“I’d like to do that, but what would they think of me?!”
“OMG this is so embarrassing.”
“I know I shouldn’t care about what other people think and I would love to stop but I just can’t.”
Bet you’ve had some of the above thoughts at least once in your life.
The majority of people have the need to fit in and connect to others – it’s one of the basic human needs.
In fact, from the evolutionary perspective, making sure to gain social acceptance was the most important thing for your great great great ancestors to survive. In those times, living alone in the wilderness was equal to, well, being dead very soon. Therefore, social acceptance and being a part of the tribe was everything! However, times have dramatically changed, and, fast forward 10,000 years to today, our survival no longer depends on the judgment of others. Still, we’re left with this pretty annoying habit of worrying about what other people think of us in the world where the concept of social survival doesn’t exist anymore.
So, what do we do with it now?
First of all, being aware of how others perceive us can be useful for us but – and this is the key – in moderation. Being insensitive of other people’s opinions is not helpful – it can get you in trouble and harm your meaningful relationships. If you care about what your boss or your family or close friends think of you, it can help you be a better friend, relative, employee. You’ll be kinder, gentler, and probably happier in general.
Unless you care too much.
Sometimes we can spend a large portion of time and energy worrying about being socially judged, and that’s the point where healthy awareness becomes a source of stress and anxiety. It can hold you back from making changes in life or doing things you love because of the fear of how it will look. In the end, it can prevent you from showing the world the real you. And that’s a pity, because we’re all unique, and the world deserves to see you as you really are. And you deserve it too.
So, if you decided to take control over your fear of being socially judged and over time and energy you invest in it, here are two new ways you can look at it:
Perspective 1: People don’t think about you as much as you think
Studies show that we constantly overestimate how much other people think about us and how harshly they judge us. In reality, although it’s not always visible, the majority of people is far more focused and worried about how they’ll appear to others, including you.
When you have this in mind, it changes your perspective on social situations. If you’re aware that people are often concerned about how they’ll be perceived as much as you are, you can shift your focus from worry to kindness. Instead of being self-conscious all the time, help others feel appreciated and valued and make social situations easier for them. It will make you both feel better.
Perspective 2: Caring what other people think of you should depend on the nature of your relationship
You probably heard before that you shouldn’t care what others think. Well, that’s true… and also not.
How much you care about others’ opinions should depend on the nature of your relationship. As mentioned above, paying attention to the views of close family and friends is good for both sides. It leads to greater satisfaction with the relationship and works toward keeping that relationship in a good place. As long as your decisions are influenced by your own judgment and not by the fear of how your close ones will react, everything is good.
On the other hand, opinions of people you encounter on the street or in the public transport should not matter at all.
That’s right – none.
Worrying about what acquaintances or people who you probably won’t see again think of you is not that useful. It can prevent you from speaking your opinion, looking how you want to look, or doing things you enjoy in public, like singing or reading a book while sitting alone in a café.
The only remedy for this is practice – express yourself in small steps. Do things you’d like to do that don’t harm anyone, but you’re too embarrassed of doing. It’s going to be uncomfortable at first, but step by step, it will become easier. Ultimately, you’ll feel freer and more confident.
Wear that weird hat you love so much. Say your political opinion (politely) even when you know the person who you’re speaking with doesn’t agree. Dance to that amazing song street musician is playing.
It doesn’t matter if they’ll approve or not. What matters is what you’ll slowly find out, and that is that other people’s opinions can’t harm you. Also, it will surprise you how many people will accept you as you are, in spite of all flaws you try to hide so badly.
What’s the smallest step you’re ready to take right now?