Training Your Mind: Acceptance
We human beings are social creatures and desire acceptance. We need to be accepted by our parents, family, friends, colleagues, and communities. Social acceptance brings comfort and security. Having a sense of a safety net helps ease the fear of the unknown, the fear of being lonely. From the time we are babies, we learn from our experiences what makes others like us and pay attention to us. If we are liked by others, they will spend more time with us and we will never be lonely.
We all have different strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. The fear of rejection causes us to deny who we are, and we try to “fix” ourselves to fit in. Whether it’s high school, college, the workplace or our community. We start changing ourselves to be more socially accepted.
Social Norms and Its Impact
Many of our social norms stem from Unconscious Bias and Stereotyping. If you are a girl, you are encouraged to play with dolls or play “house” or love art. If you don’t like that then you must be the progressive type and should like STEM or be career focused. If you are a boy you have to play sports. If you don’t like sports, then you must be the nerdy geek type who loves to play video games or wins math and science competitions.
To be socially accepted, you must have a certain body type whether you are a man or woman. Or, you must discuss certain topics of conversation. Or, you try to follow a certain career path. If we don’t fit into that socially accepted body type, then we try to be that body type. If we don’t agree with a certain general opinion of our social group, we keep our thoughts to ourselves. If our career does not make us socially prominent, we try to achieve the goals that will make us socially prominent.
If we reject the social norm because we believe the expectations are unfair, then we try to fit in with groups that challenge social norms. Even in this situation we are changing ourselves to follow another type of behavior pattern or norm to be accepted.
Growing up, as a girl, I rebelled by refusing to play with dolls, keeping my hair short, and competing in state and national level sports competitions. I became an engineer, and built my career in IT. I didn’t realize that the idea of my rebellion was based on the unconscious bias that girls who like dolls are somehow weaker or dependent. Because I wanted to be considered strong and be respected, I unconsciously mimicked male gender norms. Although my rebellion resulted in me building my career in IT, a field that I like, it made me change myself in ways that were unnecessary. This realization made me start thinking about all the other decisions I have made and their impact on my life.
We know what is expected from us. Question is, is that what we want from our life?
At the start of our journey, I want us to pause and reflect on what we really want for ourselves.
Do you want to take that dance lesson because you love the freedom of expression it gives you, or is it social pressure? Do you want to take that robotics class this summer because you love building things, or is it because it meets your parents expectations?
Do you want to continue working in your current job, or do you want to strike out on your own? Did you decide to strike out on your own because you have always wanted to be an entrepreneur, or is it because you believe it will help you fit in with your social group?
How much of what you do everyday is something you really want to do and how much of it is for acceptance?
Learning about what we want for ourselves helps us understand and accept all our strengths, fears and weaknesses. Self acceptance is one of the keys to training our mind to reject social pressure and our expectation of perfection from ourselves.
I have a best friend who is the gentlest soul I have ever known. Very compassionate, had a creative drive since childhood, and sang beautifully. Always ready to help others in any way she can. A few years ago she started having thoughts that were so unlike hers, staying sad and afraid. Society started judging her, dubbing her to be a weak minded person. She lost confidence in herself and struggled for a few years before acknowledging it as depression, a medical condition.
After seeking medical help, she decided to take more active control of her life. She started searching for ways to train her mind to be more positive. It was not an easy road, but her desire to take back control of her life was stronger. Her struggles are not over, but she is happier. Does she still worry about social acceptance? Certainly, but she is able to manage her worries and depression by constantly working on training her mind.
Self-Acceptance is not inaction, it is understanding the cause of our actions.
Daily Reflection practice helped me understand myself and my choices.
Have you experienced unconscious bias or stereotyping? How did that impact you?