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Actually, the question in the title is a loaded one, because the answer is simple for everyone. Yes, we are all impacted by social conditioning. It is just that many people are unaware of the impact that it does have. Our beliefs are powerful and from the time we are children we are shaped by the beliefs of those adults who have a place in our lives. Years ago I came across a song that tells a story that is far too prominent in the world today.
The song, “Flowers are Red” by Harry Chapin tells the story of a little boy who loves coloring flowers in all different colors of the rainbow. He did this until he had a teacher who held the belief that flowers were red and green only. When the little boy attempted to keep coloring using all of the colors, he was punished by the teacher until he got it right. Eventually, he complied and began to follow the idea that flowers are red and green.
Well, the little boy eventually moved and he went to school and had a different teacher. The new teacher believed that kids should use all of the colors of the rainbow. But the damage had already been done. The little boy had already been conditioned to believe that flowers were only red and green. He no longer used all of the colors, because to him, doing so equated with punishment.
Social conditioning is very real. From the time we are born, the people in our lives guide us and condition who we become. We are trained on how to act, how to think, what to believe, how to emotionally react, and often who to be.
Unfortunately for many, this conditioning may be at odds with who they really are at a deeper level. Society has created nice neat labels to use with people. And each of those labels fits into a nice neat little box. But when people have characteristics that are different or think outside of the box, then it makes others uncomfortable. Those things don’t fit into the labels or the boxes.
So often, to help make people more comfortable, they are taught from an early age to conform. If they do not conform, they can be subjected to fear, abandonment, guilt, rejection, disapproval, and shame.
You can’t spend time on social media without seeing this in action.
It starts as a child
As children, we learn early to hide away parts of ourselves that don’t mesh with what society expects of us. There is a tendency to become people-pleasers in order to gain the approval, acceptance, and love of others. But the price for that is high. This repeated programming eventually created neural pathways in the brain that make those beliefs and resulting actions a habit. That programming then runs on autopilot in our lives.
When living behind the constraints of social conditioning, you lose who you authentically are. You put on a mask for the world and stuff down your true self. Although who you really are, will continue to try to get your attention and breakthrough.
Living behind the mask can cause other problems. Now, I’m not a therapist, but I certainly have experienced what it’s like to live behind a mask! I was a “victim” of social conditioning for a long time as are we all. I definitely have a wild, creative spirit that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. And I’ve always thought outside of the box! But I was finally able to begin breaking free of that conditioning. Here are some of the ways that it impacted my life and how it may be impacting yours…
Patterns of negativity
Have you noticed any patterns of negativity in your life? Beliefs that you’re not good enough, negative gossiping, complaining, pessimism? Believe it or not, many of those patterns of negativity, which are so common today, are learned behavior. Yep, you learned that in the past and it became a habit. Of course, if you don’t recognize it as a habit, then it will be hard to unlearn. But once you’ve recognized the pattern it can be changed!
Depression and anxiety
When you are living in a way that is at odds with who you really are, it is not uncommon to experience depression and anxiety. When who you really are is at odds with who you are trying to be in the world, it can definitely impact your mood. It’s hard to keep appearances up, and trying to be a people pleaser puts you in a position where you are constantly having to be sure what you are doing is okay with those around you.
That is a stressful way to live! When I was in people-pleasing mode, I struggled with a lot of depression. I always felt like I was never enough. And my anxiety was so bad that I was regularly having panic attacks. To make matters worse, society tells us that we shouldn’t talk openly about those types of feelings. And that problem is even worse for men than it is for women!
Feeling like a fraud
Imposter syndrome is real, and impacts a whole lot of people! If you ever feel like a fraud, or that people are going to discover that you are an imposter, then you may be struggling with this. Until I began peeling away the masks in my own life, this was a big problem for me. I regularly felt like at any moment someone was going to see the real me and discover that I was a fraud. In business, I always felt like people were going to discover that I didn’t know what in the heck I was talking about.
There is a strong connection between people-pleasing and imposter syndrome. When you are wearing a mask to hide who you are so that you can gain the approval of others, you aren’t being authentic. In a way, you are being a fraud. And that will come through in your life. For me, once I peeled away the mask that feeling went away. It’s been years personally and in business since I felt like a fraud. But I had to put an end to the people-pleasing and get back to me to get there!
This is a BIG one for so many! When you are in people-pleasing mode and not living authentically in who you are, it is easy to settle for things in your life that are not really good for you. When others have expectations for you, as a people pleaser, you are more likely to go along with something that isn’t best for you. This can happen with careers, relationships, religious practice, sexual orientation…you name it. How many people have settled for a relationship or career that wasn’t right because they felt pressured by loved ones?
It’s pretty common. How often does someone who is gay stay in the closet because family members wouldn’t approve? Sadly, way too often! How often do children adopt their parent’s religious views because it’s expected? There are a lot of expectations placed on us by loved ones. And while they may believe they have your best interest at heart, only you can ultimately decide what is really best for you. If you cave into the pressure, it can place you in a position where you settle. Speaking from experience…that’s not a great place to be! And it certainly won’t lead you to live a happy and fulfilled life!
You have a choice
The good thing is that you have a choice. You can begin to break through social conditioning and start thinking critically. You can begin to peel away the mask and start listening to what your heart and soul really want. And you can begin to literally “retrain” your brain and create brand new neural pathways that can lead you to a much better life, living as who you really are!
It all starts by becoming aware of what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling and what you believe. For me, it started with questioning how I really felt about things. After my ex-husband and I separated I started asking myself that question. I had been angry and sad before asking myself how I felt. When I dug down deep, however, I discovered that I was really relieved and grateful that it was ending. I didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want to be with me! But I had been reacting emotionally in a way that was expected of me by others.
So I began asking myself that question about EVERYTHING in my life. And I also asked myself if certain things really resonated with me or not. I wound up removing a whole lot of things (beliefs, emotional responses, patterns, habits, relationships, jobs) that just weren’t in line with who I really am. It has transformed my world! It can transform yours too!
I’ll be giving you more guidance on exactly how to peel away the masks and move away from conditioning…so stay tuned!