I’m not going to care what anyone else thinks, and I mean it this time

Two men and a woman (all white) sit at a shiny conference table, deep in discussion. The word "Shh" appears in large black letters over the top of them. Well. It’s been a while. I kept meaning to blog, but as I picked up a little more work and tried to fit in other writing, and felt ill, and FINALLY started watching Mad Men… I didn’t. But lack of time is only part of the reason.

The other part is that I was a wimp.

I wasn’t getting mean comments or emails or tweets, but there’s still something about writing about yourself that feels so vulnerable, like peeling off a layer of skin and sliding into a vinegar bath. Every week, even though I was writing things that I wanted to share, I felt exposed, embarrassed. Like I was about to be judged.

Martha Beck* says that when we fear judgement, we actually have specific people in mind whose criticism we’re cowering from. This might be people we want to impress or people who’ve been critical of us in the past, often both. She calls this our “everybody committee”, and mine has become out of control. Whenever I write something new, especially something that will be on the internet where people can SEE it and SAY things, I imagine all the mean things someone might think.

In fact, there are a couple of people my mind flashes to when I write blog posts.  They’re both professional writers, both more accomplished than I, both with a vague idea who I am. They’re both very talented at personal essays and critical analysis, the kind of writing I want to excel at. (At which I want to excel? Dammit.) They’re also both sometimes openly critical of writing/writers/people/things they don’t like in that bitchy-clever internet way (there’s a phrase they’d both tear to pieces), and even though I know they’re not some final arbiters of taste, I’ve unintentionally appointed them (or rather, my overly hostile imaginary versions of them) as my personal critics.

And it’s stifling. As I’m writing about some woo-woo self help thing I’m into or confessing an embarrassing neurosis or exposing the depths of my personal failure (my blog is really fun, you guys), at some point I’ll feel a cold shudder of shame and think, “So-and-so is going to think this is facile and useless,” and then I’ll want to curl up and hide. Even though to my knowledge so-and-so has never read one of my posts, and may even like or relate to it (!) if they did.

Because of course the thing is that our everybody committees are just an exciting new way for our minds to reflect our doubts and insecurities back to us. That way we get to feel safe, never putting ourselves out there because no one will like us if we do. And the thing I realised during my little hiatus is… that’s true. Not just that whole “You can’t please all the people all the time” thing but that even people who love us and support us and are truly there for us won’t always be impressed.

The people closest to us will sometimes think that we’re close-minded, ill-advised,  selfish, unstylish, and badly in need of their insight. (Sometimes they’ll even be right.) We might go to them for reassurance and find out they hate our ideas, don’t understand our approach, and are certain we’ll never succeed. As much as someone loves you, they might still misunderstand and underestimate you. They’re unlikely to ever 100% approve of everything you’re doing, even when you desperately hope they will. That can be devastating.

But maybe it can be freeing, too.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to be a bland, inoffensive cipher so people would like me, and they’ve still let me know I’m not up to their standards. But if no one in the entire world is going to approve of everything I do, I might as well do what I want and be who I am. (Who knows, by the time I’m 40 I might be fully self-actualised.)

Because however shocked and stupefied the people who love you are when you let your real self out, they won’t stop loving you. And if they do? Well, that sucks. But in the long run, you’re better off. I’ve thought so for a long time, but this year life has repeatedly been giving me signals to get the fucking message. (Oh, yeah. The real me swears, even though I’m scared that it might make my parents’ eyes start spurting blood.)

I’ve begun to think about all the things I would write if I didn’t automatically assume someone would criticise or disapprove of them, to notice when I feel a sense of “Ugh, what’s the point?” My mind flicks to what so-and-so and whatsername will think, then I remember it doesn’t matter. They don’t have a say. This is just my mind playing tricks on me. I feel that icky shame sensation rise up, and I keep on typing.

*I didn’t intend this to be an unofficial Martha Beck fan blog but it is, just go with it.

  • Joanne Mallon

    Love this post, I think a lot of people will relate to this. There is also a theory that the elements of other people that we dislike are really the parts of ourselves that we dislike, reflected back at us. So when you think about the people whose judgement you fear, is it really your own judgement of yourself that you fear, dressed up to look like somebody else?
    I guess the bottom line is that you are a terrific writer Diane and I hope more and more people come to recognise this. And if anybody doesn’t, well, more fool them.

    • Oh, thanks so much, Joanne. That’s so kind of you. And YES, I definitely think there’s something to the idea that my (imaginary) critics are just manifestations of my own insecurities. Because if I didn’t believe those judgemental things about myself, I wouldn’t be half as upset at the prospect that they might.

      Oof, it’s tiring being a person, isn’t it?

  • Luisa

    I love this very much. Thank you for writing it!

  • MazMonroe

    YES! You just write for you. (Oh, hang on, can’t see through this intense red mist…. could it be some eye-spurty thing??) Come on, be that rebel!! It’s about *cuckoo* *BLEEEEP* time, lady. 🙂 xxx

    • Thanks, Mum! (Don’t you start working blue.) And of course you can type what you like, but noooooooo it is not (yuk) “groovy”. It is a nice photo, though.

  • MazMonroe

    P.S. groovy avatar, eh?!