I’m Trying to Care Less About What Other People Think. It’s Not Easy.
I’m a people pleaser. Over the past year, I’ve gradually become aware of how much I care about what other people think of me, and how much time and energy it costs me.
My friend and I arrived at the ’10 items or less’ queue at the supermarket a second after the teller, with no one in line at that moment, had beckoned over another pair from the main queue.
We reached the teller before them. So they had to wait for another teller to finish up.
The couple looked rather unimpressed, so I apologised for unknowingly beating them to the post, and requested that they go before us. They refused and continued to wait for their teller to be free, so we paid up and left.
“I feel so bad, they think we cut in front of them,” I said quietly to my friend.
“Who cares?” he replied. “They weren’t in this queue, to begin with.”
“But… they seemed annoyed.”
It didn’t feel that simple to me. I’ve never been able to master the art of not giving a f*ck.
While my friend didn’t give that incident another thought, it continued to bother me all the way home.
It’s my default setting. I spend a decidedly large portion of my day worrying about what others think or how they are feeling, or if I’ve impacted their life in a negative way. And I’ll go out of my way to make sure others aren’t slightly inconvenienced.
I worry about the things I say to others. How I’ve unwittingly made them feel.
I wonder how much time it would free up if I just… stopped. Stopped fretting about how others think and feel, because, frankly, it’s not really my problem.
I was explaining to a friend, half in jest, that I simultaneously hate and love a certain celebrity, when he said, “I don’t like it when you talk like that. Don’t say that you hate someone.”
I wanted to defend myself, to say that I was mostly joking and also that a feeling of love-hate is quite a common paradox of human nature. It’s possible to both admire someone and, without malice, envy how well they’ve done while wishing you too could reach such great heights of success. That’s what I tell myself, in any case.
But instead of fumbling to appease him, bringing myself down at the same time, I responded, “You can’t control how other people behave. You might not like what I say, but that’s not my problem.”
The words slipped out, sounding so very unlike me, and I almost applauded myself.
I’d never advocate not caring about others. I identify as a highly sensitive person, and I’m sort of OK with that now. I believe in taking ownership for my actions and words, and I would never want to cause any harm to others.
But I’d love to spend just a little less time worrying about how I am perceived by others. Because after all, isn’t that largely out of my control?
Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, said:
“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.”
If we can’t control what other people think of us, why do we try so hard to do just that?
When it comes to personal relationships, my people pleasing shows itself too. I think a lot of people edit and airbrush aspects of their personality to fit in better with others, and in general this seems to be the oil that keeps the social machine running.
Being able to get a good read on others so that you know what to say and how to behave helps people cope with social situations, and helps us appear to be charismatic and likable.
But what if we are a little bit too malleable? A little bit too compliant, too willing to suppress our values, opinions, and quirks so as not to cause anyone any discomfort?
Always pleasing and placating, never stopping to wonder if someone else is the right fit for us, but instead trying to be the right fit for them because of some deep-rooted fear of rejection?
It’s nice to get along with everyone. But that doesn’t mean we have to change ourselves to please other people.
Aristotle put it perfectly when he said:
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
I’d like to be more myself, whatever that means. Maybe it means taking off the filter every once in a while and saying what I really think. Maybe it means making that irreverent joke or expressing a potentially controversial opinion, even if it causes some raised eyebrows.
Maybe it means standing out a bit more and taking up a bit more space.
But I’m not sure, what do you think?