How can I stop caring what other people think or might think about me?
July 4, 2008 1:57 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop caring what other people think, or might think, about me?

I'm sick of worrying about what other people (strangers and acquaintances alike) might think about me. It's exhausting.

Invariably, I end up asking myself, "Okay, if you're so sick of it, what don't you just quit doing it?" If only it were that easy.

I'm a good guy, make good decisions, am pretty successful in my chosen field, and I rarely mess up to the point where anyone would have any real reason to think less of me.

How do I start living in such a way that my own self-validation is all I need?

posted by gb77 to Human Relations (32 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Realize that they probably don't care that much!

Do you think about and judge every person you meet?
posted by qvtqht at 2:11 PM on July 4, 2008

Response by poster: Good point, and the answer is no, I don't do it very much to others. Problem is, like me telling myself to "just stop", logical solutions to this don't seem to work for me. Too ingrained, I think.
posted by gb77 at 2:12 PM on July 4, 2008

The best advice for a problem that's too ingrained for you to consciously control and which makes you unhappy: see a therapist.
posted by Ms. Saint at 2:14 PM on July 4, 2008

Or you can try poor man's Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Put a rubber band around your wrist. Whenever you start worrying about it, snap the rubber band.

Basically you are dealing with compulsive thoughts, which suck. You have to retrain your brain. It's not difficult, just time consuming. I guess it took me maybe a year of working on it, both in and out of therapy, but I haven't had to consciously practice for some years now. I hardly ever obsess about stuff any more.
posted by happyturtle at 2:22 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Knowing that other people rarely think of you, or judge you, might help. People are too busy worrying about themselves.

I'm 35 and I just recently started to not care what people think of me. I feel good about who I am. I think age and therapy have helped. I had a habit of putting people up on pedestals. It wasn't until I started to notice that everyone is flawed, that we all are imperfect. I knew this intellectually all along but I still had this belief that I was one of the only people screwing up.

It's hard to be guided internally in our world. There is so much external pressure. We think everybody is looking at us and looking down on us and judging us for the work we do or don't do. They are not. Do you look down on other people? Do you judge them? Do you care what strangers do, wear, drive, or behave? Probably not.

Start working on your self-esteem. Tell yourself you're good enough. Talk to a therapist if you feel like it's affecting your life. Tell yourself that you're great and people love you. Tina Turner is singing Simply the Best to you, baby!
posted by LoriFLA at 2:23 PM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I struggled with this a lot when I was younger. For me the answer was developing a stronger sense of myself. You see, the problem wasn't that I cared what they thought as much as it was WHY I cared -- because had a sneaking suspicion that they might be right to criticize me.

So ask yourself whatever questions you need to ask in order to have more conviction in your own opinions, tastes, and priorities. Once you've thought it through and decided not to care if your shoes don't match your shirt, then their raised eyebrows and loaded glances at your shoes really will just roll off your back.
posted by nadise at 2:23 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you should ask yourself why you feel you need to seek approval from other people so badly. There is nothing essentially wrong with desiring approval from those you care about and respect, but there is a time where you need to be confident enough in your own beliefs and actions to choose a course based on your own line of reasoning. Often times you will find people disapproving of something you have done for no other reason than they feel affected in some way by your choice. Sometimes this will be for good reason and other times it will be for purely selfish reasons. The phrase "we can't be everything to everybody" is very true. There will be times where the decision you need to make will hurt or disappoint someone, that's life.

I'll leave you with a quote by Dr. Seuss (I think): "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 2:28 PM on July 4, 2008 [6 favorites]

A small approach I like, but not necessarily for everyone: every now and then--not necessarily in a professional context, of course--intentionally do something stupid in front of push the wrong button on an elevator and then have to push another one, or get off on the wrong floor and have to get back on...or unzip your fly such that someone has to tell you...or leave your shirt tag sticking out...or act like you recognize someone and call them by the wrong name...or give a cashier your library card instead of your credit card...

The fact that you are doing it intentionally should alleviate embarrassment, and you'll likely find (1) that people don't really dwell on judging you as much as you think, and (2) that you don't really care what they think. It is a tiny-step approach to a larger thing, but it adds up...
posted by troybob at 2:30 PM on July 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

(I'm pretty sure that's an old cognitive-behavioral trick, but I'm not sure its origins.)
posted by troybob at 2:33 PM on July 4, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts. I appreciate your time. Keep the wisdom coming.
posted by gb77 at 2:37 PM on July 4, 2008

I learned to deal with it by cultivating a (perhaps not very healthy?) "Well, screw them, who cares what they think? I'm happy with who I am and they can just deal with it. So there." Sometimes I start to worry about how others view me, and I can usually feel better by getting myself into a slightly righteous me-against-the-world feeling.

