Have you ever walked past a group of teenagers and sort of cringed inside, hoping that they don’t say anything to you or notice you at all? I have. Every time I see teenagers hanging out together I remember my own high school days and how judgmental my peers and I were. So it used to be that every time I saw teenagers hanging out together, I would think to myself,
“What are they going to judge about me? What are they going to laugh at me for?”
Unless I’m having a particularly bad day, I usually don’t think this way anymore, but overcoming these feelings of insecurity was challenging. I spent too much time in my life wondering what complete strangers were thinking about me on the subway, walking to the grocery store, or running through my neighborhood for exercise.
It was exhausting, and it never ever helped me feel good about who I was.
If you have similar struggles, then consider yourself normal. Remember that caring what others think on some level isn’t a bad thing; when kept in proper balance, that concern keeps you from being a jerk to the people you love. But for many of us, particularly in the social media generation in which we’re trained to seek out “likes,” that proper balance is elusive. So here are some tips for overcoming your worries about what others think of you:
- Figure out what’s behind your worry.
Think about situations that cause you the most anxiety over what people will think of you. Is it posting to Instagram? Walking down a crowded street? Trying something you’ve never tried before? Once you’ve narrowed down exactly what it is that triggers your approval anxiety, you can start to think about what might be causing it and will be better equipped to fight it off in the future.
- Try to think about other people’s perception of you more realistically.
Think about the last time you were out somewhere crowded in public. Do you remember particular people that you had a negative opinion of? I don’t. Were there any? I honestly don’t remember – maybe one or two people struck me as rude or inconsiderate, but maybe not; I can’t recall. The fact is that strangers are just not that interested in you. The vast majority of people are just way more interested in what’s going on with themselves – the podcast they’re listening to, their own thoughts running through their heads, planning a mental to-do list for the weekend – that they’re just not noticing you as much as you think they are.
- Play out the worst case scenario for someone thinking negatively about you.
Imagine that you confront a close friend about something that’s been bothering you for a while; play out in your mind the worst case scenario for how this might go. Maybe your friend gets really angry and says that they’re not interested in having any contact with you anymore. Next, imagine that a group of people at a bar see your first ever attempt at playing pool and you do disastrously badly; play out in your mind the worst case scenario for how this might go. You might notice some people laughing at you.
You can use this worst-case scenario trick to create a mental “hierarchy of whose opinions should matter,” in the words of Dr. Fredric Neuman writing for Psychology Today. If the worst case scenario you imagine is quite damaging to your happiness and well-being, then you’re dealing with a person of importance in your life. If it isn’t, then who cares what those people think? This doesn’t mean you should shape all your decisions around not offending the people your people of importance, but it does mean that you’re justified in caring more about what they think than passing acquaintances or strangers.
- Be more interested in others than you are in yourself.
This advice goes waaaaaay back to 1936 when Dale Carnegie made it one of his major points in his famous self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, but it’s as true today as it was then. We all know from experience that everyone loves talking about themselves more than almost anything else. So if you incorporate a genuine interest in others in your everyday interactions, then people will feel flattered and their impression of you will be that you’re kind and caring.
- Find purposeful activities that take your mind off the worry.
Find something you love to do and do it regularly. This sounds so simple, but many people feel drained after the work day and therefore fall into habits of binge-watching Netflix until it’s time for bed. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with loving good TV and movies, but for most people, it’s not necessarily a hobby to feel passionate about that increases self-esteem. Fostering a hobby that you love will help build feelings of confidence and assurance in yourself. Maybe you could even find a local organization with which to volunteer, which would tick off #5 and #4 on this list!
- Focus on changing your thoughts rather than your behavior.
Of course, there are some people who are genuinely not well-behaved and do need to change, but many of us who worry about what people think would benefit more from changing our thoughts about ourselves than our behavior. For instance, if you’re at a party and you tell a story that you think is really funny but that no one else laughs at, you could tell yourself, “Everyone probably thinks I’m an idiot now; why can’t I just keep my mouth shut?” Or you could tell yourself, “Well, I thought that was funnier than everyone else did, but probably no one will even remember it by the time they go home.” The first way to think of what happened will ruin your night, while the second will allow you to keep having fun.
The bottom line is that you’ll never be able to control everyone else’s thoughts about you; you can only change your own. No matter what you do, there will always be many people who love and enjoy you and maybe a few who don’t. The sooner you come to accept that and stop trying to control the uncontrollable, the happier you’ll be.
If pervasive worry about what other people think of you is a big struggle in your life with which you’d like help, you can callus at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult.