Caring What Other People Think

flowersHow would your life be different if you didn’t care what other people thought? How might your relationship, your job, and your day-to-day functioning be different if you weren’t weighed down by others’ opinions? How might you peel and crack out of the shells of your insecurity and arrive more closely at the essence of who you are if you weren’t worried about others’ judgement? What would happen if you made decisions based on the inviolable knowledge of your intrinsic worthiness instead of based on the constantly moving target of external approval?

Caring what other people think is a common theme that shows up in my work, and it appears in a variety of ways both for those in a relationship and those who are single. For those in a relationship, especially those suffering from relationship anxiety, it most commonly shows up as caring what other people think of one’s partner. It also shows up in the belief that one’s partner is a reflection of one’s worth, and that if you had the “perfect partner” you would feel better about yourself. This is how it sounds:

My partner is a reflection of my worth. If I have the perfect partner then I’ll be redeemed and people will think well of me. I’ll finally be seen as cool and worthy. If I have the girl or guy that other people think is hot or cool it will heal that insecure part of me that still feels like the goofy, unattractive, unwanted, invisible kid I was in junior high or high school. If I have the perfect partner I’ll have finally made it. 

Let’s break this down.

First off, there’s no such thing as “the perfect partner.” I’ve worked with countless people who thought their partner was close to perfect but as soon as relationship anxiety takes hold they start viewing their partner through the distorted lens of fear. Their formally “hot” girl now looks a bit odd, especially in that dress. The guy who was everything they’ve ever wanted suddenly is incredibly irritating. Once anxiety hits – and it can hit on date one – the nitpicking and microscoping begins.

When the sub-spoke of the relationship anxiety wheel called “caring what other people think” is at the helm, this anxiety is often projected onto how others see your partner. Sometimes this is projected onto an actual other – a mother or friend who questioned your choice of partner – and sometimes it’s projected onto imaginary others that only take place in your mind. “My partner isn’t funny enough” tends to show up most acutely in the presence of others. Similarly, projections like “my partner isn’t social enough or intellectual” enough are highlighted in social gatherings. When I ask clients, “Would this quality bother you as much if you and your lived partner lived in isolation on a desert island?” they sheepishly reply, “No.”

We are wired in this culture to care about what other people think. From the time we’re born, we’re conditioned to externalize our sense of Self and rely on others to tell us what to feel (or not feel), what to think (or not think), when to eat and to sleep, who to play with, and what to wear. We’re conditioned through our eduction system to equate learning with achievement, which means that if we do well in school (get good grades) we feel good about ourselves and if we do poorly we think we’re stupid. So it makes sense that we would extend this conditioned addiction to approval onto others, especially when the stakes are as a high as one’s choice of partner.

The work, as always, is to heal from the inside out. When you attend to the places of wounding and pain and learn what it means to turn inward on a daily basis, you stop hinging your worth on others’ opinions. When you learn to fill your well of Self you naturally stop caring about what other people think, and you know beyond the level of thought that your partner cannot heal you. You could marry a Stepford wife and still the nagging pain of early rejection would gnaw at you until you healed it from the root.

One beautiful aspect of committing to inner work is that life and the passage of time will assist you in healing old wounds. As I get older – and you’ll hear many people say something similar who are on a path of growth and discovery – I naturally care and less and less about what others think. This struck me in a lightbulb moment a couple of weeks ago when I decided spontaneously to attend a Kung Fu class. My son has been studying Kung Fu for a year, and when I first saw him testing last spring I was inspired by the movements and the philosophy and thought I might want to try a class one day. But it wasn’t until a client of mine shared that she took a martial class and that I decided to try one myself.

I felt nervous on the way to the class, as I always am in new situations. Being an intense introvert, I have to push myself out the door to try new things, especially when it involves a group. But whereas in my younger years I might try to talk myself out the anxiety or sweep it under the rug in some way, at this point in my life I’m upfront about it. Earlier in the day I texted my son’s teacher, who I knew would be in the class that evening, and said, “I’m nervous!” She immediately wrote back and said, “I’m SO glad you’re coming! I’m so excited!” If I hadn’t shared my vulnerable feelings I would have never received that dose of encouragement, and it was exactly what I needed to get into the car on a snowy-sleety night and drive to the class.

