So, how much do you worry about other people’s opinions? Do you guage your choices or behaviors on what others 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.