Why you should stop letting other people define you

Go Boldly woman walking across yellow background

Who is the best version of yourself?

Are you that person? Do you want to be?

A lot rides on these questions. A lot of self-esteem, a lot of perfectionism, a lot of doubt. We over-invest in being right, in being perfect, in being liked. So to cope, we give up the reigns. We let someone else define for us who our best self should be. We allow others to affirm our decisions and interests, to validate our emotions and experiences, and to decide whether we’re worthy of being liked.

We go along with this process because we’ve decided we need the approval of others more than we need our own. And sooner or later, because we can’t please everyone, we silence our very heart. We internalize these outward criticisms until we begin to tell them to ourselves:

“You’re over-reacting.”

“Don’t be so sensitive.”

“Calm down, it’s not a big deal.”

And in so doing we hurt ourselves, because what we’re really saying is:

“I’m not worth being listened to.”

“My problem isn’t real.”

“I’m not important.”

Shutting ourselves down in this way—or allowing others to shut us down—forces us to become shut in, and prevents us from being the best version of ourselves. It minimizes us. Instead of being the bold, courageous women we are meant to be, we become invisible

So here’s a simple response for the next time you find yourself being dismissed, by yourself or someone else. Practice it until you believe it. Say it politely. Say it lovingly. But say it with confidence:

“I disagree.”

These are hard words. They expose us to the possibility of being wrong, because disagreeing is no guarantee we’re right.

Disagreement gives us the opportunity to stand up for ourselves, for our beliefs, and for others. It allows us to make mistakes and to learn from them. To understand that listening to and valuing the thoughts and opinions of others does not require that we accept them wholesale and without scrutiny.

So disagree. Don’t accept without challenge an assumption about your worth that damages you and deprives the world of your best self.

Because when that happens, everyone loses.

So don’t just go along.

Go boldly.

Iris Proctor
Iris is the director of ArborWoman.