It Doesn’t Matter What Other People Think – Until It Does
As a religious trauma survivor coming out of a high-control environment, most of my life I HAD to care what other people thought.
I had to care what they thought about EVERYTHING I said and did, or else my life would be intentionally attacked.
The excuse was always that we should “guard our reputation” but all that really meant was appeasing a nosy, critical and vengeful congregation of a couple thousand who barely knew each other.
I grew up constantly on edge, listening for inflections in voices, watching flickers of expressions on faces.
Forever seeking acceptance, wearily staying a step or two ahead of the condemnation lurking in the shadows at my back.
The first time I made a decision based on what was best for me and not on what others thought, I was excommunicated. I was 19 years old. The decision? Visiting a male friend at his family’s house.
In the next Christian community where I made my own decision without agonizing over what other people thought, it ended up in me almost being fired from the organization I had faithfully served and dedicated myself to for five years at the time. The decision? Allowing a male-bodied person I knew closely who had no where else to go, to sleep on the floor in front of the heater in the dead of winter in my community house with roommates who also wanted to help. Sounds to me like Jesus’ example of the righteous: “I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you cared for me.” and yet I almost lost the Christian community I dearly loved as a result.
After escaping that kind of high-control environment half a decade ago, I have since lived by the mantra that it doesn’t matter what other people think.
“Never again will I be a prisoner to other people’s opinions!” I told myself. “Let them gossip and judge, they can’t keep me down anymore.”
Anytime I felt anxious or insecure I repeated to myself “It doesn’t matter what other people think!”
Except it doesn’t matter what other people think… until it DOES.
Recently a large amount of money was stolen from me by well-off Evangelical family members who had access to Caleb’s estate. They justified it by asserting I didn’t deserve the money because I wasn’t Christian enough.
I was targeted as a victim of theft because of what other people think.
My future will be less secure now because of what other people think.
As a result, it will be more difficult to secure housing and provide stability for myself and my children in the years to come because of what other people think.
I received less support in the wake of Caleb’s death because of what other people think. A surprisingly large handful of evangelicals thought I deserved widowhood and should fend for myself because they didn’t approve of my “lifestyle”.
I have lost very dear friends and many other relationships I wanted to keep because of what people think.
I daily suffer from damage to my mental and physical health because of what other people think – their actions and reactions resulting in my complex PTSD.
Opportunities have been withheld from me because of what other people think.
Years worth of peace and happiness have been taken away from me because of what other people think.
I do all I can to not let others have power over me, but in the end I can’t control everything.
Unfortunately, the grisly reality of it is that what other people think does matter and believing any differently is naive.
But instead of telling myself what other people think doesn’t matter – I can commit to a willingness to pay the cost for what other people think.
Unfair as that is, there is a cost each of us must pay in order to own ourselves.
For some, the cost will be low – those with supportive, accepting communities are afforded the right to individuality and freedom of choice.
But the cost of self-ownership is particularly high for those of us fleeing abusive religious environments.
Toxic and dangerous people will think what they want to think and do what they want to do – regardless of who they victimize along the way.
If you fight against that reality by submitting, pretending or hiding – those people own you.
Of course there are always cases where one might have no choice but to hide or pretend for their imminent safety. That is an injustice I am all too aware of.
But indenturing myself to the opinions of others to avoid the cost of my freedom will always end up a much higher cost in the long term. It takes bravery and resolve to accept that and choose to pay the cost for what other people think.
These last few years I have paid dearly, but I own myself.
I will continue to periodically make payments on my freedom for the remainder of my life – but I am my own.
My abusers aren’t free – they constantly have to watch their backs from others who are just like them.
But I have no master, I bought my freedom with everything I had.