Caring What Other People Think May Be More About What You Think

Recently, a friend and I were discussing the idea of caring what other people think. My friend pointed out that even though many of us say we don’t care, we do. I responded by saying for the most part I don’t care—or at least I care a lot less—what other people think.

I’m not sure my friend believed me, but that’s probably because I may not have meant the same thing she meant by “caring about what people think.” It’s complicated.

She asked for an example, but before I could think of one, she asked me a question. How, she wondered, could she stop caring what other people think about a specific issue in her life.

If I’d had as much time to answer as I took to write this post, I might have come up with something better than the only thing I could think of on the spot: “I don’t know.”

Caring What Other People Think Depends On What You Think

What I meant, though, is I don’t know how another person (in this case my friend) can stop caring what specific other people (in this case, apparently, most of the people she spends time with) think about a certain thing.

I can, though, explain how I stopped caring what certain people think about some things that pertain to me. What’s interesting is I didn’t have a plan to do this. I can only look back and see how it happened over time.

When I say I don’t care as much about what people think as I used to, I mean that in a broad, general sense. I don’t mean I don’t care what people close to me think about significant things.

It’s probably clear that I’m talking about being judged poorly by others, not their specific thoughts about me. For example, someone might think I ask a lot of questions. Whether they see that as a positive or a negative isn’t clear. However, if I see it as a negative, I might assume they’re judging me poorly. 

I began to notice caring less about what other people think over the last decade. It happened gradually in a number of ways.

Maybe some of these apply to you.

Try not to react immediately.

Maybe the person who’s coming across as mean or judgmental is having a bad day. Or maybe I am. So before I react, I ask myself why I care what they appear to think in that moment.

Think About Why You Care

The why is often revealing, because if I sit with it long enough, there’s almost always a reason I didn’t see at first. (I’ll come back to why that matters, even though it doesn’t change what the person in question thinks.)

In other words, have I internalized the same negative belief? If I have, I can explore it a bit and see if I can change it. That takes time. Again, it doesn’t change the judgment coming from another person. But, in my experience at least, it’s the most powerful way to stop caring, or to at least to care less, what other people think.

If there’s a pattern of judgment, I ask myself whether the (presumably negative) thing I believe the person thinks is truly negative.

While doing this, it’s important to recognize that internalized negative beliefs are not a simple matter of you judging yourself. They came from somewhere, often a larger societal perspective that the person who’s allegedly judging you might even deny. If they deny it, be glad. It may mean they’re open to a different perspective. But here’s the thing. You’ll need to change your own internalized belief first. No one will do it for you.

Find people who get it.

Even though no one will change an internalized negative belief for you, you also cannot change those beliefs on your own. This is critical because when we think poorly of ourselves, we tend to hide in the shadows, believing we have a shameful secret we need to hide.

It’s only when we find others who truly understand—which usually means they’ve been in our shoes or are extraordinarily empathetic—that we can begin to change how we see ourselves.

For example, as a woman without children (not by choice), I spent years hiding before I realized I was grieving and living with the belief that my life was less important than the lives of parents. It wasn’t until I connected with a friendship and support group for woman without children that I began to see things differently. The reality is society as a whole has clear negative beliefs about childless people, even if individuals claim to not have those points of view. I know because the first thing I had to do was challenge my ideas about myself.

Reconsidering What Other People Think

If you take the steps above and begin to think differently about yourself or what people (might) think, you’ll be ready to get back among them and see if things change. There are a few ways to do that.

After changing your own beliefs, check again.

See if you still feel like people are judging you about things you no longer buy into. Sometimes—maybe often—they are. But it will probably stop seeming like everyone feels the same way. You’ll begin to find out who your people are. And you’ll have an easier time with almost everyone else as well.

You have choices with judgmental people.

You can explain how their comments make you feel and offer another perspective, or you can distance yourself. If you choose to speak up, be prepared. Many people still won’t understand, and you’ll have to decide how much effort to make before giving up. In some cases you’ll know from the start there’s no point in even trying. Your decision will probably depend on how important the person is to you and whether there are ways you do connect.

You may need to step back from some people.

One of the hardest things about learning to love yourself more is it often means stepping back from people who make that difficult to do. When you begin to understand the importance of having people who “get it” in your life, you may have less room for those who don’t. This will also help you stop caring what other people think.

Keep in mind that self-love is just a stepping stone to being a loving person. So it’s not selfish. It’s imperative.

Sometimes You’ll Still Care

When people close to you—family in particular—don’t get you, decide if you can still have a cordial, more superficial relationship.

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who can completely stop caring what their family thinks. The tricky thing here is our internalized negative beliefs often come from our families in the first place. They are the people we spend the most time with during our formative years. Unless they change damaging beliefs along with you (a possibility), you may have to accept that you’ll always care what they think. You can compensate by sharing less of yourself so you don’t have to find out what they think all the time. You may also need to change some of your beliefs about them.

Don’t blame people who don’t understand.

Often, a person’s perspective is as ingrained in them as it was in you when their comments hurt more. If you’re a perfectionist and believe everyone should see life from your perspective, you’ll create more enemies than friends.

Accept that there’s nothing you can do about some people’s thinking.

Ideally, when you’re better at caring less about what people think, there will be few people left in your life whose thoughts about you matter. At least now you’ll feel better about you and have more good relationships than frustrating ones.

Consider thinking differently.

I mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. To truly connect with people you’re having difficulty with, both parties usually need to take a new approach.

Accept that people aren’t thinking about you.

That may seem like a strange way to end a discussion about caring what other people think. But even those who truly think the worst of you move on to other concerns when you’re not around. A good idea, then, is to stop being around. Focus on the people who matter most and the thoughts and experiences that connect you with others.  

%d bloggers like this: