Why Do I Care What Others Think of Me so Much?
Do You Easily Feel Embarrassed?
For some people, embarrassment is an almost constant companion in their lives—the feeling of being embarrassed about all kinds of things in so many different situations. For example, regretting that they have said something, or done something, because it's so embarrassing.
Does this happen to you sometimes? Have you noticed what happens? The mind plays the scene over and over thinking of different things to say and ways to act. And imagining how the others would react "if only I had said it differently." As a schoolboy, I used to play scenes from school over and over in my mind for what seemed like hours as I was trying to fall asleep.
And then you start looking for the cause of it. Is there something wrong with me? Is low self-esteem the cause? Why do I care what others think of me so much?
The Problem with these Questions
The problem with questions like "Why do I care what others think about me so much?" is that they send the mind off on a hopeless chase for answers. They assume that if only I could find the cause of why I do this, then I could stop it.
But when it comes to the world of stressful thinking, the question "Why?" only leads me more deeply into my story. As I attempt to answer this question, I find more and more reasons why I should have this problem, which only cements my thinking that I have a problem.
Why do I care what others think about me so much?
Because I have low self-esteem. Great! It looks like I have an "answer," but is it really an answer? Actually, it's not. It's just another reason to feel sorry for myself. I now have two reasons instead of one.
Because I'm afraid of losing people's approval. Another "answer" that doesn't really help me. I have more understanding of the problem, but I am no closer to finding a solution.
Because I grew up in a codependent home. Now I even have a diagnosis. But a diagnosis is just another description of the problem, reinforcing it further. It does not show me what to do to find my freedom.
To Find Freedom, Asking Why I Have a Problem Is Not Helpful
What is helpful is asking if I have problem.
Instead of asking, "Why do I care what others think about me so much?" I can ask, "I care what others think about me, is it true?" This becomes especially relevant in a specific situation. For example, I recently made a faux-pas in offering something and then changing my mind and taking back my offer.
This is a perfect example of a situation that can make me feel ashamed or embarrassed, especially since the people I offered it to did not approve. If I ask, "Why do I care what others think about me so much?" I can use that question to beat myself up. It's another way of saying, "There's something wrong with me." And I start seeing all of my weaknesses that contribute to this tendency. It leaves me feeling hopeless.
But, if instead, I ask, "I care what others think about me, is it true?" it points me in a new direction. Instead of reinforcing my assumptions, I'm starting to question my assumptions. Maybe I don't really care what others think about me as much as I believed. Maybe I've been caring too much about what others think about me.
When I only do what others want me to do, I feel cowardly inside, like a doormat. I don't like that feeling, even if others do approve of me. So I should care as much about what I think about myself as what I think about others. This feels more like balance.
This Kind of Inquiry Is Freeing
Instead of analyzing my problem and finding more and more reasons why I should have the problem, I'm looking at it again and asking myself, "Is it really a problem?"
Instead of getting lost in an endless loop of "Why do I care what others think about me so much?" I find myself seeing the issue completely differently. By asking "Is it true? I start to see that it could be a very healthy thing for me to stand up for myself even if it means that others will disapprove.
This takes the stress away. It reframes the whole situation. Now, instead of feeling embarrassed about it, I feel good about the same situation.
It Helps to Do this Inquiry in a Formal Way
I first discovered this way of questioning my thinking by reading Byron Katie's book, Loving What Is. I highly recommend it. In this book, Byron Katie describes exactly how to do it. She has four questions to ask yourself, and turnarounds—ways to consider the very opposite of what you're thinking. She calls it The Work of Byron Katie, or The Work for short.
When you go through this simple process by writing down your stressful thought, questioning it, and turning it around, it's amazing how quickly the thinking can shift. I've been practicing it almost daily since 2007 and it still surprises me how quickly stress melts away when I ask the right questions.
The question is not "Why do I care what others think about me so much?" but rather, "I care what others think about me, is it true?" You have to find your own answers. For me, it continues to be a powerful way to step out of suffering. I literally can bring any stressful situation to the table, identify my stressful thoughts, and question them, and start to see things differently.
I Invite You to Do the Same
Instead of looking at why you feel stressed (which only reinforces feeling stressed), try questioning what you're actually believing when you're stressed. It can help to watch others do this process. There are lots of videos on YouTube, and every week I offer a free Open Session for 30 minutes where I will facilitate anyone who shows up.
If you want to go deeply into how to do The Work, I encourage you to take my online course, The Work 101. The next one starts April 7.
Have a great week,
“Q: Does freedom always come right after you do The Work?
"A: It does in its own way, but you may not recognize it. And you may not necessarily notice a change on the particular issue you’ve written about. For example, you may have written out a Worksheet on your mother, and the next day you find that your obnoxious neighbor—the one who’s been driving you crazy for years—no longer annoys you, that your irritation with her has completely disappeared. Or a week later, you notice that for the first time in your life, you love to cook. It doesn’t always happen in one session. I have a friend who did The Work on being jealous of her husband because their little boy preferred him to her. She felt a small release after doing The Work. But the next morning, while she was in the shower, she felt everything give way and began to sob, and afterward all the pain around the situation was gone.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is