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How to Stop Being a Prisoner of Other People’s Expectations

Emotional freedom is your most powerful weapon.

By Margaret PanPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
How to Stop Being a Prisoner of Other People’s Expectations
Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash

“I want to be free”.

That’s a phrase you’ve probably heard from many of your friends throughout your life — or one that you’ve said to them yourself.

Freedom can take many forms — financial, career-freedom, freedom in one’s personal life — and most of us crave to achieve it, sometimes without even realizing it. However, there’s only one form of freedom that is essential to your happiness and well-being:

Emotional freedom.

Achieving emotional freedom means breaking free from the chains of other people’s expectations and making decisions and choices based on your own needs. It also means letting go of the fear of not being good enough for others.

Think about it. From a very young age, we are taught to comply with what others think we should do, to follow their example, and to behave in a way that society thinks is good, wise, and acceptable — but might have nothing to do with our idea of happiness.

As philosopher, author, and founder of School of Life Alain de Botton explains:

“We give over our days and much of our evenings and weekends to complying with an agenda elaborated for us by people whose concern with our happiness is at best highly abstract. We put on our blue or grey jumper and sit at a desk and study the plotline of Macbeth or the chemical properties of helium — and trust that our boredom and distaste must be substantially wrong. We then become inclined to extend this attitude into our dealings with the wider world. We assume that what we particularly want should never be the important factor.”

You might not realize it right now, but turning your back on what you really want and trying to conform to the expectations of others will eventually lead to emotional distress, endless stress, anxiety, and even depression.

I used to be a prisoner of other people’s expectations, but with time and a lot of self-work turn, I managed to turn things upside down. Here are some things you should keep in mind that might help you in your own attempt to achieve emotional freedom.

People Will Always Judge You No Matter What You Do

Here’s a harsh truth about life: people will always have something bad to say about you, no matter what you do, what you say, or how you dress. There’s always gonna be someone who simply won’t like something about you.

It might be out of jealousy, or the fact that people by nature find it difficult to accept anything and anyone that feels different from them. You’re gonna be too shy for some and too loud for others.

Some people will find your career interesting while others will think it’s boring. For some, you will be a person who “tries too much” and for others the one who “doesn’t try at all”.

It actually becomes funny after a while.

Friendly tip: You can’t please everyone, so don’t even try. The great thing is, you don’t have to please anyone. Let mean people be mean and be who you wanna be and do whatever the hell you feel like doing anyway. Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

Others Can’t Possibly Know What’s Best for You

When you’re in your 20’s everyone, like literally everyone, will try to give you a crappy piece of advice about life, relationships, money, and everything in between.

Whenever someone tries to give me advice on how I’m supposed to be living my life, I can’t help but think, “How could you possibly know what’s best for me?” I mean, we’re all different, have been raised by different people with different values, and have been shaped by different experiences.

Just because something worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for you, as well.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should never ask people for advice or not listen when they are willing to give it to you — especially if they’re older than you or have achieved something in their lives. But don’t let everyone’s opinion get into your head.

Friendly tip: Don’t feel obligated to follow other people’s advice. No one can read your mind and know your inner thoughts, desires, and experiences — and that means that no one can know what’s best for you, except for yourself.

Pleasing Others Does Nothing for You in the Long-Term

So let’s say you started going out more because your friends have repeatedly told you to. Let’s say you didn’t get that tattoo because your parents told you you would seem “less serious and well-mannered” or that you changed the way you dress to impress your girlfriend.

And…what? What all these things will do for you in the long-term? Will they make you a better person, elevate your career, bring you more money or opportunities?

No. The only thing they will do is to make you unhappy and leave you feeling empty. It might feel momentarily good to get other people’s approval, but in the long-term, not only will their approval turn out to be completely useless, but it will also contribute to your unhappiness.

Friendly tip: Whenever you catch yourself trying to change some aspect of yourself in order to get someone else’s approval, ask yourself, “What will that do for me in the long-term?” If the answer is nothing, then the other person should accept you just the way you are.

Final Thoughts

“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”

― Lao Tzu

At the end of the day, there’s nothing you can do to stop people from judging you. You cannot control what others do or say, but you can control your reaction to it.

The moment you stop caring about other people’s opinions is the moment you’ll have achieved emotional freedom. And this freedom means you’ll finally be able to strive to achieve your own expectations, based on your own needs and desires. You’ll be finally living your life, the way you truly want.

In Alain de Botton’s words:

“To be free, ultimately, is to be devoted — in ways that might be strenuous — to meeting our own expectations.”

This story was originally published on Medium.


About the Creator

Margaret Pan

Words have power.

I write about relationships, psychology, personal development, and books.

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