“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!”
― Olin Miller
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to stop worrying about what others think of you.
If you are constantly worried about what other people think of you, no doubt you have a serious inner critic.
Someone who speaks in the familiar voice of a disapproving parent, teacher or spouse.
Someone who says things like:
“Now why did you do THAT?”
“You did WHAT?”
“Can’t you ever get it right?”
“You shouldn’t feel that way”
Or maybe it was a bullying classmate or sibling who ridiculed your looks, your glasses, your clothing. Perhaps someone taunted you when you failed a test or simply didn’t make all A’s like they did.
Maybe it’s a boss or coworker who reminds you on a regular basis that your work falls short. And you live in fear of losing your livelihood and self-respect in a single blow.
Perhaps you compare yourself to others in a negative light. I wish I could look like, act like, think like, be like__________!
Whatever the origin, you have no doubt accepted your inner critic’s evaluation as the truth about who you are. The truth you don’t want others to discover.
Whenever you fall short of your own expectations your inner critic sets off a litany of reproach.
It’s not that you consciously choose to beat yourself up, it’s that the negative thoughts and their attendant depressing feelings pop into your head unbidden.
Automatic negative thoughts—call them ANTS-are the weapon of choice for your inner critic.
Just like ants at a picnic, mental ANTS sting, bite and irritate. They nibble away at your self-esteem leaving you second guessing yourself at every turn.
Or maybe you do consciously choose to berate yourself, assuming that you have to get yourself in line if you are ever going to get it right. And you constantly work to get it right, to be enough.
In order to stop worrying about what others think of you, it’s necessary to silence that inner critic. Or ignore her.
Not that it’s easy. Your inner critic is no doubt well established. She has claimed certain neural pathways in your brain as her territory and is not about to give them up. In addition, adrenalin and cortisone—the front- line stress hormones—are on order to rev up your body to fight, flee or freeze at the first sign of danger.
And the mere idea that someone is thinking ill of you or judging your performance or your person, spells danger. “What if I don’t measure up. What if I’m not good enough. What if….”
At this point you may be overwhelmed with emotion. Your rational brain has been hijacked and your emotional brain has taken over. You are feeling sad, mad, afraid, or some other variety of just plain awful.
In the moment, the first step toward silencing your inner critic is to calm your body down. Seriously. Take three deep breaths. Inhale through your nose to the count of four. Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight. If three breaths don’t do it, try five or more.
With a calm body, your logical brain can come back on line and give you a moment to choose to go with the anxiety or take another route.
When you have a quiet moment, ask your inner critic a few questions and journal the answers.
- What was I thinking? Automatic negative thoughts are often so ingrained you have to slow down to notice and identify them.
- What was I feeling? Naming the feelings can help to de-energize them, make them less overwhelming.
- Are my thoughts and feelings telling me the truth? What is the evidence for or against my automatic thoughts? Are they based on false beliefs about myself or others?
- Is there another way to think about it? Is making a mistake proof that you are a failure or is it simply part of being human?
As you repeat this process over and over you will establish new neural pathways making way for Positive Automatic Thoughts, PATs if you please.
To prepare yourself for an invasion of ANTS it is helpful at any given moment to become aware of your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
For example, as you get ready for your day, notice what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting. As you shower, dress or eat breakfast focus on the present moment. If your mind wanders, and it will, bring it back. Practicing mindful awareness will facilitate the ability to stop the ANTS in their tracks.
When your inner critic pops up again observe and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. Rather than ruminating, allow the ANTS to pass on through your consciousness as you imagine them fading away. You are now free to choose a positive mindset allowing you to experience positive thoughts and feelings.
In time you will experience more positive automatic thoughts and fewer automatic negative thoughts. PATS replace ANTS, and in the event of an ANT attack you will know how to deal with them.
You will know deep inside that what others think of you is just—what others think of you! Their opinions will not define you. With your inner critic silenced you will be able to accept yourself, and you will discover that you are no longer haunted by what others think of you.
Doris B. Motte, MACC, LPC - www.dorismottecounseling.com
Have you ever struggled with worrying about what others might think of you?
When we worry about what others are thinking about us that is often a clue that we are struggling with what we think about ourselves.
