Why Are You Hiding?

April 4th, 2012 by Steve Pavlina

In case you thought it was for real, my previous post about the Domination-Submission Workshop was indeed an April Fools joke. Anyone who clicked on the “Register Now” button would have seen the “April Fools” message. I still think the phony D/s workshop sales page was pretty awesome. :)

I also had way too much fun with last year’s April Fools post about hiring slaves.

Oddly I’ve noticed that when I blog about what may be considered socially taboo subjects like D/s, sex, open relationships, etc., I usually see a noticeable spike in traffic. But the social media discussions and referrals for those posts are typically deadsville.

Just to share some numbers, my normal daily website traffic is 300-400K page views. On a really good day, it might spike to 450K. On April 1st it was 468K, and on April 2nd it was 672K. It doesn’t surprise me that there was a bigger spike on April 2nd because that was a Monday, and my traffic is lower on weekends. Lots of people read my blog Mon-Fri when they’re at work. Perhaps that’s why 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job is one of my most popular articles.

What these numbers tell me is that lots of people are viewing these “taboo” posts, but relatively few are willing to admit it. It was different when the forums were active since lots of people had anonymous accounts, but in situations where people are normally posting with their real life identities such as Twitter and Google+, the feedback volume on these kinds of posts is usually lower than the traffic would suggest.

So why is that? Why do people feel they have to keep such interests in the closet? What’s the big deal if it became known?

For me the worst thing that happens when I blog about something controversial is that some other bloggers write critical posts about me, sharing what they dislike about me and why. Some are pretty harsh, and a few insert their creative “facts” about me that aren’t actually true. In doing this, however, they send me more traffic, and then those new visitors can read my work and decide for themselves what to make of it.

I also get a few people bashing me via social media now and then, but that’s even less of a deal these days since I’ve scaled back my social media presence a lot (too burdensome to keep up with it).

The best outcome, however, is that I more easily connect with people who share compatible interests. This includes my amazing girlfriend who’s ridiculously wonderful on so many levels (vegan, loves to travel, enjoys D/s play, a Trekkie, speaks French, etc). I love her immensely.

So logically I see no good reason to hold back. Being criticized by people who’ve never met me isn’t a big deal. It would be much worse to hold back and miss the opportunity for some great social matches.

Beyond that, I see the controversy aspect of these topics as rather silly and immature. All I’m doing is sharing alternative perspectives that I’m exploring, and it’s all 100% consensual. No one gets hurt. I hardly see this as something to be ashamed of.

Overcoming Sexual Repression

I can understand why people have a lot of guilt, shame, and fear related to their sexuality specifically. In the USA especially, we’re a very sexually confused society. On the one hand we glorify sexiness, but on the other hand we tend to demonize sex, especially sex with multiple partners.

I think the worst part here is how many people feel they need to lie and present a false image to cover up their sexual interests. The whole Eliot Spitzer scandal is a real shame. Apparently the guy did a lot of good for New York, but in the end he was brought down by a silly sex scandal involving an escort service. He did a bad job of covering his tracks.

How many politicians have cheated on their wives and been exposed? How many more are just better at keeping it hidden? How many repress their desires for fear of getting caught… and then deal with heart attacks instead?

How popular is Internet porn? Insanely so. How popular are open and honest discussions about it? Not very.

One thing that helped me release a lot of sexual repression was to understand the positive role that sex plays in our lives. Sex creates social and emotional bonds, and it fosters better communication pathways. It’s fair to say that if you’re sleeping with someone, you’re probably going to communicate with them a lot. In pre-agricultural hunter gatherer tribes, it’s believed that group sex was the norm. The more people had sex with each other, the more bonded they became. If they felt more bonded to each other, they communicated better with each other. For a tribe of humans, good internal communication is extremely important because it enhances the survival prospects of the group. People need to share resources like food, water, tools, skills, etc., and this requires daily communication. No single human is an island unto him/herself.

Communication problems also show up in the bedroom, so if relationships aren’t quite working, it’s very noticeable during sex. People aren’t fully present. Their hearts aren’t open to each other. The sex feels like it’s missing something. If you want the pleasure of amazing sex, you have to fix the communication problems that are blocking it.

If you repress your sexuality, you repress your social ties. You’re going to feel like more of an outcast, and you won’t be as socially and emotionally bonded with your fellow humans. Or you’ll get very clingy with a single partner instead of creating a network of people you feel close to.

