Apathy: The cloak of vulnerability
How often do you hear, or even say the phrase, “I don’t care?” I hear this all the time from clients, friends, family members, and I, myself, am guilty of it from time to time. It is the easiest escape in a conversation; the best way to take responsibility and casually toss it onto the shoulders of someone else when a decision needs to be made. It is a great phrase to protect yourself from seeming hurt by the words or actions of others. It is the quickest shield to avoid having to be honest about how you feel, or even to disguise the fact that you might not actually know how you feel. While there are some moments in life you really may be indifferent, like when my wife asks me if I want to watch The Office, Family Guy, or It’s Always Sunny (love them all!), it is actually rare to not have a preference deep down one way or the other. You may be too afraid to voice it, or even truly just not know what it is and avoid exploring it for fear of appearing difficult or selfish.
Who might struggle with this and why, you ask? People who grew up in families or environments where their needs mattered least of all never really spent much time getting to know themselves. They learned to care more about keeping the peace than getting what they want/need. They learned how to ignore their own wants and needs for the sake of the greater good, which may have meant peace in the home for everyone. These people may have even been referred to as selfish, over dramatic, sensitive, needy, or problematic when trying to ask for things or assert their own preferences. These messages are complete invalidation, judgmental, and untrue (because they are the opinions of others, not based on facts).
Many times, people use the phrase ‘I don’t care’ to abstain from having to make a decision about something because they are so afraid of making the “wrong” decision. What does that even mean? Is there something “wrong” with choosing Mexican over Chinese last night? No, there is nothing inherently “wrong” with that. However, if we choose something that dissatisfies the person/people we’re with, or even ourselves at times, we jump to the conclusion and interpretation that we made the “wrong” choice. We can’t stand the feeling of being responsible for someone’s upset, and so then we subconsciously place this rule on ourselves: I vow to never make a decision again! So much of this happens at the subconscious level, all in an effort to avoid feeling! That’s what a lot of this boils down to. We don’t want to feel like we have failed at choosing the “right” thing that was going to make the other person happy. Simultaneously, we also believe that our feelings don’t matter and it’s selfish for us to be happy with something someone else isn’t, so we also demonstrate indifference for fear of appearing self-centered.
This vicious cycle has got to come to an end! Apathy is not as prevalent as people make it out to be, and it keeps us from getting what we genuinely want and need. I encourage you to not give answers like ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care,’ especially not without having given it some serious thought first. It takes stepping out of your head a little bit, and connecting with your heart and even your gut, your stomach (which is actually a second brain...another post!). See if you can taste the different flavors when there’s a choice to be made about what to eat. See if you can connect with the feelings associated with things that have made you happy, or brought you peace in the past. Learn how to voice these and be open to new things. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices (again, another post. That’s a toughy for people to grasp!). There are only things you’ve liked that have brought you feelings and sensations you enjoy, and things you learned you didn’t like. If you can change the interpretation from ‘I chose wrong’ to something more realistic, like ‘I chose it and I didn’t like it. No way I could have known that ahead of time,’ you’ll actually lessen the feeling of disappointment. Our anxiety increases around having to give an opinion because we fear the emotions and possible judgment, not actually the event/item/person itself.
What happens, though, when we have a preference, and it differs from what the other person wants? This is where interpersonal skills are necessary. Learning how to work together to negotiate solutions. Sometimes, I want Chipotle so bad, and my wife wants anything but, so I get Chipotle and she gets whatever it is that will make her happy. Other times, I want Chipotle, but to a lesser degree (I want it all the time, the intensity fluctuates though). I gauge how strong my need/want is, without invalidating or judging or minimizing it, and then communicate that I’m willing to forego Chipotle for the night and get what she wants...probably pizza.
No one knows what’s happening in your mind and in your heart, so you have to learn to communicate these things to others, even if your truths hurt or disappoint others. You are really the only advocate for your wants and needs. You will drive yourself mad running around trying to make decisions that please everyone, especially since you are not a mind reader and are just assuming these things anyway! Give yourself a break, start focusing more on what you want and need, speak to those, and go from there. Start giving a shit about yourself, about your wants, needs, likes, dislikes, start learning yourself. You’ve spent enough time trying to appear apathetic just to appease others, and I have a feeling you’ve started resenting others, too, for never getting what you want or need. You deserve to be happy, part of that is caring about whether or not your needs and wants are acknowledged and fulfilled, and that will always start with you!
Show up, speak up, be honest, and allow your truths to be known, from what food to eat, to whether or not you actually want kids. Apathy will always limit how happy you can really be!