I was in a café the other day, and four ladies were having coffee at the table next to me. They were chatting merrily about social things, when a couple of them noticed a man they knew walking into the café. The man took several steps in their direction, and suddenly pivoted around and walked out the door again.
The ladies were aghast. One by one, wide-eyed, they chimed in:
“Did you see that?”
“Do you think he saw us?”
“He just turned around and walked away on us!”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Maybe he didn’t think we saw him… or maybe he didn’t actually see us.”
“Of course he saw us, how could he not have?”
“I always knew there was something wrong with that guy.”
“I heard his relationship is a total mess.”
This went on for almost an hour where the ladies speculated, debated, conjectured, gossipped and bitched about the man who had apparently rejected their company. After they had run out of verbal steam, they each sat back in their chair with a look of being perplexed, hurt and annoyed, each silently in their own thoughts percolating around the high drama of the recent event.
As I watched this event unfold, I appreciated the show of how humans tend to react in the face of rejection. But this is not the focus of my article. I was inspired to write about this because I had been that man.
I too had walked into a setting with so much fear of bumping into people I knew that I would avoid any unfortunate accidental encounter at all cost. I too had run away like that man. If any of those people had spotted me, my action would certainly be taken as rude, perplexing and hurtful.
But my action had nothing to do with what I thought of you. It had everything to do with what I thought of myself.
I remember the dread that consumed me when I thought about meeting people. Locked in a world of self-beating and shame, my self-identity beaten to a pulp, I could not bear the thought of someone seeing through me. The façade I had thus far skillfully erected had thinned out like cheap paint over a greasy surface. I could not hold up my pretense at happiness and everything being great anymore.
I remember hiding in a public washroom. I had walked into a hotel one afternoon after strolling aimlessly on the streets in a depressive fog. My mind was filled with all kinds of thoughts that told me how worthless I was. Every thought produced a pain that twisted in my gut until I was drained of energy.
By the time I had entered the building, I had lost all strength to put up my defences. Being in a walled setting also brought on a sudden anxiety about coming face-to-face with people: people with whom I felt the need to appear ‘together’. In other words, people who weren’t strangers but friends, acquaintances or colleagues. People I might have known quite well and people whom I’d only met casually at functions.
The more highly I thought of them, the more the dreaded factor of meeting them. You see, I cared about the opinions of others. I worried about what people thought about me. It was easy for me to imagine somebody criticizing me, pointing out a flaw in me, judging me, making fun of me, laughing at me. My efforts to cover-up my insecurity was exhausting. To look at someone looking at me was to see a mirror in front of me. I dreaded seeing my reflection and what it would show me.
As I walked through the lobby of the hotel, I prayed that no one I knew would be there. All I wanted was to sit down and have a drink, and then summon all my energy to make my way back home and collapse in a tranquilizer-induced amnesia of yet another painful day of being me.
It was then that I saw three people I had met at a party recently. One of them glanced in my direction and I quickly averted my eyes. There was no graceful way of getting around it, so I shifted my path to where the washroom sign was. Even as I was walking into a cubicle, I started to feel ashamed of what I had resorted to do. I was hiding from the world.
I didn’t know how long I was going to stay there. I needed to strategize how I could escape from interacting with those people and get out of the building. What if they called out my name? Would I be brave enough to ignore them? What would they think of me if I did?
I hated how weak I was. Why couldn’t I be normal like everybody else? There was something wrong with me, and it greatly disturbed me more than ever now that I was huddled in a small cubicle.
The party where I had met them – as usual, it had taken considerable efforts to psych myself up to attend it. Several hours before I was to leave the house, I’d begun dressing up – painstakingly choosing the right outfit, putting on my make-up, drinking enough alcohol to soothe the way for me to feel sociable. Several hours of preparations to appear perfect in every way.
Walking into a party was like walking onto a stage as a performer. It took so much work inside me to appear the opposite of what I was really doing – i.e. to come across as naturally and effortlessly sociable, confident and relaxed in myself. Most of the time, people were impressed by me (or rather, my performance). I graded my performance according to how many people had commented on how beautiful I looked, how interesting they had found me, and how much they admired me. But there was no such thing as good enough for me.
You see, those comments only highlighted the gap between how I wanted to see myself and how I really saw myself. I did not feel beautiful, interesting or worthy of admiration. It did the trick of fooling people into thinking I was all of that, but eventually it would only lower my esteem of myself. I always ended up worse-off in the long run.
So here I was, hiding in a toilet, confronted by the stark contrast between how I had appeared at the party to those people I was now avoiding and the painful truth of who I really was. Shame burned in my face, as I sat with the lie, the deception, of it all.
I made my escape from the hotel without glancing at the direction of where those people had been sitting. That night, I would drown more pills than usual to erase my guilt, shame and self-loathe.
Perhaps you’d had an encounter similar to those four ladies’ that day. Chances are, it wasn’t you. I want to say to the ladies: That guy did not avoid you because he thought lowly of you. He was probably immersed in his preoccupation of how lowly he thought of himself in that moment. Avoiding you was his way of avoiding facing the worst he felt about himself.
Really, it wasn’t you. Stop wasting your energy trying to figure out the most likely explanation about his behaviour. The best thing you can do, for your sake, is to let go of the need to know, and to send loving thoughts to that person instead. That person could probably do with someone sending good energy to him. By taking this higher path, you elevate yourself to a higher vibration where more good things can come to you.
Photo by Lara Cores