The Oppression of Other’s Opinions

Worry about other's opinions will increase your stress, and limit your life.

So, how much do you worry about other people’s opinions? Do you guage your choices or behaviors on what othersworry would think? Is your life measured by anticipation of their approval or disapproval? Does it limit your joy, your peace, or even your life?

 

It’s a common problem. We all do it sometimes. In fact, a total disregard of other’s opinions may be pathological. It can be one symptom of a sociopathic personality.

 

The habit may even have survival value. In primitive times, your survival depended on the approval of the tribe. If your actions earned their disapproval, you may have been ostracized from the tribe. You wouldn’t survive in the jungle alone.

 

Fear of disapproval may have served our ancestors, so it is a natural tendency. But today, it can do more harm than good. Worries about other’s opinions doesn’t protect us today. In fact, it hurts us because it creates significant stress. Imagining and fearing negative judgment creates the same bodily reactions as a physical attack. Our hearts race and breathing speed up. Our muscles tense, and our bodies release stress chemicals, which damage our organs and speed up the aging process.

 

So, let’s imagine that you have messed up. You made a bad choice or a mistake. You did something embarrassing. You imagine that everyone is judging you or disapproving. Let’s consider some reasons why such thoughts are a waste of time and energy.

 

Most importantly, you need to remind yourself that you are mind reading. You can’t read their minds. You don’t know what they are thinking. You may feel quite sure of your imaginings, but the ultimate truth is you don’t know. You are only imagining. Also, you are more likely to assume disapproval than approval. We tend to assume the negative.

 

Breaking the imaginary “others” into categories can be helpful. The people you’re worrying about can be divided into the following groups.

 

  1. Most others fit into the group of “don’t know or don’t care.” Many people don’t even know what happened. News of your mistake has not spread as much as you imagine. It has not been a focus of everyone’s conversation. Some may have heard about the mistake, but haven’t thought about it since. They are focused on their own life events and haven’t given your mistake much thought.
  2. A second, much smaller, group has heard of your mistake, and are busy judging you. They may take pleasure in gossiping about your mistake. They may feel superior because they haven’t made the same mistake. They may look down on you. But, do these people really count? Most likely, they are simply judgmental people. They like to judge and gossip. If they are judging you, they are giving someone else a rest. It seems to me that Jesus was hardest on the Pharisees, who were the most judgmental people of the day.
  3. The last group consists of those who have heard of your mistake, but view the event with caring and compassion. Their opinion of you hasn’t suffered. They are supportive and understanding. They don’t think less of you.

Try this mental exercise. Think of someone you like and respect. Now put them in your shoes. Imagine that they were in the exact same circumstances, and that they made the exact same mistake. How would you judge them? Would you think less of them? Would you be as harsh in your judgment of them as you are with yourself? I suspect not. The people in group 3 perceive you in the same way, and group 3 is the only one that counts.

Monitor your thoughts for worries about the opinions of others. Treat such thoughts as a bad habit, and remind yourself that such thoughts are destructive. We should always strive to do the right thing in any situation, but we shouldn’t allow our lives to be limited by the opinion of others.

Holding On To Our Hurts

We worsen the pain and long-term damage when we hold on to our hurts.

What do you do when someone hurts you? Notice that the question is when, not if. Everyone gets hurt at times. It’s unavoidable. The important issue is how we respond to those hurts.holding on to our hurts

Some people strike back. Their hurt quickly turns into anger, frustration or irritation. The transition is usually so fast that they don’t even recognize the hurt. They only feel the anger. They may claim that they don’t feel hurt, just angry. I would argue, however, that underneath all anger is a sense of being hurt.

Some people hold their hurt in. They don’t say anything to the offending party. They just get quiet and withdraw. They protect themselves by distancing. It’s harder for them to hurt you if you distance from them. This distancing can be physical where you stay away from them altogether, or it could be emotional distancing where you just build a wall around your heart. Either way, you distance.

