I have a problem, like many of us do, of caring too much about what other people think of me. I have let this rob me of satisfaction at times in my life, from being afraid to do something or too worried to speak up or take action based on what I know to be true for me. Usually this is because I want to be liked, and also because I don’t want to cause problems for other people. As an empathic person, I often feel the force of judgment, anger, pain, sadness and disappointment from others very deeply, so I have tried to avoid it.
On the lighter end, this may just be called being considerate of others. On the heavier side, it is self-abnegation – a withholding of the fullness of life experiences I could be having instead. In other words, I deny myself happiness at times.
Some of this also comes from the need for belonging. We all should have a place where we feel we belong. Sometimes that is with family, or a certain group of friends, or maybe with our creative team at work. Belonging helps to increase self-confidence as well, as it reaffirms some form of our perceived identity.
There is an inherent danger in this basic desire, though, when it becomes trying to fit in. Most commonly seen in teenagers who might dress or act in ways that seem out of character to be a part of a clique, it stretches well beyond that. When we attempt to change our identities to fit the approval or expectations of others, we are no longer being authentic, and we lose a bit of our real identity.
As I started looking into this topic more for myself, I pulled a few quotes that seemed appropriate. The first one is from Lao Tzu.
“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”
Lao Tzu’s famous work, the Tao Te Ching has incredible wisdom within it, and there are so many things to be learned from it.
Sort of another way of saying this is from Neale Donald Walsh. He is the author of the Conversations with God books.
“So long as you are still worried about what others think of you, you are owned by them. Only when you require no approval from outside yourself can you own yourself.” His books were instrumental in my early adulthood as I continued seeking sources that contained Universal Truths.
In perhaps more practical terms for today, Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford University commencement speech of 2005,
“Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life and don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Piggy-backing on the topic of the last episode a bit, about living according to your values, has helped me identify areas where I was holding myself back based on fear of what other people might think. I realized that there are times where upsetting someone else is unavoidable and you can’t let that deter you from moving forward in life according to those values, especially if you are well-meaning. To me, that last part is key. Having good intentions in the world and for others balances out the potentiality for acting on self-interest alone. That doesn’t mean we all just do whatever the hell we want regardless of how it affects other people, it just means not denying yourself happiness while also considering others.
There are a lot of helpful tips and resources out there for getting past the hang-up of worrying about what other people think about you. Some of them are simple and practical, and others involve a little more soul-searching. What I find to be most helpful so far is to use a self-inquiry process of checking my intentions and weighing them against any potential fallout. As long as I can be honest with myself about who I am and what I’m doing, then I have to be willing for others to not like me. Hopefully this will also translate into removing some of my other fears that I have been allowing to hold me back as well. After all, our happiness is our responsibility, not someone else’s.