One of the things that I noticed in my struggle with anxiety was the constant, but subtle process of self evaluation that goes on in the background.
Am I talking enough? Talking too much?
Is my appearance acceptable?
Am I wealthy enough, confident enough, and much more.
Almost always I would answer with a negative.
If I could just have a little more money, be more successful, have a better house I would be fine I say.
I measured myself against these mysterious metrics and found myself wanting. I never thought of myself as interesting enough talkative enough or knew the right thing to say.
I think a lot of the problems around anxiety and stress are like this. We question whether or not we are doing things the right way, the best way. Thinking we’re not good enough at being a friend, parent, student etc
I convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough as a person to warrant success, happiness, or love.
It’s why I so often felt disconnected with other people. I never have quite fitted in, and I believed it was a flaw on my part that was the reason for this.
The problems start and persists because as we grow out of childhood we have to learn how to get on with others.
That starts the habit of considering the rules of society, the opinions and feelings of others.
So we forego our own needs and wants in order to fit in. The herd mentality takes over. We want to be part of the in crowd, not get left separated and alone. Conformity, even at the expense of being ourselves, becomes important for safety, success, and happiness.
Our anxiety and fears manifest here. One example is Status Anxiety, written about by philosopher Alain de Bottom.
We compare ourselves to those with wealth and power, and see ourselves a powerless, and worthless. Or we feel the judgement of others upon us: too tall, to short, to fat, to thin, makes noise when they eat. So we feel the constant striving for money, possessions promotions, and good table manners.
It leaves us perpetually, anxious, constantly striving to match up and afraid we might never be good enough.
All this comes about because we are measuring ourselves against some external metric. The expectations we place upon ourselves become the burden that weighs upon us and sucks the joy out of life. Like the rock that Sisyphus himself carries upon his seemingly pointless quest.
Another example from school is the the straight A syndrome. No longer is it just one way we have to be good. Now we have to be successful at many things, straight A’s. Successful as a rock star, beautiful as a model, smart as a Harvard or Oxford graduate. The best grades in all the ways you are tested.
The problem is not that we keep assessing ourselves, but by what metrics do we measure ourselves against? Should we have any?
Those ambiguous external standards, that are neither written down nor explicitly stated.
The standards that leave us feeling I should be smarter, happier, more charismatic, wealthier, better looking but afraid we never will.
Where do they come from? Why those standards? Most of all why do we place so much importance on them?
An external metric could be followers on Facebook, size of income, wealth, bust size, designer brands, size of house and more.
Perhaps it’s because we’ve all been lead to believe that these social standards are important enough to judge our lives by.
Getting away from this desperate search to be good enough is hard and can involve many threads. But for me the biggest break was learning, and truly accepting, that these standards have no authority or truth behind them other than what we give them.
They were were just other people’s opinions or as fads that will pass in time. What’s important is looking more inwards to find your own metrics.
I have learned that there is no standard we have to live up to, no way we have to live. You are therefore free to find your own path.
It’s a common theme in the self help section.
But you can’t do that if you keep comparing yourself to other people. Trying to squeeze ourselves to fit some arbitrary notion of ‘a good person’ is a cause of anxiety, because you’ll never will match up, no matter how hard you try.
It’s not an easy thing to-do but freeing yourself from this worry, stress and even depression. Do your best to give up on the idea you have to be what other people want you to be, or what society advocates as an example.
What metrics do you measure yourself against? Nice car, brand names, new house? I’d like to hear from you below?
Image Credit: solerf / 123RF Stock Photo