Florencia from Uruguay asks,
I’m sick of putting my needs and wants last. I was raised to always be the ‘good’ little girl who cared a lot what others thought of her. For my whole life I seem to have been crippled by the fear of what others will say/think of me. I get paranoid that others will gossip about me or judge me behind my back. So I always try to avoid this by being a people-pleaser. It’s so damn tiring.
But now I’m in a position where I can pursue a dream of mine – to be an artist. But my friends don’t support me, and my family thinks I’m making a big mistake. I constantly feel like they’re talking behind my back about me.
What can you do to learn how to not care what others think of you? Please help Luna and Sol.
If you also struggle with this, please read on.
How to Not Care What Others Think of You
I want to start off by saying this:
It is impossible to stop caring what others think of you.
I know this is probably the last thing you want to hear. But flipping the middle finger at others is tantamount to a teenager throwing a tantrum. Even behavior that screams “I don’t give a f*ck what you think of me!” is still placing importance in what others think indirectly. This kind of behavior is still deeply influenced by what other people think, because otherwise, why would there be reason to react?
Biologically speaking, caring what other people think of us has helped us to grow, evolve and stay alive as a species. Not only that, but caring what other people think can also be beneficial. When you are receptive towards a person’s thoughts and feelings, you learn a lot about yourself and also the other person. I will explain this point more in-depth very soon.
But first, I also want to say this:
Caring what people think of you is not the same as letting it rule your life.
In other words, there is a difference between caring what other’s think and permitting it to dominate you.
Caring what other’s think becomes dangerous when it dictates your every decision, thought and feeling about yourself.
When we allow other people’s opinions and beliefs to control our lives, we become trapped. We feel pressured by our own insecurity to live up to other’s expectations. We become self-denying people-pleasers. Consequently, we feel unfulfilled and bitter towards ourselves and others.
But you don’t have to feel this way. And yes, you CAN care what people think about you and NOT let it ruin your life.
1. Look for the lesson.
So your siblings scoff at your dreams. What is the lesson to be learned here? Instead of blindly reacting to what they say, notice how you feel. Belittled, angry, embarrassed? Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that feeling offended is OK, but you can still move on. Or the lesson may be that your siblings feel threatened by your happiness because they are unhappy themselves.
Sometimes other people are genuinely trying to help us. Here’s an example: You’re ready to go to a job interview. Your mother comments how slutty your dress looks. While her comment may have come across as harsh, in reality she may have been trying to prevent you from messing up a great opportunity.
Remember that what people think about you is often a reflection of them, but not always. So pay attention. Look for the lesson.
2. People are more obsessed with themselves than they are with you.
It’s quite simple: people don’t care about you as much as you think they do! People don’t really care: they’re just curious. This could either be a reason to mourn, or a reason to celebrate. I prefer to think of it as a positive because it reminds you of the tremendous freedom you have.
You got a degree? Good job. Nobody cares.
You’re getting engaged? How exciting! Nobody cares.
What’s that? You’re polyamorous? Nobody cares.
The truth is that it’s rare for a person to be more interested in you than they are in themselves. Our egos love to think that we are the center of the universe. This is at the very root of paranoia. But in reality we aren’t.
3. What’s the worst case scenario – really?
By the off-chance someone gossips about you or makes a snarky comment, so what? What’s the worst that can happen?
Even if you do feel terribly self-conscious and embarrassed, the feeling will only be temporary. And you will come away proud that you have been true to yourself.
4. Let go of the illusion that you can control what others think.
People will judge you. People will whisper about you. People will hate you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Yes, you can strive to please each and every person who comes into your life, but do you really think you can avoid judgement? Every single person on the face of the planet has been judged by another. You are no special or different from the rest.
Letting go of the illusion of control takes conscious effort as often this habit is unconscious. Therefore whenever you’re in a difficult situation, you may like to repeat as a mantra, “I surrender control. I love the person I am.”
5. Learn how to respond to naysayers.
I remember that a major source of angst for me in the past was that I didn’t know how to respond to critical people. How do you keep your cool in the face of disparaging comments and reactions? It took me a while to realize that the best way to respond was acknowledging the other person’s thoughts, but still standing my ground.
Here’s an example: “I understand that you think my dislike of alcohol sucks, but that’s the person I am.” Being assertive in the face of naysayers also requires repeating yourself sometimes, e.g. “I prefer to stay here. I know you want me to go. But I will be staying here. I need to work.”
6. You’re allowed to make mistakes: it’s human.
If you care too much about what others think, you’ll likely be a perfectionist. You’ll probably have extremely high expectations of yourself and you’ll likely find it hard to forgive yourself. But remember this: everyone at some point in life obsesses over how others perceive them. Accept this reality without beating yourself up. You’re allowed to make mistakes: you’re human. You set the rules in life remember.
So next time you’re worrying about what people think, be kind with yourself. None of us are perfect, nor can we ever be.
7. Rediscover your own voice.
The importance we put in the voices of others often smothers out our own. What would your authentic voice, personality and life look like? Spend time exploring this question and strive to fulfill your discoveries.
8. Life is too short.
Finally, taking a big-picture perspective helps immensely with caring too much about what other’s think. You could die any day … do you really want to spend your life wound up pleasing others? On your deathbed, will people’s opinions really matter? No, they won’t. Aim to live life to the fullest so you have no regrets.
Lao Tzu once said,
Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.
Thankfully, we can escape that prison with enough focused effort.
Be gentle with yourself, respect others, but also honor your own voice. Picture what your life will be like when you don’t allow other’s thoughts to dominate you. It’s nice isn’t it? Work towards that. You can do it.