Last week’s post discussed the concept of your essential and social selves, and how your essential self lets you know you are on the wrong path. (If you missed it and need context, read it here.) This week is all about the social self, and the master this self serves, known as “Everyone.” We’re going to do one of my favorite exercises of all time – cleaning up your “everybody” from Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your Own North Star. First, we need some background on how this concept of “everyone” is formed.
We’re social beings, and from a survival perspective, we depend on fitting in with a group. Our brains can’t handle holding the opinions of more than four or five individuals at a time, so we create what sociologists call “the generalized other”, which is just easier to think of as your own personal “everyone.” This is always dependent on your social groups. This is excellent news; while we can’t change the nature of our brains, we can change who we allow into our mental “everyone.”
According to Martha, when our minds create our individual “everyone”, they often do so by choosing the opinions of the most dangerous, scary people we know. Why? Again, we’re social creatures and by nature, we’re focused on avoiding pain. This is exactly what your brain is doing when it collects information about what “everyone” thinks – it takes the opinions of some of the nastiest people you’ve known, and does it’s level best to get you to act in ways that will never cause you to attract negative attention from these people again. Your social brain is smart; you want to avoid these folks! Problems arise when we’re away from these individuals, but have not yet cleaned out their opinions from our minds.
Here’s a quick quiz to see if your own “everyone” could use some cleaning. Check out the statements below and note any that you do not believe about yourself.
I’m a natural-born winner: always was, always will be.
The world is full of people who would love to be my friends.
I’ll always have plenty of money.
I deserve a life full of joy and fulfillment.
I’m physically beautiful, and I always will be.
I can be wildly successful at my chosen career.
I have an amazingly capable brain.
I’m perfectly lovable exactly as I am.
I’m highly creative by nature.
My dreams are in the process of coming true.
(“Self-Perception Exercise” from Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck, New York, NY, Three Rivers Press, 2001, Page 76.)
Martha’s assertion here, and I’m 100% behind her on this, is that all of these statements should be true for everyone on the planet. If you noted any statements that you do not believe about yourself, it’s time to do some work! For each statement you do not believe, please list out the names of actual individuals you know that have expressed that you are not beautiful, capable, etc. Generalizations and groups (everyone at work or the media, for example) are not allowed. Then, list out any people who have expressed that you are beautiful, capable, etc.
Take a minute to compare your lists. How much of your life do you want to hand over to the people who have told you that you are not any of these statements? I had a light bulb moment with this exercise the first time I did it. I had checked off about half of the statements as things I didn’t believe about myself. When I actually listed out people who had told me they did not believe these statements about me, I came up with two: my scary friend from high school and my father. Really? How many years of my life did I go through believing horrible things about myself based on the opinions of an abused teenager and a mentally ill man? Too many!
Who is in your critical and lying everybody? Who is sucking out your joy, your self-worth, your capability? It’s time to kick these folks to the curb, my friends, and replace them with people who can see you for the precious, beautiful, capable, worthy soul that you are.