But, uh, that could have bad consequences if you use it too often and in something like a debate. I just find it useful when dealing with difficult people who just have problems with me because our personalities clash and whatnot.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:41 PM on July 4, 2008

Forgive others. Forgive self. Basically forgive everyone including you. Be relaxed
and trust your heart/inner-voice/intuition and act. Do not blame self/others.
posted by tom123 at 2:44 PM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Having dealt with this, I thought it also helped to see it such that I was being arrogant for assuming that I--unlike the rest of humanity--should not have faults. Judging yourself this way and not applying that same judgment to others assumes that you are better than they are and thus should be held to a higher standard.

One of my favorite intentional stupidities: when someone asks me if I'm going to watch the superbowl, I always say "No, I don't follow baseball." It's fun, because they either think it's funny...or if they think I'm an idiot, it doesn't matter, because I know differently...
posted by troybob at 2:56 PM on July 4, 2008

Response by poster: FURTHER INFO: Mostly this "crisis" has been sparked my recent events: In my career, after nearly two decades of hard work I landed a huge deal: the chance to work with a GIANT in our field. As I'm part of a community of people in this avocation, the partnership was announced to several hundred people -- and yet I can count on one hand how many of them congratulated me.

For my part, when someone I know gets good news I go out of my way to congratulate them, so right now I'm feeling like "why bother?" and "why care about anyone else" Temporary bitterness, I know, but it still hurts.
posted by gb77 at 3:00 PM on July 4, 2008

...and yet I can count on one hand how many of them congratulated me.

Here I think you're talking about plain jealousy. Some people--as you apparently are--can be gracious and enjoy to see a friend or a colleague succeed. Unfortunately, for a lot of people it reminds them of their own faults or relative lack of accomplishment, and they are resentful. It's very common (even directed toward close friends and family!), and you shouldn't see it as anything you could control by doing something differently (except, perhaps, not succeeding).
posted by troybob at 3:06 PM on July 4, 2008

This is the kind of thing that CBT works perfectly for. I've posted about it before, but essentially if you work through the Mind Over Mood workbook -- preferably with a therapist but give it a try on your own -- you can learn new patterns of thinking. Basically this involves at first thinking back to recent worries and dissecting them in chart form to come up with other ways you could think about them, and then gradually incorporating that self-auditing into real-time situations. It can be done.

I don't think my self-consciousness will necessarily ever go away completely, but when I'm up on my CBT-learned techniques I do really well at processing things healthily. (I say "when I'm up on" them because it's possible to get lazy and out-of-habit or whatever and slide back into negative thinking. I really need to start going through the workbook for a review, so this is a good reminder.)

I really think this work is done best with a pro, because they are there to guide you through the instructions and challenge you -- for me personally I work best when I have a feeling of accountability to the process -- but like I said, going through the work seriously on your own would probably help too.
posted by loiseau at 3:15 PM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm working on this, here a few mental responses I throw to myself.

* How do you know what they're thinking?
* What makes you so important that they're thinking about you?
* They seem nice people - in reality, they're probably just thinking 'nice person, little bit weird', if they're thinking about me at all, which is unlikely.
* Boy, totally being immersed in what people might be thinking about me is a bit narcisstic, time I thought about something else.
* What if they are? What if they really really are thinking that you're a slob and a loser? What's the worse that can happen? Is it likely?
* Try and be realistic. The evidence is that you (I) are/am an intelligent, thoughtful, responsive human being most of the time. That's pretty good. That's good enough.

Now think about something else for a bit, dammit. What's for dinner?
posted by b33j at 4:52 PM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Are you perhaps a people pleaser? What is it you think other people are thinking of you? Do you worry they don't like you, think you're a dork, weird, or foolish? Or, do you think they think you're a great guy, superman, or other hero you can't live up to?

As others have said above, what may surprise you is just how little other people are actually thinking of you. They have too much stuff in their own bucket to worry about you. And you don't need stuff out of their bucket put in yours, because then yours overflows.

Put little reminders around your house. On your bathroom mirror stick a little sign in the corner that says, "You are looking at the problem, and the solution." Put another sign on your fridge that affirms what you are trying to accomplish like, "My needs are just as important as anyone elses." Stand up for yourself. It's great to be kind-hearted, but you don't want to be a doormat. It isn't unkind to take care of yourself.

