"The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself." This quote, by Rita Mae Anne Brown, was posted recently on a friend's Facebook page. I recognized it immediately, and felt a surge of gratitude that I have walked through the hardest parts of coming to terms with my own urge to conform to what I perceived that others wanted from me.
It's extremely difficult to live in anticipation of what others might need from you. It's impossible to know if you've hit the mark or missed it. I didn't know myself at all until my early thirties, because I had created personalities to fit with each group I was in. This was a coping mechanism which had its place when I started it, but quickly outgrew its usefulness. The problem, of course, is that these habits are deeply unconscious, and once they are formed, they end up informing most of your decisions without you having any idea what is actually happening.
Counselling is so helpful for this. It brings a lot of the things we are unaware of to the surface, so we can look at them, and decide if they are working for us or against us. Understanding that I was living my life to please others was a hard one to face, but making small choices to assert myself, even when it was unpopular with others, was my ticket to freedom from conformity.
Now there is no going back. I am attempting to live as authentically as possible, in all situations, and not be ruled by the fear of what others may think of me. Learning to bear the pain of being disliked by people has not been easy, but it has been an important part of the process of being myself, and eventually, liking myself. If we are as true as we can be to our values and personality, taking responsibility for our choices, we can live life as the people we truly are, not what we want others to think of us.
I had to realize that while I felt liked by others when I was pretending to be someone I wasn't, the authenticity was absent, and therefore they liked only a shell of who I really am. Putting my true self out there in my relationships was much riskier, for when that is rejected it hurts badly, but at least I know I'm dealing in the real and not the pretend. Then when I'm loved and embraced for who I really am, the satisfaction is deeper and more profound, because it's genuine.
My vision of a perfect community would be one where everyone took off their masks, and stopped pretending, and expressed their own opinions and beliefs respectfully while not being offended when others believed differently. We would not conform in order to be liked, but allow our individual personalities, with all of their creative beauty and flawed reality, to shine through. We would be who we really are, and we would be learning to love ourselves, and extend mercy and grace to each other. For now, it's a dream, but a good one, and a path I hope to keep walking for as long as I'm alive.