We all benefit from this social networking effect. If I’m very happy with my sex life, it makes me feel more bonded not just to my partner, but I feel good about people in general. So I’m going to communicate more. If my sex life is dead, then I’ll feel less connected to people in general, and I won’t be as interested in sharing. I’ll feel like an outcast on some level.

Hiding your sexuality doesn’t just hurt you. It hurts all of us. It weakens our communication, and humans need to communicate openly and honestly to survive and thrive. Hiding the truth from each other is not helping us.

How I Stopped Worrying About Others’ Judgments

For me the notion of worrying about what other people thought of me got killed off when I was 19. I got arrested for felony grand theft, after racking up a few priors for misdemeanors. I also got expelled from college. Those were rough times, and my actions pretty much killed my reputation among my friends and family.

But something interesting happened after those events. I felt free — more free than I’d felt in years. Suddenly no one expected anything from me at all… at least nothing positive. And so I felt no pressure from others to be or do anything in particular. I had no reputation left to defend, and so there was no need to pretend to be anything other than what I was.

This reputational death gave me the opportunity to fully be myself. I felt no need to position myself as a good student or a bad boy or anything else. I felt very content being “just Steve,” whatever that meant at the time. And so I lost interest in wearing masks to present myself a certain way.

I think a lot of people feel that if they drop their social masks and be truly themselves, some people will judge them harshly or won’t like them. And you know what… that’s basically accurate. When I let go of my social masks, I did indeed find that some people didn’t like me as I was. But I was okay with that because I had already disappointed so many other people in my life that one more disappointment added on top of that didn’t make much difference.

Somehow I got comfortable with the idea that I was going to be a perpetual disappointment to certain people, and there wasn’t much I could do about it. The damage was done. I really didn’t think there was any way to redeem myself in the eyes of others, so I didn’t even try.

I did, however, go through a period of self-redemption. I had disappointed myself most of all, and I didn’t want to keep wallowing in self-pity and self-criticism. So I began setting goals that mattered to me, and I worked to achieve them. I started over at a new school and graduated, and then I went on to start my computer games business.

I noticed that even when I succeeded and lived up to my own standards, some people judged me for it. I came to accept this as part of life. I didn’t think it was possible to live in such a way that everyone would be mostly pleased with me. I assumed that no matter what I did, someone would likely have a problem with it. I saw that when I hit bottom, and I saw that when I was succeeding. No matter what I do or don’t do, someone out there will have a problem with it.

And so I came to an acceptance of this, and I didn’t resist it. I didn’t see it as something to worry about. It was just a fact of life.

Consequently, when I blog about anything (not just the controversial topics), in the back of my mind I automatically assume that some people out there will hate it. I figure that for each of my 1000+ articles, we could find at least a few people who hate it, no matter how banal the article seems.

Even as I write this article, I figure that some people will probably hate it. Or they’ll have some kind of issue with me for writing it.

Whether you think this is a positive or negative mindset to have, it’s something that’s been powerfully embedded into my thinking for 20+ years now. Overall I think it’s a good thing because it leaves me feeling free to choose my actions without worrying so much about what other people might think about them. If you accept that something is inevitable, it’s hard to worry about it. If you feel it could go either way, then worry kicks in.

Surrender

I can still empathize with what other people are thinking and feeling, and their reactions seldom surprise me. It’s just that the potential negative reactions don’t convince me to avoid doing certain things that might otherwise interest me. Social resistance to my actions isn’t a significant piece of feedback for me since I regard it as a background constant that’s always present no matter what.

I wouldn’t say that I don’t care what people think of me. I still care, but I accept that some people will react negatively no matter what I do. Even if I do nothing at all, some people will complain about that. So with the acceptance that this is a constant, it doesn’t matter all that much if that complaining surges at times.

In the battle for control over what other people think of me, I surrendered decades ago… completely gave it up as a hopeless cause.

By surrendering I stopped resisting, and when I stopped resisting, I felt free.

These days I feel free to publicly share whatever interests me. I don’t worry about my reputation; I gave that up years ago.

The odd thing about this is that when I surrendered my reputation, I also gained some things, such as the willingness to be very open. I wasn’t like that before I’d been arrested; I was actually a fairly private person — and very shy as a child.