Remember that like any life change, it takes time. You will occasionally fall back into old behaviors. After all, you've had a lifetime of behaving that way. So don't be discouraged because you don't remember every time not to worry about what others think. Besides, you can't take care of someone else if you aren't taking care of yourself first. Remember the golden rule. Treat people with dignity and respect and it will come back to you.

Almost all negative thoughts we have about ourselves ultimately boil down to fear. Learn to recognize and understand your fears. Are they realistic or truly paralyzing? You may be afraid that no one will like you, or no one will think you're hot, or no one will like your work. If those thoughts are running through your head, you're just putting yourself in your self-created jail. It's unlocked! Walk out and breathe free.

Learn how to say no occasionally. Don't make excuses, explain in a straightforward manner why something is not right for you at this time. Others will respect your reasoning. Also, don't be afraid to ask for what you want sometimes. Take the initiative. Don't be a follower. Most of all, do something for yourself. When you're feeling in a funk, do something funky. Like troybob said above, do something silly, let go, be out of character. You're worth it.
posted by netbros at 5:12 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

And regarding the congratulations, I'm sorry, but when people congratulate me, I feel silly, so as a kindness, I don't do it to anyone else. (This is where the golden rule fails, eh, do unto others what they want you to do, not what you would prefer, but then you get stuck trying to work out what they're thinking.)

With the congratulations, jealousy or not, you can't know unless you poll every one of them. They were probably thinking about who was picking up the kid from daycare, and what's for dinner. And I can't know either. So I suggest you decide to act/feel only on explicit "you know what man, I don't want to congratulate, because you suck" stuff. Explicit, not imagined or inferred.
posted by b33j at 5:16 PM on July 4, 2008

right now I'm feeling like "why bother?" and "why care about anyone else" Temporary bitterness

Can you explain the link? Is it that you're feeling bitter, so now you're worried that they can tell? Or are you worried they think bad things and that's why they're not congratulating you? Could you just imagine they're all intimidated or jealous and try to have compassion for that, and thereby feel more goodwill toward them?

To answer your original problem, I find it helps when I get on a roll of talking back to myself when I think bad things about myself. I use "you're no worse than anyone else, you know!" in a chiding tone as though I'd just been bragging about instead of criticizing myself. For whatever reason, this works for me. But you gotta find one that feels real to you. And you gotta find it: someone kept asking me until I came up with one to use, so maybe you should come up with one right now!
posted by salvia at 5:37 PM on July 4, 2008

Well all I can say is some things my Mom told me years back. It quite literally changed the way I viewed criticism.

"You can never be insulted by someone whose opinion you do not respect."

"Respect is earned."

Think about it.
posted by elendil71 at 7:51 PM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you have a chronic problem and an acute problem. I believe the root of both, as others have mentioned, is self esteem. You need more, because when you have enough, you can be confident in yourself and don't need anyone else's opinion of you. Sounds trite but is true.

Right now you question whether you are good enough, so you look to others for your indicators, and you're very scared that their answer is no. So you spend a lot of time thinking about it and likely trying to make sure you keep from doing anything you imagine would make them dismiss you in their heads as less than good enough.

With more self esteem, your own answer would be that you are good enough, and your opinion would be the one that mattered. If someone else thought you weren't, they'd be wrong, and that would be unfortunate for them. Their opinion, real or imagined, would not be the thing that set your worth in your head. So you wouldn't worry about their opinion. Everybody worries to some degree, even if very small, because that's just a part of getting along with people, but the key is to set your own worth, not let others do that.

Another good CBT book that can give practical help with self esteem is Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. It's intended for depression, but since it focuses on self-esteem, it can help you too. It gives names to the various very common types of irrational thinking, such as fortune telling, mind-reading, all-or-nothing thinking, magnification, etc.

Your issue in general and the specific followup re the congratulations sound IMO most like what the author refers to as mind reading. In general you are assuming that you know what all of these friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and even strangers think of you. But in almost every case, you couldn't and don't. In the specific case of your colleagues, you are making a leap from their (in)actions, as interpreted through how you would behave if you were them, and are assuming that it must mean they don't respect you or value you or like you or whatever it is you're feeling. And so you are scared that that means you're not good enough, because otherwise why would they act this way? The way to break that down is to note that:

-you don't know what they're thinking
-you assume they follow the same rules for congratulations as you, and have the same motivations and intentions surrounding congratulating someone or not. They may or may not.
-you know that what you did was a big deal, you know what it says about you. You're done right there and don't have to go look to your colleagues for verification of that.

