Should we care what other people think of us?
For most of us, our level of care is not the problem, it is more our worry and fear that gets in the way.
Caring what other people think of us implies a certain level of openness and understanding, however when we get caught up in the opinions of others, it is more so because we become fearful or worried that we won’t be accepted, liked, or understood.
We cannot care what other’s think to the point that we change our truth and our behavior in a way that distracts us from who we truly are. But at the same time, we also shouldn’t stop caring to the point that our egos take control and we become close-minded to the viewpoints of others.
As author Brene Brown states-
“When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits gets crushed.”
So, how can we learn to balance this idea of being open to the opinions of others without letting them define us or separate us from our authentic self?
I don’t have all the answers, but here are some pointers to help get you started:
1.) Accept Yourself First
If you don’t accept yourself it is going to be very hard for you to feel accepted by others. A lack of self-acceptance also means you are more likely to search for acceptance in others, leading you to care far too deeply about what they think about you.
When you struggle to make peace with who you are, you also become more susceptible to the opinions of others. We’ve all heard that saying- when you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for everything – and that same sentiment applies here.
Loving and accepting yourself doesn’t make you immune to the hurtful opinions of others, but it does help you to remain confident in who you are and what you stand for.
2.) Practice Non-Attachment
The more we seek approval and admiration from others or find ourselves getting overly elated when someone praises us, the more likely we are to find ourselves getting crushed when a negative opinion comes along.
To find balance with this, practicing non-attachment can help. There is a famous story of a monk who was accused of something he did not do. People were angry at him and openly shared their opinions. To all of this the monk just replied -“is that so.” He didn’t allow himself to get swept up in the comments or feel the need to defend himself, he just kept repeating the phrase- “is that so.” Eventually, the truth was revealed and people started apologizing to the monk. But to all the apologies, he just replied- “is that so!”
We don’t need to copy this example exactly, but there are definitely things we can take away from it. The monk was able to detach from the opinions of others and knowing his own truth was able to sit comfortably in peace with himself. He was also able to understand that everything is temporary- even people’s opinions!
Non-attachment really means that we take responsibility for our own well-being rather than getting swept up or intangled in the chaotic words or actions of others.
3.) Handle Criticism Constructively
If you are breathing chances are you are eventually going to run into criticism from someone.
When we are met with a critical opinion or remark from someone, whether we know them or not, here are a few steps you can follow-
- Check-in with yourself: is there any truth to what has been said?
- See if you can take anything constructive from what was said.
- If it’s needed, take responsibility and acknowledge where you could have done better.
- Let the rest go.
This is definitely easier said than done, but this is a good blueprint for figuring out how to handle criticism and negative feedback from others.
Remember, we have no control over what people say to us, but we do have control over how we choose to handle it.
4.) It’s Ok to Admit You Care
No matter how tough we are, the opinions of others can not only hurt us but entangle us in anxiety, anger, and even victimhood.
When this happens, we may find ourselves obsessing and feeling guilty for caring so much, or checking out and pretending like we don’t care at all.
Neither state is going to help us. Instead, it is only going to build walls around our hearts or send us into over-drive with anxiety and frustration.
When this happens, we need to own how we feel and own the fact that we care, even if it makes us feel guilty, shameful or silly.
Once you have gotten clear with how you are feeling, allow yourself to sit in each emotion one by one. Feel the anger, feel the hurt, feel the unfariness, allow it to course through your body, allow yourself to fully embrace it; breathe through it until you can feel the emotion no more.
This practice of leaning into your emotions can be highly therapeutic. In most cases, when you allow the emotion rather than blocking it, it lasts for a few seconds and then dissipates for good. You may have to repeat this exercise a few times and use it in conjunction with other self-help practices like counseling and journaling, but it’s amazing how good it can feel and how much power is taken away from these emotions when you just allow yourself to feel them.
5.) Opinions are More About the People That Made Them
It is natural and normal to feel triggered by what other people say and think of us, but at the end of the day, it is not our baggage to carry.
When someone is overly judgemental towards you or says something hurtful, it is usually because they are judgemental or angry towards themselves. Very often these people are battling with their own issues, and as a coping mechanism, they lash out or put other people down.
People with a reasonable level of awareness are more likely to confront situations in a mature and understanding way that aims to resolve rather than to pass judgment or offer a harsh opinion.
If we remember this, it allows us to recognize and to see that when someone lashes out, criticizes harshly or is super judgemental, it’s more about their own struggles.
“What other people think of you is not your business. If you start to make that business your business, you will be offended for the rest of your life.”– Deepak Chopra
6.) Offering Feedback
You know how it makes you feel when someone shares an opinion with you that wasn’t called for or feels out of line, so try not to do the same to someone else.
Not judging others or feeling the need to label them or their actions is one of the best ways to bring more self-acceptance into your own life. It can also help to improve your relationships and the way you communicate with others.
And, if you do find yourself in a position where you need to offer some feedback or an opinion, put yourself in the other person’s shoes- if that was you, what would you like to hear?
You can also practice the very helpful rule of- don’t offer advice or your opinion unless it’s asked for!
7.) Don’t Fixate, Flow
It’s normal to care what people think of us, but learning to not get so fixated on the opinions of others can be very liberating.
We are not here to compete or compare with others, we are here for our own journey and each of us has an individual spark that we need to explore.
It’s very hard to not care about certain things, but when we give ourselves permission to do so, it can be freeing and life can be more enjoyable.
Rather than caring so deeply about life and everything that is happening or not happening, approach life as a wave washing over you. Rather than absorbing it or drowning in it, you ride with it. You allow it to flow where it needs to, you allow it to take you where it needs to. When you take this approach to life, caring too much or about the wrong things naturally ceases.
And, at the end of the day, the only opinion of yourself that matters is your own.