Do you find yourself changing your behaviors based on what other people might think? Do you rush off to put make-up on just because someone has phoned to say they’re coming over? Do you decide to get the “good” cups out for an unexpected visitor or do you just use the regular ones in the cupboard? Did you choose your profession because of family expectations? Did you marry the wrong guy because, on paper, he was “more pleasing” to the people that mattered?
While it is normal human behavior to adapt our behaviors to certain situations, sometimes we can become so caught up in what people think of us that we literally “lose ourselves.”
We do what we think is right, not because we think that it is right, but that others do. It’s like we haven’t grown out of our teenage years of peer pressure. Today, we might not smoke to keep in with the “in-crowd” but we still conform in numerous ways and worse, we worry. We constantly worry about what other people are thinking about us. We find our lives are governed by what we imagine other people believe about us.
And so we find ourselves with a huge raft of fears: fear of being rejected, fear of being thought a failure, fear of making a mistake, fear of being inferior to others, fear of being “dumb.” This is just the tip of the iceberg.
But there is hope. Think of the words of Olin Miller:
“We probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of us if we could know how seldom they do.”
This is so true. I once remember hearing another witticism which went along the lines of:
“In my teens I thought that everyone was thinking about me. As a 40 year old I thought “to hell with them, I don’t care what they think anymore.” As a 60 year old, I realize they were all too busy thinking about themselves for me to be more than a blimp on their radar.”
It seems our fears about what others think are largely unfounded. And yet, hundreds of thousands of people around the world worry so much about what others think and say that they can develop an anxiety disorder. In order to reduce our anxiety about other’s opinion of us, we can learn to be more realistic about the thoughts of others.
First, we need to recognize that most of the people we know don’t really think about us much at all. Like the old sayings, they really are too busy thinking about themselves and their own lives to be making conclusions about ours. In fact, many of them are doing just what the chronic worrier does: worrying about what others are thinking about them!
Even if others do think about us from time to time, we often misinterpret what they might be thinking, and assume that it’s something negative. We also have often learned to be concerned about what others think of us because we have learned to be highly critical of others. Also, we are often highly critical of ourselves. But just because we are highly critical, doesn’t mean that others are, too. They may not only be caught up in their own world, but when they do think about us, they are a lot kinder to us than we are to ourselves.
To start to let go of worrying about what others think of us, we need to learn to be less judgmental, about both ourselves and others. If we are kinder to ourselves, we don’t need to expend so much energy worrying about other’s opinions. If we really could accept how seldom people think of us, and how caught up they are in themselves, we could slash our worry time by 100% and get a lot more fun out of life!
So try taking the first step to self-acceptance today. You’ll find your life becomes much more peaceful and the world will become a less hostile place. All simply by changing your view of you.
Contact Beth McHugh for further information or assistance regarding this issue.