We spend so much time and energy worrying about what other people will think. Whether it’s what they think if you stay in your job, leave your job, change your hairstyle, wear different clothes, start a new career, lose weight, gain weight, make tons of money, make little money, we fear the reaction by others. “What will they think of me if I…” It doesn’t really matter what you insert in that sentence, it is usually that you fear what others will think or say or do if you make a change in your life.
We Anticipate Negative Criticism
Mostly the fear is that others will judge you negatively for your actions or your thoughts or your decisions or your circumstances. And the fascinating thing is that no matter whether your situation has positive or negative energy associated with it, you still worry that others will judge you negatively. In other words, whether something good or bad happens, you still anticipate that you will be viewed adversely. And you know what? So many times it turns out that the worry was unwarranted. You worry that someone is going to criticize you about something, but they don’t.
It’s All About Them, Not You
And yes it is the case that in some instances, others do judge you. But that’s their problem. They may have a mixture of positive and negative feelings about changes you are making in your life and they might even say some things that are inappropriate. Difficult as it is, the best thing you can do is ignore their judgment and recognize that it is their view, not yours. Try very hard not to take their judgments on as your own. And love them anyway.
The truth is that often when someone has a strong reaction to something you say or do, it is probably because they are having their own issues and it has nothing to do with you. Although they may not be able to articulate it or even realize it in the moment, their reaction is their own reaction. It’s all about them—not you.
People’s Reactions Reflect Their Own Fears
People typically fear something that is very different from them, or fear that they won’t be able to have what you have or even fear that they will lose you as a friend. The list of possible fears people have when someone in their life makes changes is long: fear of no longer being in the same boat, fear that you are better than they are, fear that they have failed you, fear they are not good enough, or fear of growing apart. It usually boils down to their concern that they will no longer be loved.
We humans are empathetic beings and though very useful in many cases, that trait has a down side. We are so adept at taking on the feelings of others so we often take on the judgment of others as the truth. And we incorporate their reactions into our own self-judgment and self-worth. It is bad enough that we tend to be pretty adept at judging ourselves negatively. We don’t need to take on the additional weight of judgment from others.
Our Dread Of Judgment Keeps Us Stuck
All this anxiety about how others view us—besides being emotionally exhausting—has consequences. It keeps us stuck in the same place. Because you fear what others will think or say, you don’t make changes that could be helpful to your life. You don’t try something that you want to try because it seems different or crazy or silly or unusual and you are concerned that others might criticize you. And what if you should fail? That might be one of the biggest reasons why you don’t attempt something. You reason that if you fail you will be judged critically by others. And this will be on top of any berating you do to yourself. Anticipating the potential reactions from others and yourself is more than enough to keep you from trying something different. So you don’t make changes—you hold yourself back from opportunities and experiences that could be wonderful for you.
So although it is not easy, one of the best things you can do for yourself is practice letting others’ opinions not matter. When you hear judgment from someone else, let is slide off of you. Say to yourself, “It is their opinion, and I know myself better than they do, so I am going to follow my vision.” Or say to yourself, “They must be having a bad day and my action is probably triggering something in their own life.” The point is that people’s opinions really don’t matter like your own opinions do. The more you learn to trust yourself (see also Trust Yourself—You Know Best) the more easily you will make changes in your life that are important to you. Don’t regret not doing things in your life by letting your fear of other people’s reactions hold you back.