It seems that everyone I meet fears “others”: what “others” might say, or think, or how they will judge us. I think we’re socialized to have this fear. Not everyone feels it the same way or to the same degree, but most of us experience it.
I’ve always been fascinated by “the others”, it’s one of the reasons why I became a depth and existential psychotherapist. As I started delving into my fascination, I began asking people to share their thoughts about who “others” are. Sometimes people paused, unable to find a precise answer and other times they talked about “others” as society, family, and friends.
Whether we follow or ignore what we believe “others” think, we end up feeling stressed, afraid, and guilty. Guilt torments us. Guilt that we have let “others” down, that we stand up too much or don’t stand up enough for ourselves, that we are not good enough. Feelings of shame and failure follow, and sometimes depression sets in.
“Others” appear to have so much power over us. J.P. Sartre wrote: “hell is other people”. An often-misinterpreted quote, Sartre was talking about how the others’ perception of us is reflected in relationships. When you think about who you are, the only available information you have comes from the perceptions of the people around that reflect onto you.
These perceptions paint pictures of our different selves and affect our reality as well as that of the ones around. It is confusing when every mirror we look into shows us something different; a disjointed and contradictory image of who we are. That is frustrating and confusing!
If we rely on “others” for information about ourselves, is it possible we are afraid of what that reflection will show us, of what we might see? We dread seeing the unknown parts of ourselves that we might not like or accept. Admitting that we are not perfect, the smartest, or the most liked is terrifying. We fear being vulnerable because if the fantasy image we have of ourselves gets shaken up, what else is left? Fear offers us a false sense of safety; it keeps us from seeing ourselves for what we truly are. Could we even fathom the possibility of accepting the whole of who we are? When we accept ourselves, we’re apart from the norm. We learn that taking pride in the things we do is not humble; it’s not how we “should” be. This is a trap and a battle we will always lose: constantly trying to please the world in order to fit in, and sabotaging ourselves in the process.