The thing about becoming blinded by the perceptions other people project on you is just that — you won’t realize it. You start to see them as your own. If there’s nothing more concrete there, that’s all that will exist.
Sometimes the whole of who we perceive ourselves to be is nothing more than how we fit into the contexts of what we mean to other people.
It’s David Foster Wallace’s fish that don’t realize they’re swimming in water (that I’ve referenced now for the umpteenth trillionth time.)
The things that are most true are the ones we are most immersed in. The most relevant realities, the biggest and most encompassing, are the hardest to see.
We never make revelations. We never have epiphanies or realizations that just come to us by fate or magic — we only learn to tie the pieces together. In one way or another we are just forced to look at ourselves from outside the fishbowl.
We best understand the common denominators, the things that perpetuate many aspects of our lives. We take the grand scheme and apply it to the small things that seem meaningless. We tie the small things that seem meaningless together into things that are greater and more important.
We don’t understand things individually, we understand them in the context of one another.
The first time I realized this was when I reacted uncharacteristically to a (now) ex abruptly moving onto someone else. She didn’t bother me. My friends and my mom and my roommate took it as my having gracefully accepted it. (But that wasn’t the case at all.)
I was upset, but not in the way I was supposed to be. That is to say, I wasn’t jealous of her, but I internalized what it meant that he didn’t want to be with me. I internalized that unworthiness. Not in the sense that she was more worthy than I was. But that I was unworthy of him.
Growing up, I had a tough time with “friends” in school. But more than that, kids were (are?) just really mean. I’m not saying I’m unique for having been a punching bag, only that kids tend to take out their aggressions on their peers because they can’t take it out on what they’re really upset about (school, home life, parents, themselves.)
On the surface, I knew that what they said of me was absolutely not true. But what they perceived of me was true to them, and that still bugged me.
One day I realized that it wasn’t about worrying what other people thought, or even considering it, but how I internalized that dialogue within myself without even knowing it. I was living to appease other people. What made me happy was what I assumed other people would like. I was dishonest and halfhearted to make sure everybody else was okay with me.
I perceived the happiness I felt from receiving that approval as genuine.
I was internalizing other people’s problems and adopting them as my own.
And so when I solved them, I internalized their acceptance, and gradually adopted their mindset as my own as well.
The girls who said mean things about me really didn’t care about me, they themselves were hurting, and lashing out. But I listened. The guy who left me for someone else wasn’t doing so because I was unworthy and someone else was. It was because he was hurt from our relationship and that’s what he needed to do. I was taking on other people’s issues, completely subconsciously, in the way that they manifested themselves as projections onto me.
Before I knew it, I realized that the entirety of what I believed myself to be was based on how other people made me feel. I couldn’t derive emotion and I couldn’t apply meaning to anything without somebody else affirming for me that what I believed was valid. I was afraid to stand on my own. I was comfortable being a secondary character in my own mind. It gave me something to fight for. It gave me purpose and meaning.
The very sense of purpose and meaning that I couldn’t feel for myself.
The only problems we really have with ourselves are the ones we assume other people have with us. We try to self-modulate and police ourselves into being acceptable, because all that matters is that we are accepted. There’s a sorely overlooked importance in knowing yourself, thinking for yourself, trusting what you feel and believing in it without needing a second nod of approval. It’s not just so you can craft the right path for yourself; it’s so you don’t wind up on someone else’s without even realizing it. If you’re a transparent canvas, all you’ll be able to see is what other people hold up to you.