I have an embarrassing confession. In college, I evaluated all my choices through the opinions of a group of girls from high school. I’d wonder what they’d think of the outfit I was wearing, the guy I was meeting up with, or the event or activity I was trying out, and make myself miserable assuming their disapproval. They were with me always. They followed me to class, to chapel, to the dining hall. They were with me in the dorms. This was a highly imaginative exercise, because I barely knew these girls. I’d played soccer or had gym class with a few of them, but we were never close.
I see now that they personified my own calculating views about a person’s worth and value, standards about how to be “enough” that I’d never be able to live up to. It’s appropriate they took the form of entitled, privileged high schoolers. In this grid, acceptable choices meant cool clothing, nice material possessions, popularity, and physical attractiveness or sufficiently compensatory personality.
For years I believed that overall, people (especially men) didn’t really want to be around me, but I was probably making up for it with my looks (the trait about which I had received the most compliments in my life). On days I didn’t feel beautiful, I felt worthless, even though attractiveness is so subjective to begin with (see: Boys Don’t Make Passes at Girls who Wear Glasses). On days I thought I looked good, I approached the world with confidence and had much more fun. Since I couldn’t possibly know how I was being perceived, this, too, was all in my head. Trying to be as cool as a high schooler thinks you should be is impossible and ridiculous, and yet it was my contradictory, impossible goal. No wonder I constantly felt discouraged, uncool, gross.
It is my belief that those girls were the mentally-embodied voice of Satan, that pointed, personal evil that seeks to tear you down from within. Through no fault of their own (apart from their somewhat immature/uncharitable treatment of their peers), they were the cruelest and most effective way to illustrate the idea that I was unacceptable. These former classmates, memorable to me for their disgust and mocking laughter, reflected my unacknowledged inner state. I so strongly believed the satanic lie that people mostly judged me harshly that I invented some people who did and walked around wounded at their hands.
While those girls didn’t follow me past college, in recent years they were replaced by some acquaintances whose political opinions clash with my own. (Or whose political opinions I assume to clash with my own). It’s only within the past year or so that I’ve been able to let go of these acquaintances as judges, too. I suppose it’s normal (if not ideal) to begin one’s twenties far too concerned with the supposed opinions of others. “Supposed,” because fortunately people aren’t usually looking at you. Keeping up with one’s own life is absorbing enough. A fringe benefit of occasional loneliness is the reminder that no one has time to sit around and resent you.
Plus, what I see of others often reflects more about me than it does about them, whether I’m judging them by shallow, impossible standards or embracing them fully as inherently worthy of acceptance. If those girls had shown up at my college in person, observed me, and mocked me, that still wouldn’t mean my choices were wrong.
Now, my problem has morphed. After leaving the daily communities of high school and college, my “public face” has shifted to the internet, where you see enough “drive-by hating” daily to scare a person quiet. Quick, cheap jabs at people’s deeply-held convictions abound. Years ago, I feared the reactions of people I’d actually met, however fictionalized. Now, I’m tempted to fear a sea of anonymous haters who disapprove of me. But maybe I could be grateful for the chance to engage with people who feel differently. The time someone takes out of their day to stop and pick on my viewpoint is time they could have spent on their own goals or eating, sleeping, or working. Time spent criticizing me is a backhanded compliment. People are busy. If they didn’t think I was somehow a threat to them, if my opinion didn’t matter to them on some level, they would not exert the effort to respond at all. A hater is necessarily someone with whom I have struck a nerve or a chord.
I’ve made great strides in one way. This panel of half-real, half-invented girls living in my imagination no longer runs my life and gives me flak just for being myself. Thank goodness for that. But I still let a fictional panel of haters silence my most passionate writing because it is politically sensitive. Perhaps it’s time to look back and remind myself that none of them exist yet either. And if they ever do, unlike the imaginary high schoolers, there is an opportunity for real interaction and actual change.
More About Karin
Karin H is an ENFP with a passion to make visible the invisible and to inspire by connecting. Read more at www.sailingbythestars.com or http://medium.com/@
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