You’re Not Who They Think You Are…

You’re Not Who They Think You Are…

In this month’s edition of ‘Tea, no sugar,’ Tea discusses the importance of self knowledge.

Last Wednesday I was the kind lady you saw on the tube that gave up her seat for an elderly woman. A couple of days before that I was the awkward girl that you had to endure 5 gruesome minutes of strained small talk with.

I’ve been the enigmatic party girl, the impolite passerby, the girl with the obnoxious laugh, the hilarious extrovert, the somber introvert and the cute commuter you fancied. Well, just indulge me on the last one. You’ll see, one day I’ll be featured on the Metro’s rush hour crush… it’ll read:

Scruffy looking black lady with a yellow scarf, doodling on her iPad, maniacally cackling to herself; were you listening to a podcast or should I be scared?

I digress, stay with me.

I guess what I’m trying to explain is that I am, indeed, all those people above…and simultaneously I am none of them. The “me” that I’ve gotten acquainted with over the last 23 years transcends those flimsy little labels. And I’m sure the same applies to you. We are all wonderfully robust, full, people – with an intricate life story to match. But often we allow other people’s superficial opinions of us to siphon away the power we have over our own stories and affect how we feel about ourselves.

Let me paint you a typical picture of the times I’ve willfully handed away my power and see if you resonate:

So, I’m usually plopped down in a diabolically overpriced coffee shop chatting to a fairly new acquaintance. When, for no reason at all, mid-conversation, I become overly cognisant on how I might be coming across. For me, my main gripe is the idea that I am being seen as annoying or irritating. So, once I start perceiving you as perceiving me as annoying…Houston, lad, we’ve got a big problem. Confirmation bias kicks in, and like an insecure hound, I’m off sniffing for affirmations about my unlikability. Moreover, I then begin to brandish my whole-ass self as “annoying” and struggle to see myself as anything but. Then…then I sip £35 mocha latte. Does this sound vaguely familiar to anyone? This mindset is such a dangerous one to practice.

Not only because we’ve essentially concocted out of thin air a narrative led by none other than our own insecurities. But more importantly, even if the assumptions were correct and we were, in fact, being judged as an irritating companion or something negative – why on earth are we giving away our stories for a stranger to write? 

*snaps hands* “You know my name, not my story” is essentially the crux of this article…once you tear down the frilly bits. Despite the infamous nature of that cliché, we too frequently toss away our precious stories into the careless hands of people who’ve known us for all but 5 minutes. We need to stop placing the importance of other people’s opinions on our personhood. Why? Because our complexity demands it.

As I was saying earlier, us humans are so much more than any one-dimensional trait. We are confusing creatures capable of being more than one ‘thing’. 

If someone at work thinks you’re awkward – that’s ok because they know jack-shit about the full extent of your personhood. If you said something stupid at the pub last week, that’s ok because you are more than that stupid comment you made at the pub last week. There’s a multitude of you’s that people don’t see. The ‘you’ that is a fiercely loyal friend, a loud-mouth daughter, a fabulous flamenco dancer* – whatever it may be. Not everyone is lucky enough to see those sides of you. Your entire entity doesn’t just become whatever role others ascribe onto you. By just simply realising how blooming multifaceted you are, you can help liberate yourself from the limited perception of stranger’s opinions. Take comfort in your complexity! 

*perchance any flamenco dancers read this; yes, I would love some lessons please.

We should note that although this attitude is easily applied when facing those who want to drag us down with negative perceptions, it also needs to extend towards those who try to prop us up onto pedal stools. People’s pedal stools are wobbly. Because at the end of the day, when we say we are human, that includes both the good bits and…the not so good bits. The kind, but limited, positive opinions of others still aren’t enough to encompass all of you. And by paying too much attention to compliments we feed an ego that is dependent on being fed validation to survive.

Rather, we must cultivate an accurate and nuanced personal opinion of ourselves that we prioritise over the opinions of others. However, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we can’t accept praise or constructive criticisms. Instead, a more constructive way to build our self-perception would be to first prioritise our own opinions; then garnish those opinions with input from people we trust, in order to fully nourish our authentic selves. 

At the end of the day, only we have the authority to decide who we are and who we want to be. No-one else will live with the consequences but, us. Although we may never be able to get rid of the parochial perceptions of our personhood, it doesn’t matter, as we can aim to shift the focus and stand grounded in our authentic truth of who we are.

Even if that truth is messy, complicated and not yet featured on metros rush hour crush.

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