4 Steps To Stop Caring So Much About What Others Think, From A Psychologist
Everyone wants to be liked and accepted, but many of us spend too much time and energy worrying about what other people think. You might not even realize you're doing it, but these kinds of mental gymnastics are unhealthy and stressful, making us feel unworthy and removing our attention from the present moment.
Here are four steps to help you stop worrying about what other people think, designed to help you maintain healthier and happier relationships with yourself and others.
Understand why you care.
In order to break the cycle, it's important to understand where the energy is coming from. We've been socialized by a culture that sets norms for our belongingness. From birth, we're taught we should act a certain way, dress a certain way, buy certain products, and adhere to certain ideologies to be liked and accepted. Social media brings the popularity contest to a whole new level, where how many friends we have and how much they "like" us is now publicly broadcast and recorded. (Here's more on how social media affects relationships.)
We are stressed and exhausted trying to manage our real and online personas to make sure that people continue to like and accept us. Many of us have spent our whole lives in this cycle, believing that a certain set of actions would bring us acceptance, only to repeatedly find that this is not the case. This is a form of social conditioning that we must now give ourselves permission to release.
Learn this mantra: What other people think about me is none of my business.
The root of the problem with caring about what people think about you is that you're attaching yourself to an outcome that you have absolutely no control over. That’s right: you have no control over what people say, do, and think about you!
You can have the best intentions, or you can do something ridiculous: It doesn’t matter. You do not control the way people will respond, just as they do not control the way you respond to them.
The belief that you have any ownership of or control over people’s opinions about you comes from a place of ego. The reality is that what other people think about you is none of your business.
Take a moment and begin to process and accept this perspective. See how the mantra makes you feel, and note the resistance you might feel from your ego. This is normal. (In fact, with all this time spent worrying and managing expectations, this mantra can feel downright strange at first!)
Direct the energy to something positive.
This new perspective frees up an immense amount of time and energy to live in the now and experience your authentic flow. It also breaks the cycle of conditioning that if you could only do X, say Y, and buy Z, people would like and accept you. Deep inside we know that true acceptance comes from within. So instead of caring so much if someone might be talking about you behind your back...
Breathe, repeat your mantra, and then direct the excess energy towards something positive, like following your passion and doing something you love. And if you don’t know what you're passionate about, go and find out! Try a creative new activity, such making art, dancing, playing music, building something, or frolicking outside. You'll be amazed at how happy and free you feel when you spend time doing what you love instead of worrying about what other people think.
Practice daily self-love and acceptance.
When you're living and creating from a place of genuine love and acceptance, you will know that what other people do, say, and think about you really has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. If you don’t like what they have to say about you, you can walk away knowing you are being true to yourself.
A regular, daily practice of self-love and self-acceptance is key for releasing attachment to outcomes and maintaining happy, healthy relationships. For many people, this journey begins with meditation, breathwork, yoga, eating healthy, spending time in nature, and creating art. No matter what you do, make sure to do something that reminds you how much you love yourself every day. As you feel more self-love and self-acceptance, you will attract more of it into your space.
The bottom line.
This is a lifelong journey, not an instant transformation that happens overnight, so please be kind and forgive yourself if you fall back into the cycle of worrying about what other people think. If you find yourself feeling attached to their opinions of you, just remember that they, like you, are walking a long journey of internal healing and growth, and that their attitudes are unique and personal to them ... and truly, none of your business!
Kelly Neff, M.A., PhD, is a psychologist, author, founder of The Lucid Planet, and host of the AM radio talk show, Lucid Planet Radio. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Georgetown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Claremont. She spent seven years as a psychology professor specializing in relationships, love, and sexuality.