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It’s natural to want others to like and respect us, but worrying too much about thoughts others hold about you could injure your mental health.
Have you ever lay in bed at night and recalled that time in eighth grade when you said “orgasm” instead of “organism” while reading aloud in class? Us, too.
OK, so maybe you didn’t have that exact experience, but you know what we mean.
Chances are your classmates have zero recollection of that middle school moment, your colleagues already forgot you left your mic on during the morning Zoom meeting, and your friends didn’t think that bold outfit from Friday night was too over-the-top.
And yet, we still spend untold energy worrying about how other people perceive us. Any amount of praise is immediately overshadowed by one piece of criticism.
There’s no use in acting like we don’t care at all about what others think because it’s just not true. But there are ways to lessen the burden and not let their opinions hurt your mental health.
Just like most other seemingly pointless traits we humans have, caring what other people think of us is an evolutionary adaptation.
According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, joining a group or tribe and being accepted by others was critical to survival.
Even though today we might not need tribes to survive, we do need other people for stimulation and companionship. Humans are social animals, so placing weight on others’ opinions of you is entirely natural and largely unavoidable.
One brain imaging study showed biophysical reactions – chemical responses in the brain – to positive and negative feedback from others. Fear of negative evaluation is
People with low self-esteem and those who grew up without emotional support are also more likely to care too much what other people think of them.
In some cases, putting too much time and energy into worrying what other people think can be harmful to your self-image and mental health.
Taking others’ opinions as truth can lead to a vicious cycle of insecurity and vulnerability.
But caring about how our actions impact people around us also plays a crucial role in maintaining meaningful relationships.
You’d care if you were unwittingly causing harm to a friend or family member. Although it might cause temporary distress, adjusting your actions to remedy the relationship is ultimately worthwhile.
In this way, caring what people think isn’t always unhelpful.
Of course, things can get out of hand. Listening to our friends’ concerns is different than worrying about every little thing someone thinks of us.
Here are some indicators that the opinions of others might be harmful to you and your mental health:
- You change yourself in response to criticism, regardless of what it is and who it comes from.
- You let other people make decisions for you.
- You don’t set or maintain boundaries.
- You’re a perfectionist.
- You hold your tongue if your opinion differs from everyone else’s.
- Your peace of mind relies on approval from others.
- You’re constantly apologizing, even when you did nothing wrong.
- You rarely say “no.”
So, how can you get unstuck from worrying about how others perceive you? Here are some tips you can try.
Expect and accept that people will have opinions of you
There’s no use in trying to avoid any and all judgment – it’s simply impossible. For better or worse, assessing other people is a natural part of social interaction.
So, prepare yourself ahead of time for people to have their opinions.
A simple mental reminder that others will have perceptions of you – even some that may be inaccurate – can help you let incoming critiques roll off your back.
Take back control over your own feelings
Other people might have poor opinions about you, but that doesn’t have to translate into difficult emotions. They are not the same.
While you can’t control how everyone perceives you, you can lessen your worry and anxiety over it.
Consider practicing some mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness is all about staying in the present and being aware of and accepting how you feel in that moment.
Learning to be in the moment can help you cope with those unwanted feelings and thoughts.
Some mindfulness strategies you can try include:
- breathing exercises
Remember that everybody makes mistakes
Perfection is impossible, so expecting it is futile. More important, judgment for failing to attain perfection is unproductive, unfair, and completely unhelpful.
Keep in mind that anyone who thinks badly of you for making some small slipups has made mistakes themself.
Plus, making mistakes at work or in personal relationships can be an important part of self-growth. Look at them as learning opportunities and being human.
Develop your sense of self and build confidence
Practicing self-reflection can be a powerful tool for building a strong identity. Take time to ask yourself some difficult questions.
Who am I? What do I care about? What do I enjoy?
Developing a value system is also important to providing a strong foundation to live your life on.
People may critique your beliefs or actions, but if they’re grounded in your values, the criticism is less likely to stick.
Confidence building and developing a sense of self go hand-in-hand. Being confident in who you are and what you stand for will boost your self-esteem and willingness to ignore haters.
Don’t try to mind read – you’re probably wrong
Research suggests that while most people have some idea of how they’re perceived by others, they still have major blind spots.
People will associate traits with you that you’ve never even considered.
The researchers found that the most well-adjusted and emotionally stable people have the least amount of insight into what people think of them.
It’s an indication that constantly worrying what other people think is not only stressful but also not helpful.
Consider the source
Caring about what people think of you is natural. But some people’s opinions are much more important than others and should be treated as such.
A family member saying that your behavior negatively affects them or a boss expressing concern with your work can be helpful. A random stranger complaining that you don’t smile enough is not.
Know that you’re usually your own worst critic
A research paper tells us that we often believe people judge us much more harshly than they actually are. In reality, we’re often much harder on ourselves than other people.
We also tend to think that one slipup will mar how people perceive us for good. While it’s true that first impressions can have a long-lasting impact, one mistake is unlikely to change their overall judgment of you.
Surround yourself with accepting, supportive people
Friends and family members who are consistently judgmental can take a huge toll on your mental health. Knowing that someone you care about has negative opinions of you is incredibly hurtful.
Developing relationships with people who embrace your true self and people who are supportive and willing to talk it out – even if they can be a little “judgy” sometimes – is crucial for maintaining mental well-being.
Talking with a therapist can help you develop skills for coping with criticism and building your self confidence.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically, works to build more helpful ways of thinking.
Through exercises and practice, you can learn new ways to approach unhealthy feedback and let go of unnecessary stress.
Hold your own judgments of others
Next time you meet a new colleague or your friend introduces you to their partner, hold off on casting blanket judgments about them.
Even if the first impression isn’t great, give them a chance.
Being accepting of others can help you let go of what others think of you. If you know you’re giving people the benefit of the doubt, you’re more likely to think that others are doing the same for you.
If you think you’re worrying too much about how you’re coming off to others and whether people like you, join the club.
Sometimes feedback and constructive criticism can be useful and worth listening to. But there’s often no productive use for listening to or worrying about what other people think.
Keep in mind that you’re likely judging yourself harder than anyone else is.
If you need more assistance, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help.