In many situations, the most effective response is an assertive one. An assertive response lets the other person know they their words or actions hurt you, but does so without being aggressive. Your tone and words are direct and serious, but not angry or attacking. An assertive response addresses the hurt without damaging the relationship.

But what about your long-term response to being hurt? Are you able to let the event go, or do you hold on to your hurt? Do you replay the event over-and-over in your mind? Do you continuously analyze what they meant, why they did it, or what you wish you had said to them? Do you find yourself thinking about it as you lie awake in bed?

Holding on to our hurts or anger creates several problems. Here are a few:

  1. Sustained anger or irritation creates harmful chemical changes in our bodies. When we experience resentment, irritation or anger, our bodies release cortisol. This chemical helps our bodies prepare to fight or flee when we are faced with physical danger. However, it is intended to be released as brief bursts, where we defend ourselves and then calm down. Holding on to negative emotions keeps the cortisol elevated, which damages the body over time. For example, research shows a clear connection between sustained anger and heart disease.
  2. Continued ruminating about a hurt can increase our general negativity. When we replay negative events in our minds, we are more likely to anticipate future negative events. We expect the worst. We tend to distrust others more. Our negative expectations of others can hurt other relationships.
  3. Repeatedly replaying hurtful events or analyzing them to death takes up valuable mental space. Our negative thoughts can ruin times we could have enjoyed. When we obsess today about a hurtful act that occurred last year, we give that hurtful person our afternoon. We don’t enjoy the afternoon because of our ruminations about the person who hurt us. And, by the way, that person is probably enjoying their afternoon without think about us at all.

So, the best immediate response to a hurtful act is usually an assertive one, but the best long-term response is always to let it go. It isn’t easy to let go of our hurts, but it’s always best for our well-being.

It May Not Be About You

Realizing that we are not the center of the universe can be a big relief.

This article is part of a series on types of negative thinking and their impact on self-esteem and relationships. The types of negative thinking are at the core of Cognitive/Behavioral Psychotherapy, and presented in “The Feeling Good Handbook” by Dr. David Burns.

Like it or not, our tendency is to see ourselves as the center of our universe. We perceive events as good or bad based on how they impact us. We interpret other’s actions as a statement of how they feel about us or what they are thinking about us. We act like it’s all about us. The perception that we are the center of our universe is also called egocentrism.

We tend to be most egocentric as young children. I’ve never seen this, but it’s said that if you catch a toddler at exact the right stage of cognitive development, and ask her why the sun rises, she will say, “So I can see.” Then, if you ask her why the sun sets, she will say, “So I can sleep.

As we grow and mature, the tendency lessons, but doesn’t completely go away. Some adults are more egocentric than others, but everyone has moments where they feel that it’s all about them.

The danger of egocentrism is that it can lead us to false and hurtful assumptions. Because we always believe our own assumptions, our thoughts, feelings, and reactions are based on them. The two most common problems associated with egocentrism are (a) perceiving disapproval, and (b) self-blame.

When we are egocentric, we perceive that others are thinking about us more than they actually are. We believe that others are watching us, and often, that they are disapproving of us. We imagine their thoughts about our appearance or our actions. Many people experience social anxiety because they imagine constant scrutiny from others.

The reality is that other people are too busy thinking about themselves and their lives to be focusing much attention on us. As an illustration, I will sometimes ask a student to tell me what their best friend was wearing that morning at school. Even though they spent much of the day with them, they couldn’t recall. Or I might ask an adult to describe the other people who were in the drug store with them, as they shopped that morning. They can’t recall anyone. I then remind them that others don’t notice them either.

A second problem with egocentrism is that a tendency to blame yourself for any negative life event. You feel like you must have done something to create the negative outcome. Of course, this may be true, but often, it is not. One common example is the tendency for a parent to blame himself for his teenager’s negative choices, without recognizing that there are many factors influencing the child. Another example is when someone treats us badly, and we assume we must have done something to deserve it. We may have done something, and should take responsibility when we have, but we may be innocent. When someone treats you badly, it usually says more about who they are, at least in that moment, than it says about who you are.

In Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy, we call our tendencies to blame ourselves personalization. We all do it at times, but it’s rarely healthy. Watch your thinking. Notice how often you assume others are watching you and judging you, even though you have no real evidence. Also notice how often you blame yourself for a negative situation, even though you can’t identify what you might have done wrong. Remembering that it’s not all about you can be a good thing.

 

Calling Yourself Names

You hurt your self-esteem when you call yourself names in your mind.

This article is part of a series on types of negative thinking and their impact on self-esteem and relationships. The types of negative thinking are at the core of Cognitive/Behavioral Psychotherapy, and presented in “The Feeling Good Handbook” by Dr. David Burns.

How do you react when you hear someone call another person a negative name? Does it bother you if a parent calls a child “stupid?” Would you cringe if you heard someone say that a person at a restaurant was “fat” or “ugly?” What if the person overheard the comment?

Most often, negative names are used behind the other person’s back. The words aren’t meant to wound, but rather a way of “building myself up by putting that person down.” It feels innocent and harmless. At best, it’s a sad way of building up one’s ego. At worst, particularly if overheard, it creates a significant self-esteem wound for the criticized person.

Negative names, like idiot, fat, failure, ugly, loser or stupid, create a significant self-esteem wound because they are all encompassing. Such names are labels. They inaccurately define the person.

For example, I might say that I’m sitting in a chair. I use the word “chair” to label the object. In this case, the label is correct. The object is a chair in every way. The label is entirely accurate. No problem.

But, what if I call you a failure? In that instant, I have used the label to define you. That label suggests that you are, in every way, a failure. It says that you fail in everything you do. It hurts.

Most of us would never think of calling another person such negative names. You wouldn’t even consider calling anyone an idiot or a loser. You wouldn’t ever tell someone that they were fat or ugly. Yet, you may do it every day.

What do you call yourself? In your mind, do you ever call yourself negative names? Do you ever use the label fat, ugly, stupid or failure to define yourself? Do you do it without thinking about the impact?

In cognitive therapy, calling yourself names in your mind is called “labeling.” It wounds the self-esteem and can worsen depression and anxiety. It hurts.

You may intellectually realize that the label isn’t always true (No one is a failure at everything.), but your self-esteem hears it as if it is true. The name creates an overall impression. The damage is done.

Monitor your thinking for name calling, or labeling. Try to replace the damaging name with a more moderate statement. For example, rather than calling yourself a failure, acknowledge that you failed at the one task. Don’t say anything to yourself that you would not say to a friend or loved one.

Are You Doing Emotional Reasoning?

Just because you "feel" like something is true, doesn't mean that it is.

Do you trust your emotions? Have you ever made a decision because you just had a “gut feeling?” Do you tend to see your emotions as an indicator of truth?

Sometimes, we listen to our feelings about a situation, and believe that they will provide an accurate indication of what is really happening. We believe our gut intuition will provide a more accurate perception of events, or tell us what we should do in the situation. We’re often wrong.

Our feelings respond to our assumptions, beliefs and perceptions, and these are created by our prior experiences. For example, as a boy Jeff was criticized harshly throughout childhood. Later, as an adult, he has to give a presentation in his new job, and receives a positive reaction from co-workers. Yet, he leaves work with the feeling that his audience was just being kind to him, and that they really didn’t like his work. He expresses his disappointment to his wife. She points out that the co-workers said it was good, but he argues that he just has a gut impression that they weren’t sincere. He trusts his emotions over the facts. He is making the mistake of “emotional reasoning.”

Emotional reasoning occurs any time we try to use our emotions as a guide for truth, or when we see our emotions as a compass to guide our decision making. When we assume that our emotions reveal truth, our prior beliefs and perceptions are strengthened. Jeff’s belief that others criticize him is strengthened by his emotional reasoning. He is then more prone to perceive criticism in future situations.