If, for example, I am confident in my intelligence, and someone calls me dumb, then what they think rolls off my back - I know it is not about me, and maybe says more about their own insecurities.
However, if I was told, “You are so stupid,” when I was young, and came to believe that I am dumb, then if someone calls me stupid, it confirms the message that I was given as a child... and my fear and shame are activated.
This can be hard because I can take the shame I feel, which is a memory of the trauma, as evidence that I am stupid.
So what do I do?
If I notice that I am worrying, it is usually a clue that it relates to an experience I had where I believed the messages I received.
So ask yourself:
- Am I worried?
- To what does this go back? What need for respect and love was not met that led to shame in the experience.
- Can I see how this was abusive or neglectful?
- Can I see the truth that the abuse or neglect was the problem, not me?
- Can I protect, stand up and love myself?
- If not, can I notice how I am now shaming myself the way I was shamed?
- Can I see that this is simply learned, not who I am?
- Can I connect with my truth - what I was actually feeling and needing at the time in the past experience? And what I am actually feeling and needing now?
- Can my mature self give this to myself now - validate my feelings and meet my unmet needs - with understanding and compassion? Can my mature self tell the truth to the suffering of shame. For example: “It was not your fault etc.”
If you can do this, then the next time you go out, you are likely to feel less worried about what others think about you because you will know the truth about who you are. The judgments can no longer resonate with the judgments you have of yourself, if you no longer have these self judgments.
Instead of judging and distancing from myself, I can choose to connect with and better understand myself.
If I can cultivate this more in-tune, connected, understanding, empathic and responsive relationship with myself, I am certain my fear of what others think of me will drastically go down.
I will see that their judgments of me is really a reflection of the judgments they have of themselves; and I will see that my fear of what they think is a clue of what I am still judging in myself.
If I can learn to untangle myself from the judgments in this way, this become a marvelous opportunity to turn my worry into empathy for myself and others.
Eloise Erasmus Ph.D., L.P. - www.aslaninst.com
So imagine this...
There’s 4 people on line at the Grocery store. A Hispanic female cashier is visibly sour in mood, her body language, lack of eye contact and facial expressions are saying so.
First customer comes up and thinks “All Puerto Ricans are nasty” remembering getting jumped as a teenager.
Second customer comes up and thinks “I hate cashier lines, I can barely fit through here. She can barely even look at me, she is so disgusted by how fat I am”.
Third customer, at the store because his wife is nagging him again for help, “f*%^ing women, always in a mood”.
Fourth customer thinks “Maybe she’s having a bad day” because he had seen her before and she usually is very amicable.
The cashier, single mother of twins, just found out, before her shift, that her mother needs surgery and she cannot imagine how she is going to manage the twins, taking care of her mother and not get fired.
Now imagine this, this is happening all the time, every day, all times.
People in their own “bubbles” of current stressors, life experiences, genetics, social statuses, etc and we are bouncing off each other. It’s human interaction.
When we allow ourselves to bleed our internal dialogue unto others we are where insecurity lives.
It can be shown that our judgements of others are truly a reflection of what we are hung up on. When you understand that people’s perceptions of an event can differ so greatly, as illustrated above, you expand your understanding of others.
Greater Understanding lends itself to more Compassion, less quick judgement and less worry about being judged. We must be fluid, without fear of judgement, or the passing of judgement, to feel more secure with Self.
So how does that apply to worrying less about what other people think?
Simply, when you don’t judge others, I guarantee you will feel less judged.
Homework assignment: for 7 days straight be mindful of every time you make a negative judgment of someone. At that time, try to spend an equal amount of time expanding your world view by considering alternatives that may be at play.
Here is an example:
You’re driving on the road and a car ahead of you swerves and you think immediately “What an asshole driving like that”. Bam there it is, negative judgement made. Now consider a few alternatives to that inherently hostile, intolerant and harsh critique.
Perhaps there’s kid in a car seat in the back who was coughing and his Dad turned around to see if he was ok or maybe a bug flew in her eye, or there was an object in the lane that you didn’t see that the driver adeptly avoided.
If your world view manifests as “he’s an asshole”, no wonder why you feel judged and insecure. You’re a harsh critic, so everyone must be. Slow down and consider more.
Stephanie Loeb Beilinson, LPC – www.theloebcenter.com