Once on the mat, I felt nervous again, but almost immediately I felt a huge wave of commonality sweep over me as I looked around me at the motley crew and knew in my bones that every single person in that room had their own insecurities, idiosyncrasies, quarks, and foibles. I knew that most of them were probably too wrapped up in their own heads and anxieties to think about what I might be doing, and that we’re all just bumbling along in our own unique bubbles of brokenness and wholeness.  We’re all so human, I thought. I smiled, said something the woman in front of me, and touched her arm. And from that moment on I just threw myself into the class without another thought about what I looked like, how I might fail or fall over (which I did), or what anyone else was thinking. Walking through our humanity we arrive at our freedom. 

How would you life be different if you didn’t care what other people thought? How might your relationship, your job, and your day-to-day functioning be different if you weren’t weighed down by others’ opinions? How might you peel and crack out of the shells of your insecurity and arrive more closely at the essence of who you are if you weren’t worried about others’ judgement? What would happen if you made decisions based on the inviolable knowledge of your intrinsic worthiness instead of based on the constantly moving target of external approval?

If you would like to find out, please join me for my eleventh round of Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt, which will begin on April 28, 2018. I love leading this program, and I look forward to seeing you there.

16 comments to Caring What Other People Think

  • Darlene Martinez

    Hi Sheryl,

    This was SO needed! I’ve taken your relationship ship anxiety course and your Trust Yourself course and I have improved SO much and am also in therapy as well. But I still find myself back-tracking in my approval from others! When reading your blogs, I feel relief and remember that my healing is constant. Thank you for what you do! It’s true from your previous posts, that your gift and contribution to society is that you have “healing hands.”

  • Gabriella

    I was just crying about this morning! Myself, husband and daughter have recently become vegan and I am struggling with the people around me who silently say “don’t talk about it. I don’t want to know. I don’t care enough about the intense suffering of other sentient beings. Animals taste good and I’m not giving that up.” I feel that I have to cut parts of myself off to be around other family and friends. It hurts so much that as I step into myself more, the more alone I feel. And I feel so sad about it, and all the suffering of the animals I now bear witness to. How do I navigate that?!

    • Carolyn

      You can only do what’s right for you. Not for your husband or daughter, or for fear of what other people’s perception of you might be. I have been on both sides and ultimately you have to choose what feels good for you and now that you are choosing your truth.

  • litchick

    Wow, Sheryl. You’ve just perfectly described one of my major sources of anxiety, both personal and relational, and one of the reasons I broke up with a wonderful man six months ago. Thank you for making me feel seen.

  • anon

    This was so wonderful to read! Definitely put some of my youths at ease and let me relax a little 🙂 whenever I feel like I’m at a low point I always know I’m not alone and have so much support from this website!

  • Custard353

    Hmm this is very much me. My main hook of relationship anxiety is around what others think to my partner’s looks. I was fat at school and very geeky. I longed to be one of the popular girls at school but I never was because I couldn’t do sport and looked awkward and frumpy.
    Fast forward to 18 years of age and i lost weight and became good-looking. How different that felt? then several years of red-flag shallow relationships later, I met my partner who I was drawn to due his essence but who is not what society would deem ‘good-looking’. It never bothered me during the honeymoon stage but since anxiety has been here, I just cannot seem to get past worrying what people think to him. What makes it worse is that people pass comment to me, even though we are getting married. Why do these people think I need to know that they don’t find him attractive and they cannot believe I do?

    I am not sure how to stop caring what people think. I would love to be able to laugh in the faces of the put-downers but I am not at that stage.

    • Ctang

      Wow -people are so thoughtless, when they make comments like that.
      Hope you tell them to mind their own business.

      My new years resolution, was actually to support people in their relationships insted of judging them.

      My struggle with RA has really showed how hard making a relationship Work is, so I try to honor all who is trying.
      Before RA my partner and I had a “Perfect” honeymoonfase for 2 years and I use to judge everybody, who was not feeling like us. I would not say it to their face, but I thought it. Those mean and unthrue thoughts hurt me, when my relationship stopped being the Disney version of perfect.

      One day the people judging you and your partner, will learn more about life and love and regret having hurt you. Or at the very least their hurtfull thoughts will hurt themselves the most in the end.
      Then we can only hope they will find their own way to a better mindset.

      Do not know if this make sense, but your comment just really made me think 😉

      Hav a great day!

