’ve found my peace with this and some relationships have gradually regained ground and others haven’t. They key thing is that I’m very awake, aware, and me.
When we follow a herd, we stop being truly conscious. It’s the equivalent of sleepwalking and the danger is, we start to automatically accept that what the herd says or does is ‘correct’ and this has a knock-on effect because we keep on adjusting ourselves to ‘fit in’ so that we don’t feel vulnerable or experience rejection. We stop representing because we’re too busy following. We essentially end up arguing against ourselves or against others so that we can maintain the uncomfortable comfort zone and then we don’t end up liking or knowing ourselves anyway because we’re so dependent on external validation.
There will always be people who do things differently and this is OK. When we learn to accept the differences in others instead of trying to clone ourselves, we can also learn to accept us and respect the very things that we share common ground with others but also the very things that make us unique.