“I don’t care what persons think about me,” this is the declaration of many persons as they seek to exercise their separation and liberty from the opinions, judgment, and validation of persons in their lives. But I often wonder if this declaration is really a truthful representation or is it an attempt to convince, or subdue that inner fear of having their lives wrapped around the expectations of others.
I remember a man apologized to me because he became emotional during one of our counseling sessions. He was grieving the death of his mother and felt embarrassed that I was seeing him tearful even during his time of bereavement. “I asked, why does it matter so much that I do not see your vulnerability?” He responded, “Men are not to cry, it is just not something we do.” How much someone cares about what others think depends — or should depend — on the nature of their relationship.
First of all, let me say explicitly what everyone knows: the way we feel about ourselves is formed during our socialization period, by the way our parents — or other close family members — felt about us and treated us during that time. Those who grow up with low self-esteem because they were belittled in childhood continue to hold that opinion, sadly, even in the face, sometimes, of exceptional success.
What we learn during these formative years has an indelible effect on the rest of our 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 that my patient was referring to, as he tried his best to conceal any ill-conceived form of weakness from me.
Someone who is supremely self-confident can shrug off unreasonable criticism. They can even tolerate being ostracized. Of course, that is an idealized state. But are we genuinely that sure of ourselves?
It is important not to measure yourself by the standards of other people.
When anyone thinks badly of you — even if they are not necessarily people in your immediate circle — it is hard sometimes not to feel sad and broken over it. But, in general, the opinion of strangers should not matter very much. What follows is a hierarchy of whose opinions should matter:
- The opinions of immediate family: a spouse, children, and parents, probably in that order are what should matter to you most. (The very significant persons in your life)
- the opinion of a boss and of close friends should matter a lot, although not as much as family; assuming that your family has a close knitted bond.
- the opinion of colleagues and of neighbours should matter somewhat less.
- the opinion of acquaintances should not matter very much.
- the opinion of people you encounter in the street or casually at a party should not matter at all; as they may have the least knowledge of who you are as an individual.
Now there are going to be the possibly rare occasions when the opinion of a stranger may need to be heeded. It is highly dependent on what that opinion is. For instance, if someone thinks you are a pedophile, or a thief, once their opinion holds weight in terms of the repercussion you may suffer then obviously that cannot be ignored.
But if a stranger thinks your hair is too long, or your laugh is too loud, you should not allow that to bother you really. You should not bother to hide your religious opinion from other persons on the bus, because it does not matter if they approve or not. In general, you should be able to say what you think and own your opinion even if it is not accepted by those around you; remember you can never please everyone.
Some persons will always disapprove of you, the way you look, the way you speak, the way you do your work etc. No matter whom 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 – not ‘stush’ enough for them or too ‘stush’ for them. They are not worth paying attention to. Such a person — even if he/she is a family member – is not worth paying attention to.
It is possible to grow accustomed to this fact: some people will like and approve of you, and some won’t. Some people (family members as well) have a vested interest in thinking you are deficient.
They will think you are in the wrong no matter what you do. But others will take one look at you and approve. They will admire you for things you take for granted. Try to find these people. Cling to those who are positive minded and shy away from all negative persons as much as is possible.