I really like connecting with people on the basis of openness and honesty. I know it’s not that common, but I think it should be. I think we’d all be better off if we stopped worrying so much about our reputations. A reputation is a false projection anyway. You don’t really know how other people think and feel about you. You’re only guessing. And even if some of them tell you, they could be bending the truth. So it’s all guesswork, and it’s never accurate. Why bother with it then? I say don’t even worry about it because it’s not a real thing anyway.

Nothing to Fear

I understand that for some people, there will be practical consequences if they started opening up more. Maybe your boss will freak out and fire you. Do you really want to work for someone who requires you to hide who you are? That’s pretty frakkin desperate, isn’t it?

What if your family has an issue with what you’re into? So what? Maybe you should take up the issue of their repressive, judgmental nature with them.

Do you really want to spend the rest of your life wearing a mask and pretending to be someone you’re not, just to avoid rocking the boat? If that’s your reality, it sounds like a pretty pathetic way to live. It reeks of low self-esteem and a lack of self-respect. If you don’t respect yourself, then of course you’re going to end up in situations where you fear the judgment of others.

I don’t worry about the judgment of others because I do my best to live up to my own standards. I respect myself. I feel good about the choices I’ve been making. If other people wish to disagree with me, they have every right to do so. It’s okay if some of them dislike me very much. Why should I worry about such judgments?

Someone asked me recently how I deal with the fear that I must experience when writing about certain topics. Obviously I must be able to predict there will be some adverse reactions, so how I can face that? My answer is: What fear? I might feel some hesitation if I tried to write about something that felt incongruent to me. But if I’m being honest, then what is there to worry about? Some strangers I’ve never met will like me less? So what? I like them less right back… although I do appreciate the traffic.

When criticism seems well argued and valid, it might even serve as useful feedback. When it’s just stupidly false, I lose respect for the critic because they got lazy and didn’t do their homework, or because they resorted to dishonesty, or because they just want to use me as a scapegoat for their frustrations. I value the opinions of the people I respect, but I don’t place any value on the opinions that I don’t consider worthy of my respect.

I can’t bring myself to respect people who don’t respect themselves. If they’d rather present a false front to the world instead of being open and honest, how can I respect them? They’re phonies. I can still be polite with them, but I find no honor or integrity in maintaining serious relationships with such people. They have nothing to offer me that I care about.

So if I’m being truthful in communicating what I genuinely think and feel, and some people choose to complain about it, I automatically lose respect for them, and therefore I place no value on their feedback. I can still respect people who disagree with my interests — I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion — but I can’t respect those people who have an issue with my desire to be open and honest, including when sharing ideas on “taboo” subjects.

I don’t wish to surround myself with a bunch of false friends with low self-esteem, i.e. people who live in constant fear of others’ judgments. I’d much rather connect with people who like and respect themselves. If being honest and open repels people who don’t appreciate such qualities, good riddance to them!

If you can’t be open and honest with the world, then what does that say about you? I think it says you have a major character weakness, not because of what you’re into behind the scenes but because you’re afraid to admit it. Either stop being into it, and turn your presently phony image into something accurate, or stop being false about it, and accept that this is who you are for now.

I think the latter approach is the best place to start. Even if you wish to change something about yourself, it’s important to admit the truth about where you are.

When I was in denial about the effect my criminal behavior was having, I couldn’t grow beyond it. I got stuck there. But when I could admit that I’d gotten addicted to the adrenaline rush and that it was leading me down a very destructive path, I was finally able to start moving in a more positive direction. It took a long time to recover from that, but the first step was being honest about it. Once I did that, in a way my self-respect increased because at least I was finally being truthful with myself.

Truth is one of the most fundamental principles of growth. I’ve seen people make amazing breakthroughs when they finally stop pretending and begin to embrace honesty and openness, even when it has consequences for them. In practice people usually don’t go through a shock and awe process here, where they finally fess up to everything. More often they lean into it, pushing themselves to be more open and honest each day. They keep the pressure on themselves and commit to releasing their attachment to falsehood. It’s very much a one day at a time process.

If you want to keep hiding certain desires and interests, go ahead and keep playing that game, and watch your self-respect and self-esteem grow weaker with each passing year. In the meantime I’m going to keep challenging you to be more open and honest and to release that fear, guilt, and shame. If this is not a path of development you wish to undertake, then you have no business here, and you’re only going to make yourself foolish if you complain about it. If, however, you’d like to relinquish such chains, then you have my full support… as well as my deepest respect for choosing to take on this challenge.


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