While we may have a helpful intuition at times, our emotional reactions more frequently deceive us. Next time you are tempted to listen to your emotions as guide for truth, consider two points. First, is your emotional reaction telling you a message that is consistent with your prior negative beliefs? Are you feeling rejected in a current situation because you experienced rejection as a child? Or are you feeling criticized because you experienced early life criticism? Second, do the facts support your emotional response? Do you have actual facts to indicated that you were rejected or criticized? Could it be that your “gut feelings” are leading you to painful misperception?

Try to be a bit more skeptical of your emotions as a guide for truth. Consider the actual facts. Check out your assumptions if possible.

The Impact of Should Thinking on Self-Esteem

Should statements add an element of self-criticism and guilt to your self-esteem.

This article is part of a series on types of negative thinking and their impact on self-esteem and relationships. The types of negative thinking are at the core of Cognitive/Behavioral Psychotherapy, and presented in “The Feeling Good Handbook” by Dr. David Burns.

Sometimes the difference between healthy and unhealthy thinking is simply a matter of tone. The difference may be subtle. For example, the statement, “I want to lose some weight” expresses a healthy desire, but the statement, “I’m so fat” damages the self-esteem.

You may think the difference between the two statement to be inconsequential, because you know what you mean, but it’s not. The human brain processes self-talk literally. Much like a computer, it processes exactly what you put into it.

Research has clearly demonstrated the importance of the actual words used in our thinking. You may rationally know better when you say, “I can’t do anything right.” You may know that you can do some things right. After all, you got dressed this morning, and you did that right. But your self-esteem hears the actual words, and you feel as if you can’t do anything right. The damage is done.

So now, let’s consider a situation where you want to make some change or take some future action. It could be anything. You want to spend more time with your children or with your aging parents. You want to clean your house, or get more involved in a worthwhile organization. The motivation may be admirable.

You might think, “I want to …” do some action. You’re expressing a healthy desire, and hopefully, you will follow-up with actions to make it happen. It’s all good. Or you might think, “I should …” do the action. In this case, you’re still expressing the desire, but you add a little jab. The “should” statement suggests guilt, shame or inadequacy, and provides a bit of chastisement.

The “I want to…” statement leaves the self-esteem intact. It may even engender a little excitement as you visualize accomplishing the action. The “I should…” statement tends to lower your mood, leaving you feeling inadequate. The damage of each statement may be minor, but the repetition of such statements can be devastating.

“Should” statements remind me of a little known religious group of the 14th century called the Flagellants. They believed they should punish themselves because of their sins, so they marched through the streets whipping themselves on the back with leather whips. Frequently using “should” statements is little like whipping yourself throughout your day. Like the whip, each “should” creates a little more damage.

Pay attention to the words you use in your self-talk. They really are important. Try substituting “I want to…” or “I would like to….” for the more negative, “I should…” See how it works.

Do You Have Selective Attention?

Your focus of attention can have a big impact on your mood, your self-esteem, and your life.

This article is part of a series on types of negative thinking and their impact on self-esteem and relationships. The types of negative thinking are at the core of Cognitive/Behavioral Psychotherapy, and presented in “The Feeling Good Handbook” by Dr. David Burns.

Imagine that you have just received an annual job evaluation. Almost every item or comment was positive, even above average. But, there was one negative statement, with the label, “needs improvement.” You were pleased withselective attention the positives, but where did you focus your attention? Which item lingered in your thoughts?

If you’re like most, you paid most attention to the negative statement, and remembered it the longest. You may have allowed that one criticism to ruin your overall satisfaction with the evaluation.

There is some benefit to doing this. We need to pay enough attention to the negative to address it properly. We need to work on our weaknesses.

We actually seem to be hardwired to pay attention to the negative. Such a tendency would have helped our caveman ancestors survive. While walking through the jungle, he would fare better by noticing the sound of a predator behind him, than by focusing his attention on the pretty flowers by the path.