Hey, congratulations!
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:51 PM on July 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

I don't know if this is quite the answer you're looking for, but might I suggest trying some psychedelic mushrooms? I took some about a week ago and it made me stop worrying about how people thought of me (among other positive changes). There's also a fairly recent study floating around somewhere reporting that most people feel a general increase in their well being after trying mushrooms.

Just something to think about.
posted by god particle at 9:11 PM on July 4, 2008

I've struggled with this for most of my life. I have found that managing stress is really, really important in controlling the anxiety and obsessing about other people's judgment of me. I use a Stresseraser because it's useful in cutting through my thoughts and letting me relax, but really, stress management can be achieved with deep breathing and a relaxing cd. I recommend the Theta and Gamma relaxation cds by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson. The Delta Sleep System is also wonderful. Managing stress was key in improving my self-esteem, because the calmer I am, the more successful my social interactions are. Also, when I'm calmer, I can talk myself down from caring about what people are thinking.
posted by Issithe at 10:13 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

They are too busy worrying about what you think of them to spend much time thinking about you.

posted by Jacqueline at 12:23 AM on July 5, 2008

I know exectly how you feel. I struggle with the same thing myself, to the point that I have felt crippled with paranoia. Like LoriFLA said, I have found that it gets better for me with age (I'm 33).

You might find this thread to be helpful. I especially like what ewkpates had to say.

Oh, and Jacqueline is exactly right.

Good luck.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:57 AM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I, too, suggest CBT.
posted by Nattie at 3:07 AM on July 5, 2008

I think it's not so much that people aren't thinking about you, as that the people who don't know/care about/interact regularly with you are only thinking about you when you are in front of them. If you care what they think about while they're in front of you, your mother told you this-- sincere smile, eye contact, firm handshake, don't speak unless you have something to say ("something to say" includes inane social formalities). And I think everyone cares what the people they come in contact with think about them; to say you shouldn't care is not realistic.

It is true however, that you cannot control their actual thoughts. You can control your own appearance, and an appearance of confidence (as above) is the best thing to engender positive thoughts in casual encounters.

For the people that you care about and/or come in contact with a lot, well, they *do* think about you. I'd worry more if those people didn't think about you. But here's the good news-- they think about you in a positive way. As for those who didn't congratulate you on your recent success, there's a bunch of types:

--the jealous assholes
--the thoughtless assholes (just didn't occur to them to say congrats, due to ego or bad upbringing)
--thoughtless sweetheart type 1 (shit, I forgot to tell human relations congrats, and it was weeks ago, if I say something now I'll look like an idiot)
--thoughtless sweetheart type 2 (I bet hr is tired of being fawned over, he knows I'm proud of him so I don't need to say anything)
--thoughtless sweetheart type 3 (I just heard nax tell hr congrats, if I congratulate him now, it will look like I forgot to do it on my own and I'll look like a thoughtless idiot)
--thoughtless sweetheart type 4 thru infinity-- many variations on this
--the cheerleaders (they forgot to congratulate you, but they're bragging to all their friends that they know you)
posted by nax at 7:03 AM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't have much advice to offer as, in a weird bit of synchronicity, I was going to post this question myself just yesterday.

I took a listen to Sadhana (librivox, gutenberg, wikipedia) which I do fairly often in times of distress and I felt I didn't need to post so much.

It may not be your thing, and it isn't exactly mine, but I recommend you give it a try.
posted by ifthe21stcentury at 7:26 AM on July 5, 2008

David Foster Wallace, in Infinite Jest: "You'll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do."
posted by vito90 at 1:03 PM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmm. I don't really give a rats ass what most people think about anything, much less what they think about me.

Sounds harsh but when it comes down to it, it's 100% true I'm afraid.

Instead of trying to overcome it, I think you should look at it another way.. try to figure out why it's even a problem in the first place!


If you like something - it's because it's good.
If you don't - it's because it's not.
End of story.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:38 PM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think elendil71 has it right. I used to also think constantly I was BEING JUDGED AND FOUND WANTING. Then I thought about the people doing the judging and realized I seriously did not care what these jackasses thought.

It's really freeing to just put things in perspective.

Also, if the other posters above are correct and it's just jealousy, then clearly you need to protect against the EVIL EYE!
posted by mkim at 3:13 PM on July 5, 2008

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