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    I can relate to this blog! All my life i always wanted approval for everything, especially the partners i dated. I did care what people thought. But it wasnt so much about people i met or friends i had that gave their opinions. It was more my mums approval that meant the most to me. But when i met my husband i stopped caring what anyone thought, because i didnt let anyone come in between my happiness. It took me a long time to find my soul mate. No way was anyone getting in the way. Even when anxiety hit, that didnt stop me because I found a beautiful man standing in front of me, who showed up everyday to be with me. Nobodys opinions matter to me the slightest, especially if their negative. They need to work on their thoughts and focus on their life not mine. No red flags, so move on is my attitude, i hate when people say, i dont want u to get hurt, thats a big one, my mums line. I remember she would cry because she thought i made a mistake for marrying my husband. I laughed at her. I am a mature and sensible woman to know what im doing. I have no regrets 5 years into my marriage. I can guarantee if i listened to my negative mother, i would definitely be lonely, miserable and single. My mum dosent own me she gave birth to me. I count my lucky stars i am the beautiful and smart me.

  • Ammu

    I think I belong to this a category of people where I often obssess what other think about me, and it got stronger when I first entered my relationship. I was scared how would I perceived when I am no longer single, but committed to my boyfriend. boyfriend.Now, it has changed like why do people don’t like me, do I have any problem, along with thoughts like I don’t love my boyfriend

  • Natz

    Sheryl, I have taken a break from social media over the past week and I already feel more peaceful and contented with my life and so happy with my partner. And then when I log back on, the anxiety and comparison makes me feel like I’m lame, I’m not popular enough, my partner isn’t good enough, our relationship isn’t good enough, etc. I’m beginning to realize it’s a good litmus test if I am feeling mostly content and happy UNTIL I compare or wonder what others think. I love your analogy of being on a desert island. I would quite adore my life, rhythm, and relationships if there was no one around to compare to or worry about their judgements!

  • Emily

    Hi Sheryl,

    This article simply describes the root of my anxiety, and it’s taken me around two years to come to this conclusion. It’s certainly been a long ride (2.5 years) of going through your course, doing the work, and meeting with you via skype. But i have to say to anyone who reads this… it is absolutely and completely worth it to do this work. The hardest work I have ever done? of course. But it has been completely worth every up and down (and believe me, there have been many downs). I wanted to share with everyone that the other side of the anxiety, fear, panic, unknown, sadness, and numbness is an indescribable joy… you will absolutely get there. Does it come with it’s low points? of course! But that is being human. I have just been feeling so grateful for your work, and how far I have come, that I had to post about it. Please have faith everyone. Committing to the work, and committing to your loving partner, is absolutely worth it (even if you feel numb and want to run) keep having faith … I promise you!!!! You will be better for it <3 All my love and hugs!

  • HJ

    I think I really needed to read this. I’ve been struggling with this lately after comments that have been said about my SO from my parents. My mom (who I think is somewhat of a superficial person) is always describing men that are “good looking” in her eyes that is totally opposite from my SO. She talks about what a shame it is for men that bald (My SO is in his mid 20’s and is already to have some hair loss), how attractive men are tall, (my SO is only about 5’8″), etc. She also has actually told me things specific to my SO such as “I just didn’t expect you to end up with someone like him (she was picturing her appearance ideals I guess), and she has actually told me that she feels a little embarrassed when she has to tell people his job (he is a successful custom painter and body guy for cars and bikes who does make decent money). My dad has also made a comment before about my SO’s unusual accent/voice tone, and kind of tried to mock and imitate it. When these things are pointed out, especially by people who mean a lot to me, it REALLY hurts me and makes me want to pick apart everything about my SO. And this honestly deep down devastates me (even when I feel numb to it all). Maybe my SO doesn’t classify in the category of what society generally thinks as good looking, but he treats me so well, loves me, is thoughtful, loyal, etc. I just HATE that I often times now only think of him negatively in the looks department.
    I feel more at ease when it is just him and I together or when it is us with his family, but I honestly get really anxious and worried when he comes around my family because I am afraid of what they think and I am worried that they are judging him because they do not find him to be “physically ideal” for me.
    I think I may bookmark this page so I can remind myself that I need to not worry about what other people think, and learn to be confident and satisfied in MYSELF so that others’ opinions won’t get to me as badly as they do now.
    I have struggled with Relationship Anxiety and OCD actively on and off for many years now. I think right now I am in a lower place than usual and I just want to remain positive and continue thinking about the insight you have shared, Sheryl.