But, we often take this negative focus of attention too far. We focus attention on our problems, while ignoring our blessings. We ruminate over our failings, and forget about our successes. We worry about our weaknesses, and minimize our strengths. David Burns, MD labeled this tendency “mental filter,” suggesting that we filter the positives out of our awareness, while letting in the negatives.

As a boy, I liked Cracker Jacks. The caramel popcorn always came with a prize. I remember one prize that contained a white card covered with red and blue curved lines. It just looked like a mess. But, it came with a sheet of red cellophane and a sheet of blue cellophane. If you placed the red cellophane on the card, the red lines disappeared and the blue lines stood out, forming a picture. If you put the blue cellophane on the card, the blue lines disappeared and the red lines stood out, forming a different picture.

Imagine the red lines to be the bad things in your life, and the blue lines to be the good things. Everyone’s life contains both bad and good. What you see, what you notice, is determined by the filter you use. If you focus on the negatives in your life, or in yourself, that is what you will see, and everything else will disappear. If you notice on the positives, you will enjoy your blessings, and a more positive self-image. You will be happier.

Try to be more aware of your focus of attention. Notice your filter. If you recognize that you have a negative focus of attention, make a deliberate effort to change. Make it a habit to count your blessings. Remind yourself of your successes, or positive traits. It won’t be easy, because our focus of attention is so automatic. It’s an old habit. So, be persistent in your efforts. I think you’ll find it to be worthwhile.

Overgeneralization

Using words like always and never can hurt our self-esteem and our relationships.

This article is part of a series on types of negative thinking and their impact on self-esteem and relationships. The types of negative thinking are at the core of Cognitive/Behavioral Psychotherapy, and presented in “The Feeling Good Handbook” by Dr. David Burns.

We all experience negative events. Everyone makes mistakes and lives with some negative traits or characteristics.overgeneralization It’s part of the human experience.

We exhibit overgeneralization thinking when we react to a negative experience with thoughts such as, “This always happens to me” or “I can’t do anything right.” We perceive a singular negative experience as if it is the rule.

Overgeneralization can be applied to ourselves, as in “I always mess up” or to our circumstances, as in “Things never work out for me” or to others, as in “They’re all lazy.” Regardless of the application, such thinking is inaccurate and destructive.

When pressed, we usually acknowledge that overgeneralization isn’t entirely accurate. We don’t always mess up. We can do some things right. Sometimes, things actually do work out for us. Just not as often as we would like. And, no group of people are universally lazy.

We may intellectually know the truth, but overgeneralization still hurts. When we make such statements in our thinking, we feel as if they are true. We feel the same frustration, self-criticism or anger that we would feel if they were true.

The brain is a bit like a computer; garbage in – garbage out. True or false, accurate or inaccurate, our brains react to our thoughts, as they are stated. Thus, having the thought “I can’t do anything right” creates the same feelings as if we actually couldn’t do anything right. We feel beaten down.

Overgeneralization also has a major impact on our relationships. Thinking of your spouse in terms like “He never does anything for me” or “She always puts me down” can set a tone for the relationship that is difficult to overcome. Again, you may intellectually know that the statement is not entirely accurate, but the damage is done. And when the statements are spoken out loud, we respond, usually appropriately, with defensiveness.

Be careful about any statement that includes the terms “never” or “always.” They’re usually inaccurate, and can do significant damage to our self-esteem, our views on life, and our relationships.

All-Or-Nothing Thinking

Expectations of perfection can damage our self-esteem or our relationships.

Today, I’m starting a series of articles about various forms of negative thinking, and the ways each impacts our lives and our self-esteem. These negative thinking patterns have been a core component of Cognitive/Behavioralperfectionism Psychotherapy for many years. Dr. David Burns did a nice job of defining them in his book, “The Feeling Good Handbook.” I would recommend Dr. Burns book to anyone who wants to understand more about Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy in general or the negative thinking patterns in particular. It can be found on Amazon and in most book stores.

