How Not To Care What People Think
I sat in my office crying my eyes out.
I'd just received a letter from the assistant to the editor of a local Atlanta publication I'd pitched for a story about one of my clients. It wasn't really a letter. It was a copy of my pitch with comments and edits written all over it. He'd basically slashed and dashed my pitch and told me it wasn't worth passing on to the editor.
At that point, I'd been a publicist for ten years, having lived in New York to work for a major retailer and a public relations firm. I was living back in Atlanta and had my own PR consultancy, managing several big clients. I wasn't a complete novice, but this letter completely undid me.
All of my past successes crumbled to dust in light of this editorial assistant's sweeping judgments. I couldn't write. I had no creative ideas. I wasn't good enough to meet the standards of his editor. What must the editor think of me? What if my clients find out? What if everyone discovers I'm a fraud?
His criticisms were so stinging, I allowed them to completely shatter my confidence. In one moment, the thoughts of one person I didn't know dismantled all of my years of hard work. Or at least that's how it felt. I cared deeply what he thought, even though he didn't know me or my work beyond this one pitch letter.
Of course eventually I moved past it, but this incident was just one of many where the opinions of others caused me pain, anxiety, or guilt. Disappointing or upsetting someone was deeply uncomfortable — sometimes unbearable. In recent years, I've learned to let this go. Although I still respect the opinions of people I care about, I don't care what people think of me as much.
Are you someone who is emotionally bound to the opinion's of others?
If so, here are some ideas about how to not care what people think:
To thine own self be true
There is only one person in this world whose opinion really matters — you. This is your life, and you are in charge of your destiny. Allowing yourself to be controlled or upset by what others think is giving away your self-empowerment.
No one knows better what is best for you than you do. Keep reminding yourself of this. Opinions from others come and go. Some are useful, some aren't. It is YOUR choice to decide how these opinions will impact you.
You will not die
When we care so deeply what other people think, it usually reflects our fear of rejection or abandonment. If we upset or disappointment them, they will withdraw their love and support. They might leave us. We might be alone in our wretched misery. And as strange as it sounds, this really reflects a fear of death. How can I survive if I'm abandoned?
The truth I've learned from experience is when you stop caring so much what others think, they come to respect you even more. When you become your own person, making decisions and choices based on your values, you are actually more attractive to others. Some people might not like this confident you, but they might not be people you need in your life anyway.
If you've been a people pleaser, constantly worrying what others think, then likely you've lost touch with who you really are and what's important to you. Your fallback position when making a decision is to first take a mental survey of how others will perceive you. Or perhaps you go straight to the source and ask them directly what you should do without ever considering your own opinion.
Now is the time to create your own personal operating system. What are your values? What personal boundaries should others never cross with you? What are your opinions and beliefs about important aspects of your life — your finances, childrearing, career, political beliefs, even how you dress or maintain your home? Take some time to ask these questions and define the answers for yourself.
You won't stop caring what people think overnight. It will be a work in progress. But now you have awareness that you don't need to live this way. Remind yourself of this fact: people are far more focused on themselves than they are on you. After that editorial assistant dashed off his comments to me, he didn't give it a second thought. Yet is caused me pain for weeks.
If choosing your own path makes someone think less of you, they'll get over it quickly. They won't spend days wringing their hands about it, so why should you? When you start to worry about what others are thinking, remind yourself they probably aren't thinking about you. They are the center of their own universe.
Embrace failures and mistakes
The most dreadful situation for those of us who worry what others think is when we really screw up. When we fail at something or made a public mistake, we feel the eyes of the world searing into our souls. Now everyone knows what an imbecile I am. Everyone can see my shame.
Can you adopt a new perspective around failure? First, realize that everyone fails. Everyone. It is a universal experience. Once you recognize that, perhaps you can also see how failure serves you. It teaches you a lesson, strengthens you, and often shows you a new way. Practice looking at your failures to glean any gems of wisdom. Then practice shrugging off your mistakes. You may have to fake it at first, but keep at it. Eventually you'll recognize the world isn't judging you because of them.
Sometimes what other people think does have merit. If someone offers an opinion or makes a comment, before you accept it or reject it, examine it. Does it fit with your worldview? Does it support your values? Do they have experience or knowledge you don't possess?
When you're lacking confidence in your own opinions, it's hard to distinguish your point of view from your concern about what others think. This is the time to step out of your emotions and use you logic along with the newfound knowledge of your true self.
Discovering your true self and living authentically is exciting and liberating once you get the hang of it. You can start in small ways to disengage from people pleasing and worrying about what others think.
Go to a movie or dinner by yourself. Wear something you wouldn't normally wear. Invite a friend over when your house is messy. Share something vulnerable with someone you don't know well. The more you practice stretching yourself this way, the more comfortable you'll become letting go of your concern about the opinions of others.
Make a self-love list
We all tend to focus on our negative qualities, but we have far more positives we don't acknowledge. Right now, grab paper and pen and list all of your positive qualities, the things you like about yourself and do well. Include everything — from how well you mow the grass to the big project you just completed.
Think about your higher self — that voice in your ear that reminds you you're OK, you're confident and capable. Imagine that higher self is your best friend who hangs around all the time. Let this best friend be the one person whose opinion matters. When you start to feel anxious about what others think, ask this higher self/best friend what they think. Listen only to that voice of self-love.
As with any internal change, dropping your addiction to caring what others think will take time and practice. The more you disengage from the opinions of others, the more your mind will grow accustomed to making confident, independent choices.
Your awareness of the problem is the first step. Eventually, the only opinion that will really matter will be your own.
Do you care too much what others think of you? If so, please share you experiences and any tips for overcoming this dependence in the comments below.
photo credit: Old Shoe Woman via photopin