When we were in grade school we used expressions like “I passed” or “The teacher failed me”. Many times we weren’t able to admit the cost of our decisions. We justified ourselves with external things. The appropriate expression would be “I decided not to study” or “I decided to do something else”. We’re often afraid that “the group”, that everyone else, won’t accept us. We’re afraid of loneliness or solitude.
The freedom of being yourself implies two very important things. It implies avoiding justifications and assuming the consequences of your actions. But it is very hard to be free, free of the anxiety of being liked by everyone. Free of striving to adapt to what other people want from us. Of doing what society or the people around us expect us to do.
The freedom that the Western world tries to defend and that many other countries envy. But, there is a much more subtle freedom. That is the freedom to choose within the margins of what we have, that is what truly scares us. Because it means we have to assume the risk of what we are, our own decisions. We have to take responsibility.
“Your dreams are on the other side of your prejudice, fears and beliefs. Stop judging, widen your mind and look fear straight in the face.”
Freedom and the acceptance of others
In today’s society, our behavior and even the way we dress, comb our hair, talk, they are all are conditioned to seek the acceptance of others. It is not about completely breaking the rules and doing what we want. Instead, it is about finding a balance between our personal freedom and our respect for others. But the paradox is that, if we do not accept ourselves, others will probably never accept us.
Currently, for example, many studies indicate that we tend to show the best of ourselves in social networks. We do this as a way to seek the approval of others.
We publish what we think will receive a “like” from others. And we don’t publish things that we think are going to be less popular. This also applies to our off-line life, we show the parts of ourselves that we believe others will like more.
“To be yourself in a world that constantly tries to keep you from being yourself, that is the greatest achievement.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Moreover, there are studies that have shown that the part of the brain that is activated when a reward is received is activated when we receive the approval of others. So, we see it as a reward or something pleasant to experience. Receiving approval from others is nice, but it cannot be the engine that moves our lives. The engine of our life must be our own tastes and what we really want.
The positive and negative sides to solitude
There are anthropological studies which argue that seeking approval from others originated thousands of years ago. In prehistory, we depended on membership within a group of people to survive. One person alone could not survive in that environment. We have come to associate freedom with solitude. For instance, if the group does not accept me I will be free, but I’ll be alone.
A survey released last year by the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science showed new findings on the impact of solitude on the quality of life. Seventy previous studies were analyzed, which were conducted between 1980 and 2014 on how solitude, social isolation or living alone affected longevity. The average participant was 66 years old and almost a third had some type of chronic illness.
It was concluded that social isolation is associated with an earlier death. By social isolation we mean having few or no social contacts, or performing few or no social activities. Therefore, these people have an estimated risk of premature death of 29%.
“To love one must you must perform an inside job that only solitude makes possible.”
But solitude, understood as those times when we need to reflect, to get to know and learn about who we are, it has a different meaning. Seeking approval from others can make us feel alone. But, accepting ourselves and learning from our mistakes and virtues will help us get to know the person we really are.