Why do we care what other people think?
We were created for community
We were created for community and with a desire for belonging. It’s natural to want to be liked, accepted, and appreciated. And it’s not wrong or bad to feel this way. But our culture highly values independence so it can be easy to resist this natural desire in us. It doesn’t help that we’ve probably been hurt from time to time from others when we opened up and chose to be vulnerable. Once we accept this human need in us, though, we can look at how well that need is being met and HOW we are meeting it.
We're always receiving and transmitting signals
We all have “antennas” taking in and putting out signals from those around us. They receive the reactions of others, sometimes apparent and other times subtle, put a meaning to them, and adjust our behavior accordingly. Oftentimes, this is happening subconsciously in the background of our awareness. If we’re not paying attention to the meaning that we assign to the reactions of others, we can allow the signals from others to “hijack” our behavior based on if we feel we behaved in a way that was acceptable by others or not. For example, if we’re in a new group setting and we make a joke, but no one laughs or someone responds with a look of disgust or replies with a snarky remark in return, we may make that experience mean that we’re not funny, or we’re not liked or all sorts of thoughts. As a result, we may act differently (adjust our behavior) the next time we are around those people to be liked or fit in. An alternative example, if we behaved in a way that got a positive response from others, that feeling of approval serves as a “reward” for our behavior and we may continue more of that behavior. Either way, our behavior is completely motivated by what OTHER people will think and what types of behavior will get us the rewards of approval, belonging, etc.
Masking and Performing
Before I started becoming aware and noticing this in myself, I would take in certain behaviors from others that I translated as approving, accepting, attention, recognition, belonging, and being liked, and I would continue to repeat those behaviors BASED ON OTHERS. My behaviors had become performances because they weren’t always lined up with who I was or how I felt at my core. The more I allowed my behavior to be dependent on if I was liked, the more my performance was reinforced, and so the cycle continued, hiding my true self layer by layer.
It's subtle and sneaky
This may sound melodramatic like in a teen movie or any given middle schooler’s life. You can probably recognize this and know the “right” answer is to stop worrying about what other people think and be true to yourself. I think most of us know this in theory. As adults, though, I believe we still do this, it’s just on a more subtle level. We may not be breaking the law or being the mean girl like in the movies, but we don’t take the risk because we’re afraid of coming across...xyz. We keep saying yes when we really mean no because others will think we are….xyz. We “mindread” others and have imaginary conversations in our head about events that haven’t even happened yet because we think we know what someone else is thinking and why.
The issue is not caring what other people think. Again, that’s part of human nature. The more we can stop resisting this truth and come to terms with it-simply notice when we’re doing it, the sooner we can move past it, and stop letting it affect our choices and behavior. The issue is when these thoughts and feelings are “hijacking” or motivating our behavior. If you do something that is based on the motivation of someone else instead of your own choice, that’s the issue to look at because at that point, you are giving your choice and power to the other person.
Remember, It's not about you
While we are on this topic, I feel like I should warn you, you are going to find people that don’t like you, and you are going to find people that you don’t like. This is ok and natural too. Remember, the reactions and opinions of others have very little or NOTHING to do with you and much more about them and their past experiences. (The same is true for your reactions and opinions of others-very little to do with them and more about you and your past experiences).
Do You, Boo!
On the flip side, though, you can have both-be true to yourself AND have others accept you as you are! “Your people” are out there. It’s freeing when you can be you, the real you, and those around you LOVE that person, but, as mentioned in the last blog post, it has to start with YOU knowing and loving that person-strengths and flaws alike.
Ways to Move Forward:
-Become aware and notice: Awareness is the first step so simply start paying attention and noticing. Here are a few questions that may help get you started:
What is motivating my behavior? When am I being motivated or influenced to act in a way to be liked and accepted by others?
Does this behavior line up with MY core, MY desires, and MY beliefs about myself? Or am I “performing” and creating another version of myself that is “acceptable” by others?
What meaning are you putting to others’ reactions of you? In other words, what are you internalizing and believing about yourself based on other people’s interactions with you? Remember, others’ reactions are usually about them, not you!
-Take a step in vulnerability and authenticity: Are you even giving other people the opportunity to see the real you. What if you did and they actually liked you, accepted you, and wanted to stay in community with you?!
-Be what you want: You are the solution. If you want to be accepted, it starts with you accepting others as they are. Are you truly BEING accepting and appreciating those around you AS THEY ARE? The more you do this, the more you will attract it.