What Other People Think

By: Lisa Philippart

Many clients come to me with the challenge of caring very much about what others think. I have identified four ways to care less about what other people think of you.

First, accept that it’s okay to care about what others think of you. My experience is that most people aren’t really bothered by caring about what others think of them. Instead, what bothers them is the huge wave of anxiety, shame, disappointment, and all the other difficult emotions that go with it. This potential excessive emotionality is often the result of assuming that it’s bad to care about other’s opinions. When you assume it’s bad to be concerned about what others think, you end up feeling bad about feeling bad, which dramatically increases how bad you feel! If you can learn to accept the fact that it’s normal and okay to care, you’ll stop getting lost in all those unproductive mental patterns that blow your emotional responses out of proportion. Try this: The next time you start this caring process, say this little script to yourself: “I may not like caring about what other people think of me, but it’s perfectly normal and okay for me to feel this way.”

Second, stop dwelling on your worries. A single worry won’t cause you much anxiety. Ten minutes of continuous worrying almost certainly will. In other words, having a worry isn’t the problem. It’s continuing to worry that makes you anxious. If you want to care less about what other people think of you, it’s critical that you avoid letting a single initial worry turn into cycles of worrying. And the best thing you can do is refocus your attention on something more productive and less anxiety-producing. But what if your concerns are legitimate? You can’t just stop thinking about it. Try this: Delay your worry. In most situations, even if the concern is legitimate, it’s unlikely that you absolutely need to think more about it right now. Rather, set aside a time in a few hours or days to reflect on it when you’re in a better state of mind.

Third, clarify what really matters to you. Sometimes we become overly-fixated on what other people think because we aren’t very clear about what we think. Specifically, when you’re uncertain about your values (what’s really important to you in life) it’s easy to get lost in other people’s values and try to live by them. We all have values. But often we haven’t made time to reflect on what is really important. When you do, you’ll find yourself increasingly confident in who you are and what you want, and as a result, a lot less concerned about what you think you should want based on others’ opinions. Try this: The next time you are feeling anxious about what other people think of you, ask yourself this question: What do I really want right now? And no, to feel less anxious doesn’t count!

Finally, build confidence by practicing assertiveness. As we said, it’s normal to care about what others think. The trick is how can we care about it enough, but not so much that it’s debilitating? In a word, confidence. More specifically, you have to be confident enough in yourself not to get lost in worries about what other people think. And where does this confidence come from? Assertiveness. Assertiveness is the skill of taking action on what you really want despite your emotions pulling you the other way. For example, despite not wanting to disappoint your coworkers who are working on a project over the weekend, you tell them you can’t because it would cut into your family time. Boundaries are a key part of assertiveness. The more you practice being assertive, the more your mind starts to believe that what you want and think matters. And this leads to confidence.

By: Lisa Philippart

Licensed Professional Counselor