We’ve all heard it a gazillion times… “You can’t worry about what other people think”. Yup, we know that, it’s clear to us, got it, and yet… we keep right on trying to manage how other people experience us. Call it people pleasing, call it insecurity, call it whatever you like, and it’s still an attempt to direct what other people think about us.
My theory on this deal is that we just don’t feel all that spectacular about ourselves, so we seek approval, being liked, some sort of evidence that we are okay. Even if you claim to be one of those people who “don’t give a care what anyone thinks of me”… we all know it’s almost impossible to actually live that unless you aren’t really striving to become more in some way in your life. It’s easy to say we don’t care what others think of us – when we stay under the radar and play small.
Not everyone is going to understand you, your motives, and your back-story. And they don’t need to. They are also just as busy as you are, trying to figure out their OWN stuff. It’s much like what you quickly learn in a group exercise class – many first time participants are very self-conscious and worried what others think of them and their abilities. The fact is, everyone else in the class is focused on their OWN experience – not you. They are all way too busy managing their own workout to notice what's going on with yours. It’s the Cat in the Hat quote… “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
I’m a firm believer that if you are coming from a place of love, if love is your intention, then there’s no need to try and explain who you are to others. If we get clear about loving ourselves, trusting ourselves, and giving ourselves compassion – that will ooze out of you and all over those you interact with. You will feel less of an urge to explain yourself because you are okay with who you are and oh by the way! you will automatically love and accept others more readily when you love and accept yourself. Bonus!
Yes, I get it that we have some programming left over from caveman times that says if you displease the tribe you will be shunned, sent out to fend for yourself and you'll starve or be eaten by wolves or something. But in the words of Jen Sincero, there's another version of that story that is equally plausible; get booted from the tribe and start, or find, another tribe that's more your style. You might just end up surrounded by people who love you, want you to be whole and will be supportive of you. How others react to you depends on a ton of things, especially their own growth pattern, their consciousness, their own happiness, their self-esteem, their own demons. All of which you have absolutely no control over.
We tend to get caught up in this self-inflicted trap of not wanting to make other people more uncomfortable than they just made us. We want them to approve of us. What is really going on is we use the excuse of other people to avoid standing up for ourselves. It's about respecting yourself, instead of catering to your insecure need to be liked.
Trying to manage what other people think of us is exhausting because it’s impossible. Ya see there is just no way for you to know the nature of someone else’s thinking. They may not be in a place that they can possibly understand what is up with you. Does that mean you should dim yourself to gain their acceptance? How does that serve the planet? Let me just go ahead and tell you the answer to that - It doesn’t. It actually doesn't serve anyone or anything. Period.
Who you are or what you do just might be what someone else needs to take themselves to a new understanding of themselves. If you dim yourself or try to control their experience of you - that robs them of what they need to possible grow. Let's try an example... my friend wants to see a movie that I know I will not enjoy and wants me to go with them. I don't want her to be mad at me or dislike me or think I'm no fun, so I agree to go to the movie. I'm trying to manage what my friend thinks about me.
But what if the thing my friend most needs to experience in her life, is how to handle rejection or being told "no"? I just robbed her of that opportunity by trying control what she thinks of me and people pleasing. I actually got in the way of the growth of both of us by not loving myself enough to say no!
In the words of Byron Katie…”It’s not your job to like me… that’s mine.” If you focus your energies on THAT job – of liking yourself, loving yourself, being kind and compassionate to yourself, you will find that you are less concerned about controlling how other people experience you because it’s a full time job to manage how you feel about YOURSELF.
Ultimately, there ARE people whose opinion of us DOES count. Those are the people who are in it with you. The people who love you, want the best for you no matter what it may mean for them. As Brene’ Brown (click on her name for an awesome video) states so perfectly in building on the quote from Theodore Roosevelt… she says that if you aren’t in the arena also – along with her, getting your ass kicked from time to time, she’s not interested in your feedback. She won’t try to manage how you experience her if you aren’t also someone who is in the arena, putting yourself out there in growing and owning your story.
If you are going to go into the arena, show up and be seen in your life, you are going to get your ass kicked by critics. It's the only thing that is guaranteed about doing this. Most people won't expend the energy to think, take responsibility for their growth. Instead most of us will judge others, because it's easier than working on ourselves.
Even with the core group of people in your life that you love, ultimately you must trust yourself and love yourself enough to do what’s TRUE for you, no matter what their experience is of that choice.
So what do you do when someone chooses to react to you in a way that is uncomfortable? What if they are angry? Judgmental? Blaming? Grumpy? Manipulative? Needy? Or any reaction that causes you to feel guilt or shame. The best response is to lovingly disengage. Dr. Margret Paul suggests that we walk away saying that we won’t engage with the person until they are open and caring. If saying this further inflames the other person, we need to walk away without saying anything, and perhaps send a prayer that they open to learning.
Believe me, this sounds sooooo easy and it’s a big step if you are used to thinking you are responsible for how other people feel and experience you. Practice-practice-practice and be patient with yourself. When you slip into the old patterns, just OBSERVE what happened without judging yourself, be willing to keep going and loving yourself through changing your habit.
Truly... we can stop trying to figure out what is best for everyone else, because they are just as capable as we are to create their own experience. You can't control it for anyone else - only yourself. Remember that none of us feel 100% sure about ourselves all the time. Reaching for SELF-acceptance is the key to letting go of our attempts to manage what other people think of us. Unconditional love for who we are – knowing that we’re flawed & (still) worthy, let's other people off the hook for our happiness. What a great gift to give yourself and others!
Sandy Edie Hansen
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