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Sometimes all it takes is one stupid comment from someone to turn your entire mood around. Whether it’s your family member, your colleague or your partner, it is human nature to be affected by what other people say. And also quite difficult and almost impossible not to care.

We reached out to Clinical Psychology and Assistant Professor of Developmental Psychology, Dr. Monica Mendes from Valiant clinic, to get some answers about how to stop caring about what other people think of you.

Here is what we learned:

Almost everyone cares about what others think of them: One of the things that Dr. Monica has come to realise during the last 14 years of clinical experience in psychotherapy is that one of the reasons that is holding people back from living a fulfilling life is the fact that they are worrying excessively about “What will other people think of me”?

We start to care about others opinions really early in life: The way people feel about themselves is formed during the time of growing up by the way their parents — or other close family members — felt about them and treated them during that time. Those who grow up with low self-esteem because they were belittled in childhood continue to hold that opinion even in the face, sometimes, of exceptional success. What we learn during these formative years has an outsized effect on the rest of life. Ideally, those who grow up thinking well of themselves — because that is what their parents thought — will become resistant to the bad opinion of others. That is the ideal state. Someone who is supremely self-confident can shrug off unreasonable criticism. They can even tolerate being ostracised. But, of course, that is an idealised state. No one is that sure of himself or herself

If you don’t care then you have psychopathic tendencies: Not caring about people or other people’s opinions in the extreme can, actually, be a signal of psychopathology. One of the main symptoms in very severe mental disorders like psychosis, autism or psychopathic personality is, in fact, the total lack of care about others and other’s state of mind or feelings. Caring about other’s opinion in a balanced way (not annulling the self) is a signal of good mental health.

The probability of getting anxious, depressed or emotionally disturbed or unstable is much lower in people who are not dependent on other people’s opinions or don’t give them higher importance or energy than they actually deserve (an opinion is not a person! When we disagree with someone’s opinion it doesn’t mean we don’t care about that person. Rejecting an opinion is not rejecting the person who gives it!). When we are not dependent or totally focused on other’s opinion we have time to give to ourselves and reflect on our own opinions. For example: Am I happy? Are the decisions I am making for my highest good and for the people around me?

It’s not just here in the Middle East and South Asia where people worry about “What others would say!” : It’s a human thing! It’s in our DNA. To feel accepted is a nearly universal human desire. After all, we evolved to survive better in groups, where fitting in and having the trust and respect of our peers are somehow the measures of success. The need to belong is in our DNA and what differs from culture to culture is the relative importance of some values. Culture is, basically, a set of shared values that a group of people holds. And such values affect how you think and act and, more importantly, the kind of criteria by which you judge others. Cultural meanings render some behaviours as normal and right and others strange or wrong.

Here is the best thing to say to an auntie who says: “What would others say!” : I would suggest to say something like: “I respect your concern but what other people think of me is none of my business.”

There are small changes you implement into your life, to feel less concerned about what others think.

Most importantly, you should not measure yourself by the standards of other people. You need to get to know yourself, question your thinking and let go of perfection! If you fall apart for fear of what others will think of you, then your sense of self-worth is contingent on the opinions of others. While the truth may not be the popular route, to abandon yourself is the worst possible response you could have.

No matter what anyone else thinks of you, no one’s opinion of you has more power than your own. If you abandon your own ship at the least suggestion of a negative response from others, you need to be doing some deep inner work to identify your point of vulnerability so you can heal your relationship with yourself. Your attitude towards yourself has the power to define the quality of your inner and outer experiences. So if you are not thinking highly of yourself, get to work on that. In fact, the opinion of strangers should not matter very much.What follows is a hierarchy of whose opinions should matter:

Here’s what matters and what doesn’t matter :

  1. What matters most is the opinion of immediate family: a spouse, children, and parents, probably in that order.
  2. The opinion of a boss and of close friends should matter a lot, although not as much as family.
  3. The opinion of colleagues and of neighbours should matter somewhat less.
  4. The opinion of acquaintances should not matter very much.
  5. The opinion of people you encounter in the street or casually at a party should not matter at all.

In general, you should be able to say what you think without worrying about the impression you are making. You should not have to stay indoors just because there is a stain on your shirt! And yet there are some people who wish to present themselves to the world as being without flaw — even without anything that anyone could construe as a flaw, or a failing, or a weakness. They wish to be impervious to criticism. They put in considerable effort into this pointless endeavour.

No matter who you are, some people will disapprove. They are in the business of looking down on everyone. They judge everybody unfavourably because of their own emotional needs. They will consider some people not well-enough educated, or from the wrong background, or too something or other. They are not worth paying attention to. Such a person, even if they are a family member, is not worth paying attention to.