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Do you care too much what others are thinking about you?

Updated: Apr 9

Pretty brunette caucasian woman touching her face in the mirror.
It's natural to care what others think, but not as healthy to obsess about it.

Recently I got reinjured after having walked for a few months and I noticed the stares and puzzled looks on people’s faces. It took me back to times when I was more impaired, in an electric wheelchair and traveling by public transit in the San Francisco Bay Area. There people would approach me much more than they would an able-bodied person (I believe) and seemed to ask very personal questions of me, as well as give me unsolicited (and sometimes frankly strange-sounding) medical advice.

I was often asked, “What’s wrong with you?” in some form or another and the question really irked me. I’m not a fan of it now but I realized that my reaction to it influenced the amount of distress it gave me, more than their actions. It's somewhat natural to care what others think of us, but not as healthy to let it dominate self-esteem or arouse such ire. It creates a situation where wondering about what others think creates stress and worry/

How much should you care what others think of you?

My husband once said, “Why are you letting it get to you so much?” He empathized with me too because people stared at him at times for similar reasons, but after hearing an endless stream of complaints, I’m sure he was tired of hearing it. It was time for me to face the fact that, while some of those people were indeed rude, it was up to me to cope with it.

While many people are able-bodied and don’t have anything wrong with them physically, many people still walk around preoccupied with what others think of them. It seems to cause a fair amount of stress and anxiety, especially among adolescents and young adults. However, older adults can also be preoccupied with what others think of them.

Teens are developmentally primed to care what others think about them, but worries about others’ perceptions seem to persist from childhood onward, to a greater or lesser degree. Add to that the stigma we attach to anyone who does not fit the narrowly defined standards of the norm in our society, and we have many opportunities for worrying about this question – what do others think of us?

How much to care what others think of you

You may have “invisible illnesses” like depression, anxiety, Fibromyalgia, High Functioning Autism, etc. You might belong to a sexual or gender minority. Others might think less of you for being too fat, too thin, the wrong-colored skin, hair or eyes… the list is endless! The current climate for some people is very negative and critical. Racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, classism, or any other form of cruelty, hurts everyone very much.

Yet you need to persist in living your life the best you can, despite the fact that these problems exist. You can speak out against them and not let the forces of oppression make you invisible, but in between then you must find a way to live in relative peace with yourself and the world around you.

After having people look at me strangely, I became somewhat hypersensitive to what others thought of me. It became a hot button or trigger for me. I started to imagine that others were thinking about me more than they probably did. I allowed it to crowd out more interesting and healthy things in my mind. I wouldn’t say I became obsessed with it, but I was a tad hypervigilant about it and had all these snarky comebacks that I sometimes let fly when people were rude about asking me about my condition.

Is it worth the stress to care so much?

After a while I softened and realized that some of the people might be concerned; some might be a little scared that something like that might happen to them. Others might just be thinking about something else. I have no control what other people think of me or whether they approve of me or not. Just as I don’t have control over whether I am in a wheelchair (well, I guess I could be a little more careful about how I move in the future).

attractive African American woman touching face appreciatively
What will it take for you to love yourself unconditionally? How will that free you from needless worry?

EMDR therapy and Ericksonian hypnosis can help with self-esteem

EMDR therapy can help you remove the negative experiences from the past that make you more vulnerable to caring what others think of you. Sometimes, if your caregivers shamed you or abused you, you might think you deserve to be treated badly. Or you might think that what others think of you is more important than your own opinion. You can clear out these traumatic memories that got stuck in your mind, and come to a better perspective on your value.

Ericksonian hypnosis can also be very helpful for improving your self-esteem and self-compassion. You can bypass the critical voice inside your head that tells you that your opinion of yourself doesn't matter, and you can soften your approach to your more vulnerable side. Hypnosis can also shift your attitude towards yourself without your realizing that it's happening, consciously. When you tap into the unconscious feeling states that hold these limiting beliefs, you care less about what others think and develop the capacity to critically evaluate whose opinion of you matters.

Self-compassion helps you care less about what others think of you.

I have a little more compassion for others and have started to realize that we’re all just doing the best we can. I didn’t have to have an answer for them. As I develop my capacity to have compassion and care for myself, I don't have to rely on others to be kind to me. Self-compassion increases my understanding and compassion for others. If I don't care as much what others think of me, they are less threatening. I can take a step back and consider where they are coming from, and what might motivate their unkind behavior.

It's empowering to care less about what strangers think of me, and realize that I do not have to explain myself to them. Likewise, they don't have to explain themselves to me. I can just smile and wave. If they look I can go on with my busy day. The power to make me feel inferior was within me, not them. It was truly a (slowly emerging) epiphany. 

No one has asked me recently what’s wrong with me, but if they did I wouldn’t need to be defensive and snarky. I could just say, “I’d rather tell you what’s right with me.”

If you're struggling with not letting what others think bother you, please call 661-233-6771.


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