Do you find yourself worrying what people think of you? We’ve all been there – that sudden paralysis of panic when we think back to a conversation, an email or a message.
“Did I come across as I meant to?” we ask ourselves, sweaty-palmed. “Did they think I was being weird/loud/arrogant/fake/stupid?” It can be tough to stop worrying what people think – but it's possible. The exercise I'm going to share today might just be the key.
But first, let's take a step back.
Why does this matter so much, anyway?
Why it’s important to stop worrying what people think
Happiness comes from learning to accept yourself as you are. However, we still have a tendency to base our opinions of ourselves on what others think of us. Many people worry about what people think of them, and suffer a lot because of it.
Can you really stop others from thinking about you the way they do, and does it really matter what they think? Is it going to change who you are or how you act, think, feel and behave?
To get started on the process of letting go of what others think, start by taking a fresh sheet of paper and a pen.
Write down various things that you think others think about you. They might be positive (she's so helpful!) or negative (she always takes over the conversation). Just be honest – no one else is going to read this.
Here are some examples to help you get started, but you might be able to come up with more of your own:
What do others think about your physical appearance?
What do others think about your talkativeness and your ability to communicate?
What do others think about your intelligence and qualifications?
What do others think of your interpersonal skills, your ability to be friendly and pleasant?
Keep going until you’ve captured the main judgments you imagine others might make about you.
Time to reflect
You have now listed out various things that others think about you. Now, read back through the list.
Spend some time reflecting or journalling on the following questions as you think about the impact this might be having on your life.
How many of them do you find difficult to accept and how many of them do you find easy and encouraging to know?
Does it change who you are in either case?
For example, if someone thinks that you are really intelligent, is it really going to make you more intelligent? Likewise, if someone thinks that you are dull and stupid, does it really make it dull or stupid?
Will what others think of you change who you are or what you are?
Beginning to dig into why these opinions matter is the first step if you'd like to stop worrying what other people think.
The truth about worrying what people think
What you’ll probably find yourself beginning to realise is that nothing about you can change just based on what others think of you. Of course, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact! You might experience an emotional response to what others say or do. But even those emotions are not going to change who you are!
So how can you re-frame what others think of you so that it has less of an impact on how you’re feeling? And can this really allow you to stop worrying what other people think for good?
Here are two key techniques to address judgments that feel challenging:
#1 Realise it’s not all about you
One important thing you have to understand about what others think of you is that their thoughts or what they say is not related to you at all. In fact, what others think or say about you reflects primarily their own tastes and preferences.
For example, if someone tells you that they dislike you because you wear casual clothes, what does it tell about you? Absolutely nothing!
On the other hand, it indicates their dislike of casual clothes, and that cannot impact and change you in any way – you are what you are! If they can’t like you because of your attire, it is their problem and reflects their limitations and judgments; it has got nothing to do with you!!
#2 Ask yourself “is there truth in this?”
Another way to address any anxiety you might have about what others think is to assess whether there is any truth in what they think and say about you, and whether you are okay or not okay with it. Think of yourself as the product and their opinions as your customer feedback, giving you information about yourself. Your job then is to assess whether it is accurate.
If someone says that you are not very friendly to be with, first check for yourself whether it is a valid statement. If it is valid, then see whether you are okay with them having such an opinion about you. If you are okay with it, there is absolutely nothing that you need to do.
However, if that upsets you and you want to change their opinion, you can just walk up to them, and tell them, “Yes, I am not very friendly to be with, and I want to change that. Can you help me with it?”
On the other hand, if you find that their statement is not true, you can go up to them and say, “Look, I disagree with your opinion of me. What behavior of mine leads you to think that I am not friendly to be with?” By asking like this, you are actually helping them assess themselves and their own thoughts, actions and behavior!
So, stop worrying about what others are thinking of you; whatever they think is not going to change you – you are who you are.
Remember that their opinions of you are nothing to do with you…..and everything to do with them!
Would you like some support to embrace who you are?
If stopping worrying what people think feels like a leap too far, you might be interested in the support we offer to help you find your confidence.
About Annie Stoker
Psychotherapist. Author. Property Investor. Dog-Lover. Chilled-Out Friend.
Annie Stoker is perhaps the UK's most educated coach and trainer in what it takes to be happy. She has distilled 27 years experience in diverse psychological and spiritual perspectives into a simple but profound manual for the mind: The Personal Development Handbook.” She has coached influential figures, and been featured widely on TV, radio and in print.
Having experienced not just health and sickness, but also success and failure, marriage and divorce, wealth and poverty, Annie now knows that real growth is not another ‘let’s make it all ok’ campaign. It’s about finding the truth at the core of ourselves so that we have the inner freedom to deal with whatever life throws at us.