I have limited emotional energy reserves with a side of three children – I have to be super careful with my worries, fears, etc.
So, a few years ago I made some pretty massive changes to the way I think about the opinions of others. I’ll invite/encourage you to do the same. But a quick disclaimer:
These are simple steps, and I promise that they’ll make perfect sense to you, but they’re not easy. Turns out I had become a bit addicted to the things that kept me chained to my perception of how others thought about me. Little about what follows was a quick, easy, “change of mind” kind of thing.
Insecure About Something That Never Mattered
I’ve been worrying about this for a long time – millions of hours spent sweating over my mistakes and shortcomings – how others might be talking about me, or laughing.
My habit began in middle school. I was a “dork,” surrounded by other kids who loved to poke fun about the way I looked, or something stupid I did. I had no idea how to handle it, so I agreed with them, and accepted their labels.
Like so many in our culture, I entered adulthood believing that I was only good if others thought I was good. If someone hated me, or laughed at me, that meant I was bad, and it hurt. The opinions of other people began to matter way more than they should have.
Having lived like that for most of my life, I can now declare with the utmost confidence that the negative opinions of others don’t matter. Worrying about them doesn’t “work.” It doesn’t do anything but bad things.
There will always be people laughing behind your back, or whispering about something you did wrong, or downgrading you in general, even if you’ve done nothing wrong, especially if you’ve done something right.
I worked as a pastor for a number of years; a public position that involves serving and “leading” people who, for whatever reason, won’t hesitate to trash you when you’re not looking. I don’t pastor anymore, but I still have to sit and listen to people trash leaders in our church.
These days, I’m quick to shut them down, not just because they’re trashing my friends, or that they need to have the balls to speak to these leaders directly, but because they’re engaging in a completely fruitless activity.
The truth about our naysayers is that, 99.99% of the time, they can’t impede our progress, or significantly affect our trajectory, unless they have some kind of power over us, like an employer. Even then, I’ve had plenty of bosses who’ve hated me and things have turned out fine.
Worrying about your detractors’ opinions, real or imagined, won’t do anything but steal good things from you.
When I finally realized that their negative thoughts didn’t matter, I took a huge step in the direction of being freed from them.
Immature People Will Always Judge You
When someone wants to talk to me about someone else’s mess, I’m in. It feels good. When I see someone else’s dirt, it makes me feel like maybe I’m not so bad. But I wouldn’t enjoy these moments so much if I didn’t have an overall negative view of myself.
110% of the time, when we talk about others, we’re doing it make ourselves feel better, because we feel bad about us. Happy, healthy people don’t do this, there’s no need.
That’s why there’s one thing you can count on with people who want to fill you in on so-and-so’s latest escapade: they’re going to talk about you, too.
In my years as a pastor, there were plenty of people who talked about me when I wasn’t around. Although I gave them plenty of material, they tended to be people who’s self loathing was obvious.
One truth you’ll need to get used to is this: people will always think negatively about you. Most of the time they’ll find a willing ear that’s not yours. But their dark thoughts will have little to do with you, and more to do with their crappy view of themselves.
If you want to worry about the opinions of others, worry about the ones that come from people who love you, who know you – the people who have the guts to talk to you face to face about your crap.
The opinions of weak people aren’t worth your trouble.
How To Change
But that means we’re going to have to stop being weak people.
Here’s a simple truth I think no one can argue: the more we take comfort in the faults of others, the more we’ll worry about what people are thinking about our own.
Wanna stop worrying about all this? Stop having negative thoughts about others. Give people the benefit of the doubt, understand the personal hell most people live under that drives them to do stupid things.
And remember – when God gives a final tally of our fuckups, we’re all going to have the same score.
But if you’re someone who doesn’t like yourself, you’re someone who’s been feeding on the fuckups of others for most of your life. Stepping away from this table will be nigh unto impossible. It’s a staple of your emotional diet and, like any addiction, will damn near kill you if you try to get rid of it.
On thing that’s helped me to get rid of it is to replace it with something better.
So, I started to pray for people.
Yep, I said it, sorry – that’s what Jesus said I’m supposed to do. Hang with me here.
When this comes up, I try to stop the urge to judge, and instead pray my victim’s health, their well being, their career. If I see them with kids I think about how hard that journey is. Praying lets me replace the negative thoughts with something good that extends beyond “me” into the life of someone else.
As MLK Jr. said, darkness can’t stand light, so the dark thoughts haul ass.
When I manage this, it’s almost immediately apparent that having good thoughts about someone, or hoping that they’re OK, or wishing good for them feels way better than downgrading them for doing something I’ve done a thousand times.
On my bad days I don’t do well, but I succeed more than I used to, so I guess that’s a victory of sorts.
And my worrying has gone way down. When I screw up, I’m more likely to extend the same benevolence to myself that I’ve extended to others. It’s almost as if someone else’s screw up is an opportunity to take one more step out of this tomb.
Now, when I hear through the grapevine that someone’s talking about me, or when I worry about the thoughts that someone else is thinking, I have enough tools and enough experience to talk myself through what’s really happening – unless I’m tired, then I judge them back.
Overall, the freedom that’s come from this has been well worth the hard work required to worry a bit less about what others are thinking, and get on with things that are more worthy of my emotional energy.