How often do you want to do or say something but you stop yourself because you are worried about what others will think of you? Take a few seconds to think about the past few weeks. Can you identify a situation where you wanted to do or say something so badly, but you didn’t out of fear of what people would think?
Do you ever think about why we sometimes choose not to express our true thoughts and feelings even to people who we love and care about? What holds us back from sharing? No matter the “why,” the truth is, at some point, we base our actions and decisions on how we anticipate other people will perceive us. As a result, we don’t always do the things we want to do, because we’re afraid of what others will think.
As a therapist, I have the privilege to listen to people talk about some of their most private stories and challenges. Stories they often don't share with anyone. This week I started working with a 35-year-old mom of two who disclosed to me that she always knew that she was attracted to females but she had never expressed this to anyone. Unfortunately, like many people, my patient’s anxiety about what others think of her has been preventing her from living in line with her true thoughts, feelings and desires.
I believe it is essential that we feel empowered to be the most genuine version of ourselves and to live the way we truly want to live. Research has even shown that feelings of authenticity can go hand in hand with numerous psychological and social benefits: higher self-esteem, greater well-being, better romantic relationships and enhanced work performance. In the following blog, I’ve listed out some simple steps to help you not to give a f@ck about what others think.
Step 1: Define your values
Living your life based on what others think of you is exhausting and unfulfilling. Knowing and focusing on your core values will allow you to have a better sense of the qualities, beliefs, and standards for the life YOU want to live. You can start by developing a word or phrase that expresses your core values. For instance, a patient of mine came up with the phrase “family first”. For my patient, family first means making her family and those relationships her priority. Through our work together, my patient has learned to rely on this phrase to guide her actions, thoughts, and decisions. I strongly believe that creating and dedicating yourself to your values -- perhaps by creating some sort of phrase or mantra -- will help you to shut off the noise and opinions of others and listen to your own internal compass.
Step 2: Validate yourself
You are absolutely right that if you have read my previous blogs I often include validation as a part of the steps because most people skip this step. However, validating yourself is an essential ingredient to not giving a f@ck about what others think. Instead of seeking validation from other people, can you give yourself this validation?
Through my own recovery journey, I have learned to care less about what others think of me and more about what I think of myself. In fact, I’ve learned that external validation doesn’t really work. For example, people used to tell me I was skinny and beautiful, yet I still never believe it. Validation needs to come from within. Learning to give myself the love and validation I used to seek from others is one of the best gifts I could have given myself.
Step 3: If someone says negative things about you, it’s actually about THEM, not you
No matter what you say or do, there will always be people who judge or criticize you. Even the most famous actresses will receive some hateful comments. The important thing to understand is that the negative things people say have nothing to do with you. In fact, studies show that when people are unhappy with themselves and their lives, they project negativity. Taking what others say less personally and understanding that it has more to do with them than you will be constructive in caring less about what others think of you.
Step 4: This is your one life. There are no do-overs.
This step may seem silly or obvious, but it is important. As uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge, we only have one life and unfortunately, life is short. Do you really want to spend even a few precious minutes worrying about others and what they think of you? Do you really want to live a life where others tell you what you should do? From my personal and professional experience, I have found that when we can put things in perspective and realize that we only get one life, it makes it easier to stop caring so much about what other people think and be true to ourselves.
Step 5: Practice forgiving yourself
Learning not to give a f@ck about what people think is certainly not something that happens overnight. It takes consistent practice and a great deal of self-forgiveness. In fact, as humans, we are systemed to worry about what other people think of us. Back in the day, in order to survive you needed to belong to a tribe and thus, it makes sense our brains developed this habit of constantly looking to see what others are thinking about us. It is important that as you go through this process, please forgive yourself for being human, learn from your experience, and practice having compassion for yourself.
Sometimes it takes a trained professional to help you or your child work to get to a place where you can let go of what other people think — I did not get here on my own! If you’re looking for help, it can never hurt to reach out
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With much love,