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How to Be Yourself


Growing up, my mother would often ask me, “Why do you care so much about what others think?” It was a fair question, although she seemed to care a good deal about others’ opinions herself. Perhaps by continually posing the question to me, she hoped I’d turn out less like her. Who knows? Whatever her motivation, her question stuck with me over the years and helped shape my life.

I think of her question often because it seems these days many adults are stuck in childhood or adolescence. In the former, they’ve been groomed by parents to obey rules in fear of punishment or rejection. After all, even in the best of childhoods life’s about pleasing the powers that be. As teens, it was all about peer pressure because bonding with folks who’re not family is how we separate from family. Acceptance by our peer group provides connections when we reject or rebel against parental mores and values.

Because these days we have far too much information about what everyone is thinking and doing, people seem to be focusing less and less on their own ideas, desires, and goals. I notice this with clients who relentlessly compare their own to others’ careers, appearance, families, and just about everything else I can think of. This is a sure fire way not to achieve emotional maturity and become your own person. 

The only way that can happen is to march to your own drum once as often as necessary and break the mold. It’s called individuation. Many people mistake rebellion for individuation, but they’d be wrong. Rebelling is doing the opposite of what’s expected and that’s what I sense in many dysregulated eaters: defining yourself by who you are not or by defying people’s expectations of you rather than complying with them. Both depend on outward perceptions. Individuation, on the other hand, involves doing what feels best to you whether it’s expected or approved of or not.

I recently read an article about how often to wash your hair. Really, do we need people to tell us this? If we haven’t figured it out via trial and error by adulthood, we’re not paying attention. Too many people no longer want to discover or test out if something might work. We want immediate answers: “the right way to” do things, and too often turn to experts to tell us what to do so we won’t be wrong and things won’t turn out “badly.” 

Truth is, if we don’t experiment, we end up embracing a cookie-cutter mentality to feel more comfortable. Far better to stay curious and keep learning about ourselves and the world and not accept easy answers. This is especially true when it comes to food. Turn inward, not outward to enjoy a healthy relationship with food and yourself.