Breaking free from the social cage – discover your own voice!

Personal change is an inevitable and necessary process in our development. Without change, not only does our potential stagnate, but so does our ability to adapt to the constantly shifting circumstances of life.

Accepting and embracing change allows us to discover our true identity, live in harmony with our core values and desires, develop our skills, explore new opportunities, and grow as individuals.

Often, however, we feel trapped by the expectations and judgments of others, preventing us from expressing ourselves and falling into the trap of trying to satisfy those expectations, thereby losing ourselves in the process. Many of us live in "social cages", where the expectations and norms imposed by family, friends, or society limit our behavior and self-expression.

How do you recognize the "social cage"?

Fear of judgment from others - if you constantly worry about what others will say or think about you, it's a sign that you live under the pressure of social expectations. This fear can lead to anxiety and avoiding actions that reflect your true identity.

Excessive conformity - you adjust your behavior to fit social norms, even if they do not reflect your true self.

Lack of authenticity - you feel unable to express your true thoughts and feelings. This lack of authenticity can lead to feelings of unfulfillment and frustration because you are living according to others' expectations rather than your own values and desires.

 Difficulty making independent decisions – if you have trouble making decisions without seeking others' approval or consent, this is another sign that you might be in a "social cage." Being dependent on external validation can limit your ability to make decisions that truly reflect who you are and what you want in life.

Feelings of guilt and shame - you feel guilty or ashamed when you try to do something different or break away from imposed social patterns. These negative emotions can prevent you from following your own desires and exploring your potential.

One of the biggest barriers to personal change is the fear that those around us will not accept our new identity. This fear is often fueled by others' desire to maintain the status quo. Why do others fear your change?

Personal insecurities - people may project their insecurities onto you when you start to change. Your changes can highlight aspects of their lives they are unhappy with, generating feelings of inadequacy or jealousy. For example, if you change your career to follow your passion, those who have not pursued their dreams may feel personal discomfort. When you change and grow, others might feel left behind. This feeling of stagnation compared to your progress can generate anxiety and fear. They may feel pressured to make changes themselves, but a lack of confidence or resources can lead them to react negatively to your changes.

Fear of the unknown - those around you may be used to a certain version of you, and changes can create uncertainties about the future. People tend to feel comfortable with the familiar, and any deviation from this comfort can be perceived as a threat.

Emotional dependencies - your change can threaten the relational dynamics others rely on for emotional comfort. For example, they may feel they are losing control and influence over you when you change. This can lead to negative reactions as they feel threatened by your new autonomy.

Also, personal change can lead to changes in roles within relationships. For instance, in a friendship  where you have always been the one providing support, if you start prioritizing your own needs, the other person may feel they need to change their own role, which can be uncomfortable.

Fear of loss - those around you may feel they are losing their influence over you or that your relationship will change in unforeseen ways. They fear that if you change, you will no longer be as available or useful to them. This fear of loss can lead to manipulative behaviors or attempts to control you.

Lack of understanding - people who have not undergone a similar process of change may have difficulty understanding your need for transformation. They may interpret your changes as a rejection of the values they hold or the existing relationships.

How can you free yourself from others' expectations?

The first step in freeing yourself from others' expectations is recognizing external influences on your life. For example, parents and family members may have specific expectations regarding your career, personal relationships, and other aspects of your life. These expectations can create a sense of obligation and responsibility that may lead you to conform, even if you don't feel fulfilled.

It is important to realize when your actions and decisions are guided by others' desires and expectations rather than your own needs and values. You can ask yourself questions like: "Why did I make this decision?", "Who is influencing me in this regard?", "Is this a real desire or need of mine, or is it imposed by others?" and so on. If you feel something is not right or that you are not living in accordance with who you truly are, this feeling of discomfort may be a sign that you are influenced by external pressures.

Establishing and maintaining clear boundaries is essential for protecting our autonomy. It is important to set and maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships. Be clear about what is important to you and how your changes will affect the dynamics of the relationship. This can help prevent resentment and maintain mutual respect.

However, sometimes personal changes can lead to the need to reevaluate relationships. If certain relationships become toxic or unhealthy due to resistance to change, you may need to consider distancing yourself from those people to protect your wellbeing and personal development.

Surrounding yourself with people who support and encourage you in the process of change is also important. A strong support system provides emotional support and can motivate us, helping us stay on the chosen path. Connect with people who share the same interests and values and/or find a mentor to guide and inspire you on your journey of personal development.

Self-compassion is a key element in the process of freeing yourself from others' expectations. It helps us reduce self-criticism, which is often fueled by others' expectations. When we are self-critical, we constantly compare ourselves to the standards imposed by society, family, or friends, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress. By practicing self-compassion, we learn to accept ourselves as we are and focus on our own needs and desires. When we treat ourselves with kindness and understanding, we develop a positive and more realistic self-image. We focus on our achievements and qualities, becoming more aware of our personal value and potential.

Building self-confidence is an essential process to make the necessary changes in your life. Self-confidence allows you to assert yourself, follow your passions, and feel comfortable with who you truly are.

How can you develop self-confidence?

Start by analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, accepting them as integral parts of your identity. Identify your values, as personal values will guide your actions and decisions.

Setting and achieving clear goals can help develop self-confidence. Well-defined goals provide direction and motivation, and achieving them strengthens our sense of competence and self-efficacy.

Continuous education and skill development are essential for personal and professional growth. By investing time and effort in your personal and professional development, you will gain confidence in your abilities.

Failures are an inevitable part of any process of change and development. Therefore, view failures as opportunities for learning and growth, rather than insurmountable obstacles.

Be grateful for the progress made and for the good things in your life. This helps you focus on positive aspects and maintain an optimistic attitude. A positive mindset is essential for developing self-confidence and represents a way of thinking that focuses on the positive aspects of life and the potential for personal growth and development. This does not mean ignoring or denying problems, but approaching them with a constructive and optimistic attitude. A positive mindset helps us see opportunities instead of obstacles and have confidence in our ability to overcome challenges.

Change is an essential and inevitable process in our lives. It is okay to change and embrace your true identity. Do not get caught up in others' expectations and do not let the fear of judgment prevent you from developing.

Remember that you have the power to transform your life and create a bright future, regardless of what you have been told you "can’t" do. Now is the time to break free from the cage others have tried to put you in and reclaim your right to an authentic and happy life. Embrace this opportunity to become the best version of yourself!

Dr. Ursula Sandner

 

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