Sometimes, people will be wrong about you.
Just let them.
Of all the lessons I have tried to integrate—to feel in my bones, and not just believe with my head—this may be the most challenging for me.
In many of our cultures, the only thing more important than being right is being liked, and so to allow people to both dislike us and be wrong about us cuts deeply against the grain of our social conditioning.
I believe this is especially true for women, for whom likability is a defense mechanism, survival strategy, and social imperative all at once.
On this front, I feel I have already learned there is no point forcing connection where it does not exist. After all, I certainly don’t like everyone, so why would I expect or even desire to be everyone’s cup of tea?! (Was it my mother or my grandmother who taught me early on about the vast array of cups and tea in the world?)
Let’s say, I’ve mostly made my peace with not being universally liked (basic life lesson, I know).
Rolling with it when people misjudge, mislabel, or misrepresent us, though, is another beast entirely. And yet, I think it is one of those trite pieces of “key to happiness and success” advice that is 100 percent true. Damn, sometimes those memes get it right!
So how exactly do we let go of that pesky need to be right (or liked) after a lifetime education in the art of fawning?
I am far from being an authority on the matter, but I’m coming to find that holding our self-worth in our own two hands (such that no one else can break nor inflate it) is something of an art form. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, naturally; everyone will be wrong about us in their own special way. But as with any craft, my hope is that with practice we become more adept, more graceful in the art of letting people be wrong.
Below I’ll share a few archetypes that have shown up in my life with infuriating regularity, perhaps to show me that I still have so much to learn here. This is in all ways a work in progress, but I hope my approach to these situations may offer some support as you cultivate the underrated skill of letting people be wrong about you, too!
How to let people be wrong about you:
1. Acquaintances who assume X, because you Y.
(For instance, people assume I’m vegan because I sometimes dress like a hippie, or assume I hate men because I speak out about the patriarchy.)
My approach: Don’t worry about it! Their random assumptions do not actually affect my life, and it’s not my job to preemptively make disclaimers about my lifestyle choices or values to every Uber driver, Instagram follower, or acquaintance.
Do not: worry about it. (This bears repeating because it’s an easy trap to fall into!)
2. Former partners with a spectacularly creative version of events.
My approach: don’t engage. Distorting reality is a highly effective manipulation strategy. I like my friend’s approach of one-word text responses such as, “Okay,” or “Sure.” (Trying to defend yourself against willfully inaccurate accusations will. Not. Work. It’s also a terrible use of time and energy.)
Do not: engage, let it ruin your day, or fall back into another cycle of arguing over something that happened years ago.
3. People who see your Instagram photos but never read your captions, and who judge you for your image selection.
(Or, people who write snarky comments based only on the title of your article.)
My approach: invite those people to read through my work (hundreds of articles across the interwebs and a lengthy caption on nearly every photo) and understand that I simply have a different, but carefully considered, perspective on: nudity, travel, women’s safety, or fill-in-the-blank!
Do not: Take it personally, or reconsider (again) my taste in photos and decisions about content, which I have already spent years considering.
4. People who take any of your life decisions personally, or people who take offense at your decisions about your body.
(For instance, people get really upset about my artistic nude photos sometimes, even after reading my writing about my personal journey to self-love and acceptance in my skin.)
My approach: thank them sincerely for engaging and taking the time to share their thoughts. If I have the bandwidth, I offer a counterargument. If not, just agree to disagree.
Do not: pick a fight, get offended in return, or feel obligated to defend myself every time. Not everyone will agree with or like my choices, and that’s totally okay!
5. The old friends who assume that because they knew who you were, they know who you are.
My approach: Just keep doing me. It can be difficult to grow in an environment where people have already boxed you into an earlier version of yourself. I think travel can be so powerful in part because it allows us to be ourselves in the present, without the weight of expectations or assumptions based on past iterations. However, I also believe it is possible to grow and evolve wherever we are planted.
Do not: get discouraged, or stop trying to grow because a few people can’t or don’t want to recognize your progress.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. I am still on this journey, as, I imagine, are you.
So, what archetypes have shown up in your life? What approaches have you integrated when it comes to letting people be wrong about you? I’d love to read your insights in the comments!