Recently, I had a friend ask me if I thought he was “righteous.” A colleague had told him this, and it must have made him feel bad. My immediate reaction was this: why did he care what other people thought of him? Why did he need my validation about whether or not it was true? He responded frankly, “Well, I like to be perceived as the individual I see myself as.” In short, he cared about what other people thought of him.
And who doesn’t, right? We all on some level care about what other people think of us. In a world of consumerism and the desire to look good and be liked, it’s no surprise that we’re deeply concerned with how others see us and want how we view ourselves to match up with their opinions. Feeling accepted is a universal human desire. All of us, so deeply wanting to be loved and to love, seek approval (however small) by how we look on the outside and how others perceive us. It’s no wonder so many of us feel a sense of emptiness as a result.
Why You Might Care What Others Think of You
At the end of the day, the need to be validated by others seems like it fills a void within ourselves, but here’s the zinger: the moment we become okay with not being liked is the moment we can become our true selves. Even if all the people in the world thought you were incredible, it doesn’t really matter if at the end of the day you don’t love yourself. If you don’t believe it for yourself. It’s hard to accept love when we don’t believe we deserve it. But you do.
Self-love is the foundation for how we love others – without it, all of our efforts to love someone else fail. That means taking both the good and the bad qualities of ourselves, accepting them, and not letting the opinions of others define who we are. When another person’s judgment affects your self-esteem and doesn’t allow you to spiritually grow, then it means that self-love cannot flourish. “When we can see ourselves as we truly are and accept ourselves, we build the necessary foundation or self-love,” writes Bell hooks in All About Love (a great read if you’re interested).
How to not care what others think.
It’s easier said than done, right? We are not born knowing how to love ourselves fully, but we are born to be able to respond with care. As we grow, we can give and receive attention, joy, and affection. Whether or not we learn to love ourselves in the process depends a great deal on the presence of a loving environment.
And we cannot learn to love ourselves in isolation. It always annoys me when people simply say “Just love yourself” as if it was as easy as a light switch to do that with honesty and completeness. If it was that easy, or if self-esteem was just magically intrinsic, so many us wouldn’t care about seeking validation from others. And it equally annoys me when the focus of self-esteem is on how others might wound feelings of self-worth, rather than how one might inflict these wounds on oneself. We owe it to ourselves to probe deeper than that.
Many find it helpful to critically examine their past, especially their childhood, to understand why outside validation became important to them. Knowing how those thoughts began in your own personal evolution can be just one step of the process towards understanding. It can also be equally important to bypass this step and simply move on to the next stage of life, introducing more life-affirming patterns of behavior.
We can choose to live consciously – asking ourselves basic questions as we move through the world about who, what, when, where, and why. We can choose to become more aware of everything that is in relation to our actions, goals, and values, and to try to live in accordance with that. Through reflection, we can shift the negative opinions of others (or of ourselves) to positive thoughts. When we are positive to ourselves, when we trust our minds and know that it is worthy of happiness, we seek less and less validation from the outside world because we give ourselves the love we want to receive.
So the next time you’re going on a date, just be yourself – don’t worry too much about what she’ll think of you. Or the next time your boss doesn’t like a project proposal you worked tirelessly on, don’t just let his opinion define your work. Take responsibility for your self-esteem – walk through the world with a sense of living consciously.
3 Ways to stop worrying about what others think
So, how can we grow and stop worrying about the judgments of others?
#1: Tolerate happiness without self-sabotage.
This sounds cheesy, but I mean it. Commit yourself to happiness without letting the negative opinions of others (or yourself) cripple you. See if you can, one day at a time, get through today without doing anything to undermine or subvert your own good feelings. If you fail, don’t despair – just recommit yourself to happiness. Perseverance, in the long run, allows you to care less and less about what a colleague or a friend might think about you.
#2: Confront the negative voices.
Instead of trying to ignore the negative judgments of others, how about starring them in the face? Engaging them in an inner dialogue, challenging them to give their reasons, patiently answering and refuting their nonsense? Try to get in touch with your own intuition and values. At the end of the day, it’s your inner voice that you have to live with and you can shape it however you wish.
#3: Know that it’s impossible to please everybody.
There is always going to be someone that has a negative judgment and there will always be somebody that doesn’t like you. You can’t control that. You can’t please everyone. The only person you can fully please is yourself. The next time you find yourself trying to meet someone else’s expectations, take a step back, and ask yourself if those expectations are also your own. If they are, then ask your why. Make the conscious effort to be free to be yourself. Don’t let the weight of other people’s thoughts become a burden.
How to put yourself first. 3 Ways to make yourself a priority
It’s okay to care what other people think when it comes from a place of wanting to change something in yourself that you already may consciously want to change for the better – but that desire should come from you, not from someone else. That stems from having an honest awareness of yourself. The most important thing: care and actively work on how you engage in self-love. Make yourself a priority.
How do you do that? Here are three ways you can put yourself first.
#1: Live consciously.
As I said before, living consciously means asking yourself questions as you move through the world and having the self-awareness to understand the underlying reasons why you may be concerned with the judgments of others. How big is your inner critic? When do you allow the judgments of others to affect you? What do you listen to, who do you surround yourself with? What is self-care to you? How do you quiet your mind? The moment you’re able to live consciously, the more you can notice your emotions and work with any feelings that may be causing you unease. That’s how you develop a healthy mindset.
#2: Develop a self-care routine.
Imagine the love of your life saying all the words you’ve ever wanted them to say. Then say those words to yourself. Have you ever actually done that? Do you actually believe the words? Chances are, it feels weird to do. Most of us don’t dedicate time to actively loving ourselves. A self-care routine can help ensure that you do take the time to love yourself just as much as you take the time to care for others.
Figure out what your individual routine is – what makes you feel calm, balanced, and grounded? For me, daily journaling, mindful meditation, and swimming laps always bring me back to myself. Sometimes I woo myself for an entire day – diffusing lavender, buying myself nice wine, making myself a beautiful dinner. Not documenting it on social media to show anyone, but simply loving myself for myself. What could that be for you?
#3: Take accountability for your desires and your self-esteem.
You may not know your purpose, you may not even know your passion, but you can start to know both when you take accountability for what you want and how you view yourself, and you stop letting other people rule your life based on what they think. This requires discipline and work just like anything else. If you care a lot about what other people think, catch yourself in that moment. Change that moment into something that can empower you. Ask yourself: what is it that I love about myself? You have the power to change your own mindset. Stop seeking validation from outside sources like social media, from women, from who likes you on dates or who doesn’t. All of it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, only the love you have for yourself matters, so develop that to its fullest.
As always, remember that you are loved.