So I guess we should look at the initial stages of development (not in all cases but speaking in general situations here). Let’s get a feel as to when in life you learn to start caring about what people think about you.
Up until age two, the world really does revolve around you. So much so, that your parents set their schedule by your habits and adjusted their lives to meet your needs and match your moods, your health, and your personality.
Around age two, social norms began to influence how your parents reacted to you in many situations. Depending on their parenting style, you likely developed a sense of right and wrong. And this is where you learned what behaviors and actions brought punishment or reward.
At about age five, you began kindergarten and a whole new set of influencers began to shape your behaviors. What the adults didn’t influence, the other kids did. As a result of these dynamics, you began to form ideas of what helped you get along. This is also where you started to really form some of your socialization habits and thoughts.
Along the way, what other people thought of you began to make an impact.
This included what you wore, how you acted and everything in between. Their opinions influenced how you developed. Now granted, your personality and your perspective did help you in forming your responses. But it was definitely a collaborative thing.
Now as an adult, you have years of conditioning to act in certain ways to get the results you want.
These actions included things like:
- Being a helper
- Throwing a fit
- Giving gifts
Other people’s opinions matter to us because they have become a measurement to us of where we stand. Either inside or outside the fray. Most people want desperately to be inside. Even the ones who seem to care the least about being accepted, tend to be hiding behind a massive wall protecting their fears of being rejected. It’s just human nature to want to be included.
There are several reasons why we can be more susceptible to other’s opinions.
Some reasons are:
- We don’t feel confident in who we are
- We have a hard time with having an independent personal identity
- We’ve been humiliated or bullied in the past
- Or even we live within cultural boundaries
It is still important to consider what other people think about our choices because we live in a community and many of our choices have an impact on others. However, after that consideration, our choices shouldn’t be solely based on what others think. What we like, how we express ourselves, and how we show up in the world should be determined on what makes the most sense for us as individuals – not what others might think of us.
There are two main groups that will (and should) have a larger influence on your choices.
Your family has influence.
Speaking in general terms, your immediate family is and should be a strong influence on your decisions. You impact one another so it makes sense that you are living with a synergy that can be disrupted by rogue behavior. That being said, there are plenty of ways to be independent and have autonomy while being part of a family. Working under the assumption that your family dynamic is functional, having family influence is a positive thing.
Your employer has an influence.
Everyone earns money in different ways. Some work for a company or earn their living by being employed one way or another. Some are entrepreneurs who work for their customer or client base. No matter who is supplying the income, they likely have opinions and influence. Accommodating their expectations is considered normal when it comes to work-related issues. Outside of direct service, they should have limited influence on your decisions.
Once you break free from family and career, very few people should register on your radar when it comes to making decisions.
I know this is kind of a tough-love thing to say but: Friends, community members, and social contacts can seem important, but are they really?
If people aren’t directly impacted by your decisions, they simply do not matter in the bigger scope. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take their opinions, advice, and thoughts into consideration but make sure you are being true to yourself first.
It’s important to draw the line to delineate those whose opinions should be considered and those who simply should not. While there are general examples of those who do and those who don’t, ultimately, your situation is unique to you and you’ll have to determine who falls on which side of the line.
Consider these things:
- What you wear
- What foods you like
- Your political opinions
- What your morals and values are (and which ones you endorse)
- How you love and feel about others
- How you treat others
- What your favorite things are
If you find yourself compromising any of these things in order to please other people, you likely care too much about what they think. Anytime you modify your behavior to accommodate the opinions of someone else, you are denying yourself the happiness you deserve and essentially giving someone else more control over your life than they deserve. Weigh the rationale of why you are considering what someone else thinks before you make your choices. Don’t give your power or your preferences to someone who isn’t you!
One of the reasons we look to other people for what they think is we aren’t quite sure what we think. Getting clear on who you are and what you think is key to reducing the need to be liked or accepted. Being clear about what you stand for, what you love, and what you don’t makes it easier to worry less about what other people think because it simply doesn’t matter.
Here are five simple steps for discovering who you are and what you think:
Step 1. Ask Yourself Some Questions: Get alone with a journal and ask yourself who you are. Keep asking until you have exhausted all the answers that come to mind. Try to move out of standard answers to deeper labels that truly encompass who you are – or want to be.
Step 2. Form Your Own Opinions: It might be typical for you to go with the flow or run with the crowd. But you should have some of your own opinions as well. Begin to form and verbalize opinions on everything from what you have for dinner to what movies you want to watch. Embrace having a preference and not caring what others think about it.
Step 3. Encourage Diversity: One of the reasons people modify their preferences is the belief that it’s easier to go with the flow. By being willing to encourage and accommodate reasonable diversity makes it safe and fun to have an opinion that isn’t unanimous. What’s the harm in liking one coffee company over another? What’s wrong with hitting two fast-food drive-thru restaurants? Nothing. Sometimes there is plenty of room for variety and everyone having the things that make them happy.
Step 4. Exercise Confidence: One of the reasons some people have no problem owning who they are and what they believe without input from others is a lack of confidence. Confident people have a sort of invisible barrier between them and the world. Because of this viewed confidence, people won’t try and sway their opinions as often.
Step 5. Explore: If you aren’t sure who you are and what you love, make exploring your main focus. You can’t know if you prefer vanilla or chocolate if you haven’t tried both. And how do you really know your stand on politics or other important issues if you haven’t researched their merits? So do the work and form your own opinions.
If you don’t know who you are and what you think, it is easy for other people to influence you. As a result, this can set precedent for their approval. Get to know who you are and what you think before you engage someone else’s opinion. You deserve to manage your own thoughts and actions.