How concerned are you about what people think of you?
Does it bother you occasionally or a lot of the time?
We are all influenced by other people’s opinions to some degree, sometimes without realising it.
We might wear an outfit to a social event because we think other people will like it, for example, or refrain from expressing an opinion at work to avoid being thought unintelligent.
This is a consequence of our social conditioning and our need to belong – to be accepted and liked.
However, for some this tendency becomes imbalanced.
They place more value on what others think about and want for them than what they think about and want for themselves. And they let this dictate their choices and decisions in life.
Do you recognise any of these traits in yourself?
- You worry people are upset with you or disapprove of you, despite having no evidence.
- You don’t say what you really think or believe.
- You frequently do things you don’t want to do and feel stressed or resentful afterwards.
- You avoid certain people because you’re not sure they like you.
- You find it hard to try new things or adopt new behaviours.
- You struggle to make decisions and rely on other people advising or directing you.
If you identify with any of these statements, it’s a strong indication you’ve given your power away and are allowing other people’s opinions to control how you live your life.
In the long run, this pattern of thinking and behaving can have a negative effect on your quality of life and wellbeing.
It can lead to
People-pleasing behaviour. You give others what they want at the expense of your own wishes, which, ironically, pushes them away rather than towards you.
Perfectionism. You constantly strive to say or do the right thing, fearing disapproval and rejection; this leaves you drained and exhausted.
Rigid thought and behaviour patterns. You’re locked into habitual ways of responding that undermine the quality of your life, e.g. I can’t do what I want or My life will fall apart if s/he doesn’t approve.
Inauthenticity. You are not true to yourself when you fail to act on your real opinions, values and beliefs or forge a path that is guided by your own interests, desires and passions.
A lack of growth. You resist doing things that will enable you to grow as a person or expand your experience of life, e.g. pursuing a course of study, hobby or new career path.
Disempowerment. You feel powerless and doubt your ability to improve your life, believing you need permission from others first.
Reduced wellbeing. You experience a further erosion of your low self-worth, leading to anxiety, stress and depression.
- A limited life. All this keeps you playing small, pulling you away from your dreams and the life you desire.
It’s not a healthy way to live, wouldn’t you agree?
So how do you go about changing?
Here are some ways you can begin to free yourself from this pattern and move towards a healthier, happier life.
1. Cultivate a strong sense of self
Develop a deeper knowledge of who you are. Ask yourself, What’s important to me? What do I believe in? What are my values? What do I find enjoyable and meaningful? Clarity about your personal identity will allow you to make decisions that are directed by your ‘true’ self.
For instance, if you value making a positive contribution to the world, then you might choose to spend one evening a week volunteering instead of fulfilling a family obligation.
2. Build your sense of self-worth
Feelings of low self-worth (perhaps arising from childhood or other past negative experiences) often lie behind a constant need for approval and acceptance. But with a clear personal identity and a healthy sense of self-worth, you’re less likely to let other people’s opinions bother you.
The starting point for boosting your self-worth is to recognise you have innate value simply because you exist. Cultivate an attitude of tolerance, warmth, kindness and compassion towards yourself. Take care of your own needs and do things that bring you joy – even if others judge or criticise. For more advice on this, take a look at my blog How to Cultivate Greater Self-Worth.
3. Make a mental shift
It may surprise you to know that the people you worry may be judging you probably spend far less time thinking about you than you imagine. Most of us are too busy with our own day-to-day issues to give others more than a passing thought.
Moreover, most people filter their reality according to how things affect them. This means they are more likely to be thinking about how they are perceived by others than about you. Realising this can help bring the focus back to yourself.
4. Get clear on whose opinion really matters
Look around at the people in your life whose judgement you fear. Ask yourself how important each person is to your life and whether you respect and value their opinion. Actively decide who you will pay attention to.
For example, you may choose to take your spouse or boss’s viewpoint into account, but do the views of an acquaintance or distant family member really count?
Pinpoint the people you trust enough to confide in, and ignore the rest. And, remember, at the end of the day it’s your own opinion that really matters.
5. Question and challenge your fears
If the fear of being censured or shunned is holding you back, consider whether your fears are justified. For instance, if you decide to take up an evening class, a family member may well be disappointed at losing your company; they may even argue or be upset with you.
But if your deepest fear is that they will ostracise you, is that really likely to happen? Would they cast you aside over a few hours a week? Probably not.
Consider whether your fears have a basis in reality, i.e. your past experiences of this person, or mainly reside in your imagination. Often when we look at our fears head-on, we find they are either unfounded or exaggerated. I’ve written about this topic at length in my book The Power of Speaking Your Truth, which you can find here.
6. Set clear boundaries
This includes both emotional and physical boundaries. Be vigilant about who you allow to invade your internal and external space with their words and behaviour. If you have people in your life who tend to judge or criticise, minimise the amount of time you spend with them.
You can also let them know, politely but firmly, that you respect their viewpoint but choose to think differently. Acknowledge how you feel, and then resolve to let the negative feelings go so they no longer affect you.
7. Take small actions
Changing any aspect of your life requires you to step out of your comfort zone and take a few risks. The key is to start small and slowly build your confidence.
Identify one or two things you’re willing to do differently, even if you face pushback. You might choose to stay at home by yourself instead of accompanying friends to a party, for example, or share an idea at work knowing that some co-workers will disagree.
No matter what we do, ultimately, none of us have any control over what other people think of us. In fact, most of the time others’ perceptions have very little to do with us. They’re based on their own experiences, beliefs, personalities and moods, and therefore say more about them than they do about us.
What we can control, however, is how we deal with the information we receive from others.
We are in charge of our own thoughts, emotions, behaviour and energy; therefore we can choose what meaning and weight we give to what others say and do.
We can disregard anything that does not support our wellbeing and growth.
As Joyce Meyer, an American author and speaker, reminds us,
“When we are truly confident and secure, the opinions of other people cannot control us.”
It is then that we truly stand in our own power.