We've all been there. It's the human condition to care. To some of the cynics of the world, it's our greatest and most fatal weakness. I don't quite subscribe to the notion that the verb 'to care' is no longer necessary in the world today when talking about our love for other people and ourselves. However, (and this is a big 'however') the time has most certainly passed for caring about what other people think about us, our lives, and our decisions.
Here are a few ways that we can convince our hearts and minds to defend themselves from the nonsense around them. By toughening up and learning to, forgive my French, not give a shit. Not even one (actually, I'll let you all have one shit to give, as long as it's for climate change, because, god, what a mess).
1. Figure out what it is that you value, identify with, and know what you expect of yourself going into this enterprise.
It's an ongoing process to learn not to care, but it refocuses a bit of the sense of frustration so that you don't just end up angry at the world. That's not what we're trying to culture.
2. Watch a Ted Talk, listen to a podcast, find your niche.
What makes you different and unique (and possibly susceptible to the derision or opinion of other people) is that you make sure that you have researched your passion and can either rebuke their ignorance, or correct them with a firmly raised eyebrow. This neatly brings me to my next point...
3. Don't just get angry instead of caring.
As all the great songs tell us, the opposite of love is indifference, not hate. So, don't respond to hate or ignorance with hate. Instead respond with calmness and that conviction that you know you are right, valued, and believe in yourself.
4. Don't give in.
The playground bullies that think your purple hair is stupid can shove it. You don't need to give in - keep wearing your hair proudly; die it pink or rainbow, just to spite them. The kids were probably just jealous that your mum was cool about you having autonomy over your body.
5. It's ok to sometimes give in.
But in the right way - even if it may feel like submission or a get out of jail free card. By telling the school teacher, or reporting incidents to HR, or filling a report at the station, you can not only ensure that whatever you suffered through won't happen again. You can also pass the emotionally intense burden of being wrong on to another party, which will be impartial and able to enact justice. Well, hopefully, anyway. It's self-care.
6. Know the line between safety and sassy.
Be proud to wear what you want to wear, and express yourself in the way you want to express yourself. But, as the tone of this essay has indicated, I will warn against doing so in unsafe or clearly unwelcoming environments. Again, there is a line between pioneering the path to a new future, and unnecessarily risking yourself. If you do something stupid in retaliation you are not only giving the bullies the power to know they have got to you. You may incriminate yourself and then be unable to live your life how you want to. I'm not saying you need to play ball, but if you want to change the game, you've got to know how to use the rules to your interests.
7. Find like-minded peers.
Whatever your community, expression, or identity, make sure that you try to mingle around and find friends that have experienced similar things to you or feel similarly about shared causes or passions. It will make life so much easier, I promise.
People that are so insecure in themselves that they feel the need to verbally or electronically critique you are just projecting their own insecurities and jealousy. It's likely that they aren't happy with themselves and the attack isn't even about you. It's sad but true. Learn that they are the problem, not you.
8. Pity those people.
Based on the above sweeping statement I made, a better solution than picturing them in their underwear is to just pity them like some sort of unwanted, damp paper bag which is torn and can't even function properly so it gets on your shoes. Don't take them along with you on your journey. Pity them and scuff them off your shoes as you sashay away.
9. Make sure the people around you know how to respond.
Inform your friends of how you are trying to not respond to antagonizers and live your best life. These people care about you and will want to help you out on your path, which need not be traveled alone.
10. Detach yourself from shame.
Shame was an emotion invented by the make-up industry in the 50s to convince us that we lack something, something that, incidentally, that company can fix for the small weekly fee of £19.99! Shame is the most robust, enduring emotion tied up in guilt, regret, and peer pressure. It's much easier said than done when trying to separate yourself from it. The first step is acknowledging that we mustn't be ashamed of being who we are, and moving on from there.
11. Relearn how you were taught to think.
We were taught to assume that we have flaws that make us less than others, or undesirable people. We have flaws. But we are still people, no doubt about that. The flaws make us people. Change your mindset.
12. Allow yourself the indignity of failure every now and then.
Try new things, be bad at them, laugh, smile, and enjoy yourself. Failure is the ladder to success (I forget how the epithet goes). But we are taught that there is shame in failure, and then it stops us from ascending the ladder. So, battle through, grit your teeth and fail spectacularly. You'll learn and it'll be great.
13. Accept when you succeed.
Have goals in mind, and be proud of yourself when you achieve them. Just because you don't let what other people think to inform your self-worth, doesn't mean that you shouldn't be happy, secure, and content in who you are when you impress yourself.
14. Accept also that caring is still an intrinsic part of who you are.
Even if you don't listen to the world around you, it's okay if you have a breakdown. Or if you still wince as you see the classmates you remember from years ago.
15. Let yourself cry.
Make sure, above all else, that, in stopping caring about other people's perceptions of you, you save some of that care and love and acceptance for yourself.