Article by Dr. Kyler Shumway, President and Chief Clinical Officer
Why Do I Care So Much About What Others Think?
We hear these kinds of questions all the time in therapy:
- Why do I care about what others think of me?
- Why do I worry so much about how I look and act?
- Why am I so “cringe-y” or awkward or weird?
- Why can’t I just be myself and not care?
Let’s talk about the reasons you care about what others think as well as what you can do about it.
Reason #1 – It’s In Your Genes
Humans are relationally oriented creatures, hardwired for connection.
We start off life in relationship – child and caregiver. This is the foundation of our understanding of the world. Our needs are so simple: keep me fed, keep me warm, clean my poop. But we’re not able to meet those needs ourselves. We’re completely dependent on our caregiver, and so we learn from the very beginning that disconnection means suffering and deprivation. We have to stay connected to survive.
We aren’t born with sharp fangs to hunt or own food, or fast limbs to seek shelter. Instead, we’re designed to rely on others. Infants aren’t able to see very well, but one of the first things we begin to recognize is the human face, and babies can detect even the most subtle changes in emotional expression beginning in the first few months of life.
This is partially because babies are tuned into their parents as givers of food and other basic needs, but it’s more than that. Plenty of well-fed babies still cry when ignored by their parents, and children in Romanian orphanages who were fed but never touched actually ended up dying. From infancy, connection is an essential need for us.
Our emotions give us important data about the world – data that has helped our species survive for generations and generations.
Reason #2 – We Learn To Care During Childhood
As we get older, we start to understand that there is more to the world than just me and mommy or daddy. Our connection expands from our parents to a wider tribe. There might be brother or sister, teachers and friends. And we discover that even though we’re no longer dependent on our tribe to care for our physical needs the way our parents did when we were babies, we’re still wired to need connection.
We learn that it feels wonderful to be liked by others and invited to play. We learn that it really hurts when we’re rejected or excluded.
Painful social experiences in childhood and adolescence often teach us to worry about what others think:
- Bullying or mistreatment
- Drama / cliques / being left out
- Parental abuse and neglect
- Narcissistic parents or siblings
- Being judged or humiliated by others
- Other traumatic events
As a result of these experiences, our minds learn and develop strategies for keeping us safe in the future. For example, you might avoid spending time with other people because being social feels risky. You might spend your nights tossing and turning as you think back on all the embarrassing things you’ve done in the past. Or, you might constantly think about what others think about you in order to avoid future pain, mistreatment, and rejection.
Reason #3 – Caring About What Others Think is Adaptive
The mind does everything for a reason – including caring about what others think of you!
In fact, it can be healthy to care about what others think. That is a normal human response. We want closeness with others and we care about them, so of course we care about what they think and we care about our relationship with them. We want to feel like we belong, even with total strangers.
What becomes hurtful is when we make changes to ourselves solely based on what we think others want.
It’s sad if someone rejects that, but we can grieve and then we can go on.
There’s plenty of people who will love our real self and we can find them. It’s healthy to care, but not to change who we are based on that.
Charlotte Howard, psychologist and founder of our practice, talks about why it is healthy to care about what other people think, as long as we have a way to properly grieve any hurt feelings and do not change solely based on external opinions.
How Can I Care Less?
- Choose who to give the power to – do you want to empower those who judge you? Or do you want to empower yourself?
- Don’t let the social anxiety mammoth rule your life – Think about your life and the lives of others in the context of the universe.
- Work with an excellent therapist – therapists are experts at this kind of thing!
Let a Therapist Be Your Second Opinion
Sometimes we need a second opinion and someone that cares about us to look at the things in our life with us–someone who can help us decide whether we need to open, to learn and grow, or if we need to say, “This isn’t healthy.” That’s one of many roles a good therapist will play in your life.
Work with the Best Therapists in Texas
We would love to invite you to make a complimentary call to discuss some of your options and determine whether Deep Eddy Psychotherapy is the right fit for you and your situation. Please contact us using the links below or in the sidebar and share this post or video if you found it to be valuable. Together we can create a world of well-being and joy.