In this article, we’ll look at All-Or-Nothing Thinking, which can also be called perfectionism. All-Or-Nothing thinking occurs when we believe that something must be exactly the way we want or expect it to be, and that nothing less is acceptable. This thinking pattern can be applied to ourselves, to our life situations or to our judgment of someone else. I also call this thinking pattern, light switch thinking, because the light is either on or off. There is no in between.

When applied to ourselves, all-or-nothing thinking reflects perfectionism. We feel that our performance must meet our standards exactly, or it is totally unacceptable. Anything less than an A grade is awful. The paper must not have any mistakes or corrections. We can’t make any errors, or we are terrible. We beat ourselves up whenever we mess up, even in a minor way. We expect performance from ourselves, that we would never expect from anyone else.

The problem with this is that it is an impossible expectation. As humans, we are imperfect. We mess up. We make mistakes. Holding ourselves to an impossible standard only results in our feeling inadequate. As a result, we feel pain, pressure and stress.

When we apply all-or-nothing thinking to our life situations, we get upset whenever circumstances fail to live up to our expectations. We imagine an outcome or an experience, then get angry or depressed when it doesn’t occur the way we planned.

Again, such expectations are doomed to fail, since each life is filled with some disappointment. Life just doesn’t happen as we would like. The dream must be adjusted to fit the reality. To be happy or content, we have to learn to accept our life, even if it doesn’t conform to our dream.

When we apply all-or-nothing thinking to other people, we tend to become an unrealistic taskmaster. We become upset with others, because they fall short of our expectations. We maintain that they “should” have done better. They should have done it our way. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found this kind of thinking to work very well.

Now, there is nothing wrong with striving for self-improvement, setting goals for our life, or expecting others to treat us well. We just run into problems whenever we are perfectionistic about it.  If you find yourself having all-or-nothing thinking, try to ease up a bit. Consider the option of “good enough,” rather than perfect. See if it doesn’t make life a bit easier.

The Dangers of Self-Pity and Benefits of Self-Compassion

While self-pity can ruin your day or your life, you can benefit greatly by learning self-compassion.

“There’s something about self-pity; it’s just so satisfying.”

                                                                   Unknown

 

It’s a strange thing. It is true that feeling sorry for ourselves can be oddly satisfying. We can easily drop into a state ofself-pity can ruin your life self-pity and then wallow in it. It can seem to provide a momentary comfort from the pains of life. When we’re in it, we just want to sit, and do nothing. For some reason, we humans can be drawn to it.

But self-pity is a bit of a trap. The mindset that feels comforting in the beginning soon turns into a crippling condition. It never serves to improve our circumstances, but rather, worsens them. We lose the motivation to take action. We wallow.

There’s little to recommend self-pity. But we all do encounter painful life events, and have to endure difficult circumstances. When life is particularly painful, how can we react? What mindset should we choose when life becomes especially difficult?

We know that self-pity isn’t helpful, so we often hear people admonishing themselves, or others, to avoid having a pity party. Such critiques are not helpful. They only add to the pain of the situation. They certainly offer no kindness or compassion.

A better alternative to self-pity is self-compassion. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. defines self-compassion as extending compassion to one’s self in situations of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering. To be self-compassionate, we must be open and aware of our hurt feelings, be kind to ourselves, and recognize that we are only human. Basically, we try to show ourselves the same compassion we would extend to a loved one who was experiencing the same painful circumstance.

When we are self-compassionate, we are more likely to take steps to recharge or heal. We may allow ourselves a day of rest, seek out the support of a friend, or do something nice or ourselves. We try to think kind thoughts about self. We avoid the harsh self-criticism that so easily floods the mind.

With self-compassion, we don’t wallow. After a brief moment of self-kindness, we take action to improve the negative situation, when possible. If we have hurt someone else, we apologize or try to make amends. When possible, we try to fix, or improve, the problem. We take steps to prevent the difficulty in the future.

With self-compassion, we recognize that we make mistakes, that we have weaknesses, and that sometimes life is painful. We recognize the truth, treat ourselves with kindness, and then move on to improve our lot. Seems pretty healthy to me.