by Christy Gualtieri
My son has begun to imitate others. Sometimes it’s cute, like when he pretends to put hair gel on in the morning or copies what Daddy says in the car, even if it’s just a mundane conversation about planning out this year’s garden. Other times are not so cute, like when he imitates his friends’ tantrums. “It’s mine!” He’ll shout, even if he’s playing by himself and there’s no one trying to go after his toy.
At first, I’d jokingly tell him things like “You don’t need to cry because that other little boy is crying! You are your own man.” But I learned that imitation is a crucial stage for toddlers, because they’re using imitation to figure out the world around them. It’s how they learn to bond with others, and how they begin to learn social norms.
But adults aren’t immune to imitation. We do it too, subconsciously or not. Countless studies have been published about how our friends’ behaviors influence us when it comes to how we eat, how we feel when we use the Internet, and even our parenting styles. It’s easy and fun – to be inspired by the things we see, but unless you’ve got a rock-solid sense of self, it’s also easy for us to feel depressed when we feel as though we aren’t “measuring up.” “If I can just do it the way they do it,” we think, “then I’ll have it all together.”
As adults, imitation can make us feel like we’ve come up short. Inspiration can help us find our true selves.
So how do we find the balance between imitation and inspiration? Here are some ways to help us sort it all out:
- Listen to Your Body
Inspiration builds us up, but imitation can wear us down. When we simply imitate others, we can be tempted to compare ourselves to them, which can lead to feelings of insecurity, sadness, or even despair. If you’re feeling like this, take a step back. Listen to your body: are you physically feeling uncomfortable? Are you having trouble sleeping, or is your stomach in knots? When we feel inspired by others, we tend to breathe easier, get more excited, and feel a bit lighter. Which do you feel?
- Listen to Your Heart
When you think about the life you want to live, are you excited about it? Or are you setting yourself up for failure before you even begin? When you have some quiet time for yourself, try this exercise: in a journal, write a list of the things that you’d like to change in your life, and next to that, why you want to do it. Be honest. Do you want to adopt a three-times-a-day veggie smoothie regimen because you want to become healthier, or because your friend who does the same looks good, and you think if you look just like her your life’s problems will magically go away? It sounds silly, but it is really easy to slip into this line of thinking without knowing it.
- Listen to Your Friends – the Right Friends
Everyone’s been in a situation where they’ve had a “friend” who has done nothing but criticize them, and that’s good for no one! Try to surround yourself with people who you look up to – who will challenge you from time to time, but from a place of love and true concern, not from a place of insecurity. If there’s someone in your life who inspires you, ask them how they do it! They can give you a few tips and will help guide you without cramping your own personal style.
Hopefully, these few steps will encourage you to begin your journey of discovering what you can do with your life. But the most important step is believing that it’s something worth discovering. If you have a hard time with that, connect with a trained counselor to help you get started. It’s a journey that can be difficult to start, but will pay off so much in the end.
Until next time, be well!
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!