Why Do We Care What People Think?

In many of my sessions with clients I see a common theme that disrupts their happiness and sense of self worth. Many people care too much about what other people think and it greatly impacts the choices they make. To start, here are some of the reasons we may care too much about what others think:

  • We don’t want to disappoint someone
  • We want to fit in
  • We were wounded in some way in our early years if being different or being authentic was responded to in a negative way
  • Messages we received from significant people in our lives let us feel that our self-worth was tied to external factors and status
  • We want to be accepted, validated, and loved
  • We didn’t feel accepted, validated or loved unless we conformed to what other people thought was right instead of following our own path

Of course it is normal to care about what other people think of us and everyone does to an extent. However, when we care to the point that our own happiness and well being is suffering, or making choices that are best for us result in extreme guilt, it reaches an unhealthy point. It’s not easy to just decide, “ok, I don’t care what anyone thinks of me anymore.” It’s a long process to stop caring so much about what others are thinking and to start caring more about what personally makes us happy and fulfilled in life. It has always been hard for me to put into words how strongly I feel about people being able to just be themselves without shame, guilt, or judgment. Then, recently I read a brilliant blog in the online magazine, Psychology Tomorrow called “Learning to Think for Ourselves” and it helped me formulate the words for this post. Here are some of my favorite nuggets from the piece that resonated with me. I hope they resonate with you too:

“Therapists and counselors don’t know what’s right for a client, nor can they say with any certainty what’s normal. To start, despite wishful thinking, therapists are not gifted with the supernatural powers that would allow them to understand every human experience or emotional condition, nor do they know the path each individual should choose while at an impasse or where a chosen path might take them. And while there may be the illusion of normal, the truth is that we are all uniquely different, and the process of change is far too unpredictable for any of us to know what’s right about most things.”

“Very little, if anything in life, has an absolute right or wrong. Most of it falls in a big blurry gray area. There are millions of goals to set and just as many ways to get there. And there are gains and consequences for every one of them. If anything can be considered healthy, it’s making a well-considered choice, whatever the price may be, even when the best choice is to change nothing.”

My point is, as far as we know, we only get one shot at this life. As far as I know, happiness comes when we are in a place of being our true authentic selves and making choices that are in line with who we are as an individual. Who we are is completely different from the next person and what is right for one person is definitely not right for another person. There is no ONE path. There is no “normal” and there is no universal advice that will work for all people. There is no one definition of success. The only person who truly knows what’s best for you is YOU. Sometimes that journey is about a lot of information gathering. It’s about knowing all your options, self exploration and self awareness and when that’s in place we are best equipped to make those powerful decisions that dictate the course of our lives. What we do for a living, who we choose as a partner and the type of lifestyle we lead are all extensions of ourselves and who we are as unique individuals. Finding the balance of living for yourself in a way that feels comfortable and right to you is an art form but it is achievable. My hope is that people will be able to give themselves the gift of trusting and honoring their own unique beliefs and talents without letting others dictate choices that may be wrong for them.

Part of the joy I get from being a therapist is that I don’t get to tell people what to do with their lives or what choices to make. I can give them different ways to think about things, let them know different options, and ask them tough questions, but I don’t get to give them advice and tell them what they should do. To be able to empower people to make the choices that are right for them is the best part of my job because that is when I see the most “a-ha” moments in therapy, and ultimately a sense of peace and contentment within.