What Other People Think

How to stop putting yourself at the mercy of others.

Do you feel guilty when you have to say “no” to a request from a family member, friend or co-worker? Does criticism, however carefully worded, crush you? If someone is mad at you for a small infraction or oversight on your part, or perhaps even for reasons you can’t fathom, does it ruin your day?

Most people would answer “yes” to some, if not all, of these questions.

We often fear other people’s opinions of us. Because we all want to be liked, it is part of our nature to seek acceptance and approval. But in trying to please others, we may fall into a pattern of pleasing everyone else, with the result that we have no energy left for ourselves.

Most of us get anxious if someone is mad at us, so we do whatever we can to avoid the disagreements that cause anxiety. We may try to please others and “go along to get along,” even if it means that we sometimes act in ways that are contrary to our own value system. The fear of not being liked may make it difficult for us to assert our true feelings and opinions. Later, we seethe inside, angry with others and ourselves, instead of facing the issue head-on and letting our true feelings be known. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, our need for love and belonging is so fundamental to our existence that we will never be able to completely overcome our fear of other people’s opinions. Yet it is important to realize that your worth as a human being is in no way dependent on the approval of others. Disapproval does not decrease your worth, nor does approval increase it. Granted, you are not perfect, but you are valuable.

Will the majority of people recognize your value? Probably not. They may perceive some value if you are wealthy or hold a position of power, but only as long as you continue to maintain that status. You grow in understanding when you realize that authentic power comes from within. Your worth never changes and is not affected by the opinions of others.

Fortunately, you can learn to grow so that you are not overly sensitive or immobilized by feelings of rejection. In fact, many of our most celebrated leaders who fought against injustice and taught the value of love were hated, rejected and persecuted for their beliefs— Christ, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all experienced rejection even though they were committed to helping others and doing good work. Most of these celebrated leaders could have avoided persecution, but they chose not to. Why? They would not allow their enemies to have power over them. They stayed focused on their beliefs and refused to give in to the disapproval of their enemies.

You can learn to bring that same power and commitment into your own life. The following strategies will help you overcome the fear of other people’s opinions:

Accept that a certain amount of disapproval is inevitable.

Disapproval from others is an unavoidable occurrence in life. As we grow, we will experience less emotional turmoil from disapproval and accept that although it is here to stay, it does not need to unduly influence our thoughts or feelings about our own worth. Once we realize this, criticism will not hurt as much and we will resolve conflicts more quickly. Part of overcoming the fear of other people’s opinions is giving up the fight to prove how special we are. It is freeing when we no longer feel the need to prove we are better than those with whom we share this earth. Always remember that you are special, regardless of how special the world may or may not think you are. By focusing on your own intrinsic worth, you can learn to spend less time defending yourself and feeling hurt, and more time moving beyond the turmoil that disapproval stirs up.

Don’t give another person power over you.

Let go of your sense of personal responsibility for other people’s thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, we know we have little power to change the reactions of others. When conflicts and misunderstandings with others occur, ask what can be learned from the situation, and then put it behind you. When you listen to your inner wisdom instead of human will, you will gain a sense of balance and serenity.

Change your focus.

Moment by moment you are given the opportunity to choose. If a critical boss is causing you grief, redirect your focus toward your inner wisdom and conscience and allow yourself to listen to what you know is right for you. When you change your focus from people to your inner wisdom whenever you are worried about dislike and disapproval from others, you will connect directly to the source of your worth. It will help you find the peace and confidence to grow and gain strength from the one opinion that really matters— your own.

When you follow these strategies, you stop placing yourself at the mercy of other people and instead focus on what is good for you. Your focus changes from the people in the world to listening to your inner wisdom. Then, before you know it, you realize you are not as afraid of the opinions of others.