Letting go of worrying what others think of you
Something that we over-thinking worrier-types spend a lot of energy on is worrying what others think of us. We care a great deal about what people think of our character, our actions, what we say, how we look, what we spend our time doing, where we live, how tidy our home is, how our children behave, how much money we have… the list goes on. And on. It’s exhausting.
Giving so much thought to how others see us uses up our energy, our brain space, it distracts us from what’s going on around us and, quite frankly, it’s really stressful. It also doesn’t actually get us anywhere, it isn’t productive or helpful and it makes us feel pretty rubbish.
Worrying how you’re going to come across when making a presentation at work doesn’t make your preparation radically different. You’d be diligent and thorough and prepare well anyway, because that’s who you are, you try your best. You might think that your best will never be up to scratch but that doesn’t change the fact that you, being the kind of person you are, try your hardest.
All that obsessing over what opinion the team or management are forming of you as you make your presentation does is stress you out and make you more nervous. It sends your amygdala into overdrive and your cortisol levels through the roof. None of which makes you feel good or helps your performance.
I know parents who spend a significant chunk of their time, energy and thoughts on what other people think of their parenting skills. Mums who worry constantly (and I’m not exaggerating) about what their in-laws, teachers, other mums, strangers in the supermarket and on Instagram, anyone they coincide with in the world, think of how their children act and speak and how this reflects on them as their mother. This worry causes mums to overthink how they’re raising their children, second guess themselves on the decisions they make from what they provide for dinner to what school they choose to their weekend activities.
Worrying what others think of their parenting doesn’t make them better parents, they’re already working their hardest to be the best mums they possibly can be. But what it does do is suck some of the joy out of being a mum, it distracts them from being fully present with their children, in whatever is happening in that moment, because of worries that someone else is forming an opinion of them.
Over-thinking about how others view us encroaches into all areas of the worrier’s life. What will ‘they’ think if I make this life choice? What will they think if they see me with no make-up on? Will they think I’m bad/selfish/ignorant/rude/pompous if I voice my opinion? What if they don’t like my house/my work/my craft/my writing/my photo/my life? What if they don’t like me?
That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? This is why we worry so much about what others think, because how awful would it be if they don’t like us? Surely everyone wants to be liked, that’s the best way to go through life, isn’t it?
Before we get stuck into that sticky point, let’s rewind a moment.
Let’s challenge the theory that everyone around us has a view on us. How do you know that all these people who you think are forming opinions of you, are actually forming opinions of you? Who says they’re judging you at all? Did they look at you a certain way, or look away from you? Did they write something down? Did they say something to their friend or colleague that you couldn’t hear?
Let’s make ‘what if’ work for us for a change.
What if all these things happened and they had nothing to do with you? What if you took a look and put your own meaning on it? That look on someone’s face may or may not have something to do with you. They could have been trying not to sneeze, noticed an odd smell, been worrying about something themselves, have a twitch, remembered something they’d forgotten… the look that you decided was all about their opinion of you may very well have had absolutely nothing to do with you. Humour me for a moment and just entertain this possibility.
We believe that other people think about us far more than they actually do. We’re really not as important in other people’s lives and minds as we think we are. Ponder on that a moment. How much time do you spend thinking about, judging and forming opinions of those around you? Not that much time. And the same goes for everyone else! Most people are too wrapped up in their own lives to spend much time thinking about you. That may sound harsh but it’s true. You don’t spend significant chunks of your time assessing others so why think that they do?
If you can imagine this for one moment, how does that make you feel? Relieved, less stressed, lighter? I know the what ifs are likely to kick back in pretty quickly but entertain the thought that not everyone is judging you for just a moment, let that little chink of light creep in and see how it feels.
What if they don’t like me?
Now let’s go back to that uncomfortable thought and look it right in the face: What if they don’t like me?
Okay, so, what if they don’t? Sharp intake of breath, that’s a scary thought, I know. I want everyone to like me. The idea that there are people walking around this earth who may not just be indifferent to me but may actively dislike me, who think badly of me, is horrible. It makes me physically uncomfortable. I’m shifting in my seat as I write this. However, I have to face up to the fact that it is an impossibility for everyone in the world to like me. I can’t think of a single person who is universally adored. There may be people who I think everyone would like, but there will still be those who aren’t fans.
Not everyone is going to like me. And not everyone is going to like you. Each of us has the free will to form our own opinions and if someone chooses to not like me, that’s their right. We don’t want this to be the case, we don’t like the thought that we’re not liked by everyone but this is the hard reality. While it’s something that I’m still trying to be okay with, and I fully expect it to sound horrifying to you, you and I will be better off in the long run if we can make peace with the fact that what others think of us is not wholly within our control.
All I, and you, can do is go through life the best way we know how: honouring our values, doing what we believe is right, treating others as we wish to be treated (doesn’t meant we will be) and trying our best. This is what we have control over. Getting to the end of the day and knowing that however difficult it was, whatever challenges and upset you faced, however off-plan your day was, you made the best of it, whatever that looked like. It’s all you can do. What your in-laws, boss, mums at the school gate, strangers on the internet and in the supermarket think is up to them. You’ve done your best and you don’t get to control what others think of you. (I know we worriers think that if we can be in control of everything it will all be okay, have a read of this post).
I know you and I know you’re doing your best each day. Really, you are. Some days are great, some days are definitely not. And each day you are doing your best to be the friend, the mum, the colleague, the partner, the neighbour, the daughter, the person that you are. And that is enough. YOU are enough.
Next time you find yourself wondering what someone else is thinking of you, remember this:
• They may not actually be thinking of you at all. They could be thinking of a million other things that have nothing to do with you.
• So what if they are? They’re entitled to their opinion, if you knew it you may not agree with it but their opinion is theirs, you can’t control it so stop giving it your energy and attention.
• You know you’re doing your best because that’s what you do, it’s who you are, and that is enough. YOU are enough.
• Take a deep breath in and breathe all the way out. Let that worry go and move on.
This is not easy to come to terms with. It’s difficult for worriers like you and me to make peace with the idea that others will form an opinion of us and it may not be a favourable one. It’s something we’ll be wrestling with for a while, but it is worth the wrestle. Because in the moments where you let go of worrying about what someone is thinking of you, you’re free of that fear, free of that stress and anxiety. And we all need more moments like that, don’t we?