‘You’re So Impressionable’ Isn’t the Insult You Think It Is

Young architect taking direction from senior colleagueWhen I was a child, I heard a phrase that stuck in my memory: “You’re so impressionable.” I mulled over this phrase, trying to understand its meaning. One thing that was clear was that it was a criticism. It was wrong to be impressionable—to allow others to influence you, affect your behavior, change your mind. If you were deemed impressionable, it meant you were weak, you had no personality of your own, you were easy prey for others to manipulate.

These seem like legitimate concerns. Clearly, there are dangers in being too impressionable, too easily swayed by others’ opinions or actions, unable to choose for yourself. Heed the parental warning: “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?”

But we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just as every coin has two sides, so does being impressionable. There are positive attributes to being impressionable that should be encouraged. The ability to allow people, ideas, and experiences outside of ourselves to make an impression on us is also a gift and a skill.

It’s a gift when a person can read an inspiring quote and become inspired. To be susceptible to the powers of a good movie or book to alter our perspectives on an issue, a person, or even ourselves is growth. Art has the power to alter our view of the world in very positive ways, if we allow it.

Being impressionable doesn’t only lead to changing our beliefs, but also to changing our behaviors. The truth is human beings were designed to be impressionable. We are supposed to pick up the clues, from our families and society, which show us how to behave so we’ll be safe and socially accepted. But why stop there?

Being impressionable doesn’t only lead to changing our beliefs, but also to changing our behaviors. The truth is human beings were designed to be impressionable. We are supposed to pick up the clues, from our families and society, which show us how to behave so we’ll be safe and socially accepted. But why stop there?

The world is full of people who have learned things we could all learn, enjoying things we could all enjoy, behaving in ways that would benefit us all. Whether it’s learning compassion from Mother Theresa or the joy of baking from Martha Stewart, the more we let others influence us, the fuller we get.

Years ago, I observed with awe as my friend Lorraine moved through a room full of strangers, greeting people warmly, as if she were the host. It was amazing to see people respond to her, sometimes welcoming and sometimes dismissing, while she floated through the crowd unfazed by rejection, enjoying herself. This presented a new way of behaving for me. I usually just chatted with the one or two people I was with. I admired her freedom and playfulness. She took me for a lap around the room and I got to experience firsthand what it was like to be that friendly and engaging. Ever since, I have attempted to incorporate her behavior into my own.

In therapy, I often see people who experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. The scale of what is influencing them is imbalanced. Fear, self-criticism, and negative beliefs are being listened to as if they’re gospel. Positive beliefs, on the other hand, such as hope, love, and beauty, are banging on a locked, steel door, hoping to be let in. These people would benefit greatly from becoming more easily influenced by positive messages in their lives.

There is no denying that life can be difficult. In life, there is both pain and fear. But there is also no shortage of beauty and inspiration surrounding us. To become impressionable to beauty might allow the sunlight, caught in a raindrop on a leaf, to spread the warmth of happiness through your chest, like sipping a warm cup of tea. Hearing a beautiful piece of music might reignite your faith in humankind.

Those inspiring quotes on Hallmark cards, Facebook, or Pinterest might actually be speaking to you. And they just might serve you better than the fear and loathing in your head.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Rena Pollak, LMFT, CGP, therapist in Encino, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • rafe

    rafe

    February 4th, 2016 at 10:36 AM

    While I don’t necessarily see this as an insult there is some implication that you may not fully understand things yet and that you are easily influenced by the opinions of others. You can see how someone could feel this after being confronted with a statement like that.

  • adyson r

    adyson r

    February 4th, 2016 at 3:51 PM

    But being impressionable could also be a good thing, like you are willing to see things form a different point of view and that you are willing to listen to what others have to say.

    That is not a bad thing.

  • Vernon

    Vernon

    February 5th, 2016 at 7:30 AM

    I happen to think that it can be a good thing to look for the joy in something and to have that fill you as well. Don’t be closed off to the good simply because you are afraid of what someone will think about you. Embrace all of this beauty, take it that you can learn from some things and maybe not from others and that in the end it is all okay.. You have to do what feels right for you.

  • daphne

    daphne

    February 6th, 2016 at 6:45 AM

    I say this thing all the time to my boys never really thinking about how they might see it as me being negative about them. I am going to really try to stop doing that.

  • Carleigh

    Carleigh

    February 8th, 2016 at 6:25 AM

    It can be devastating when someone uses this against a young person, knowing that they are going to be susceptible to picking up any new ideas, and if someone is using this against them in a way that is not for their betterment then it can actually be pretty dangerous. I just want to teach my children that it is fine to listen to what others have to say, but there is probably something to it if what they are encouraging does not feel right to you. If it doesn’t then it is also okay to walk away.

  • matthew

    matthew

    February 10th, 2016 at 11:33 AM

    Sometimes following your heart will mean that you are going the same way that everyone else is and then there will be times where following your heart means that you are on your own. You just have to have to confidence to know that no matter which way you fall, you are doing the thing that feels right for you.

  • Jason P

    Jason P

    January 2nd, 2018 at 1:20 AM

    As the article states, being impressionable is within us all.. and for good reason. It is a tool that if used properly can deliver us to our destiny. An idea of no impression at all, there is no soul, with great impression, there begins a journey of ones true character.

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