How many people do you know who are unaffected by praise or blame? That isn’t human, we say. Human means that you have to be a little monkey, so everybody can twist your tail, and you do whatever you ought to be doing. But is that human? If you find me charming, it means that right now you’re in a good mood, nothing more. – Anthony de Mello
Are you caring too much what people think of you? I used to be a very self-conscious person who cared way too much about what people were thinking of me. I would make sure I got unnoticed, afraid that I may do something other people judge as inappropriate.
But, isn’t it tiring to be constantly thinking about every single thing you are about to do, worrying about other people’s reactions. Who wouldn’t want to be free to do whatever he/she wants without caring a bit about what people think of him/her? That’s real freedom, isn’t it? So, why do we care so much?
Why you care what people think of you
The reason why you care too much what people think of you is first because you’re too self-conscious. You are too worried about your self-image. If you are constantly criticizing yourself pointing out every single of your mistakes, of course you expect other people to act in similar way and criticize you too. You automatically imagine them judging you even if they aren’t. What you are doing is simply projecting your own thinking on others. After all, the way you see yourself is the only model of reality you know of, and the only one you can refer to when you interact with the world. You might want to start by checking out how harsh you are on yourself, but there is something way more important to understand.
The role of self-image
In order to stop caring what others think of us, we need to understand the role played by our self-image. Being too self-conscious means that we are taking ourselves – or more precisely our self-image – way too seriously. While most self-help books will give you advice or even exercises to try to « fix » your self-image, what I would recommend you is, not to fix your self-image, but to distance yourself from it by observing it from an external point of view, that is, from the real you! (See Psychology vs. Spirituality, Which One is the Most Powerful).
Have you ever wondered what your self-image really is? No matter how real it may seem, your self-image is actually a thought. It is a constructed image you have of yourself but it is not you! Every day thousands and thousands of thoughts are coming and going in your mind; the question is who notices them? It is you who notice them! Not your self-image. (See What is the Ego)
Does the you who is observing your thoughts and creating your self-image care about what other people think? No!
It is important that you take time to observe your thoughts and understand how your self-image is created. Your self-image is created by thoughts and thus has no reality in itself. It is constantly changing because it is not grounded in reality. The self-image that you had 5 years ago might be totally different from your current self-image.
When you criticize yourself, you are actually having a thought about a thought. You criticize (thought) your self-image (thought). See how absurd it is! Then, if you say to yourself “I should stop doing that”, you have a thought about a thought about a thought 🙂 Who is perceiving these thoughts?
No matter how real and intense a thought or an emotion may be, it can never be you. It arises from you but it is not you! As any other thought it comes and goes.
Praise and criticism: head and tail of the same coin?
Who doesn’t like to be praised and feel special? Who wouldn’t want to feel recognized and approved of?
Psychologists are telling us that praising people is very important because it helped them feel valued, increase their self-esteem and boost their motivation. When you are criticized, the same psychologists tell you that you shouldn’t take things personally and give you tools to better deal with criticisms. It sounds reasonable, right?
Now, let me ask you the following question: do you believe that you can get the emotional benefits of praise, and at the same time remain totally unaffected by criticisms?
Here is what nobody is telling you: praise and criticism are the head and the tail of the same coin. They are interdependent. If you really want to stop caring about what people think of you and remain unaffected by criticisms, you must also stop being affected by praises. You can’t have both. If you feel good when praised how can you not feel bad when criticized? If you take praise personally you will take criticisms personally too. If others can affect your self-esteem through praises, they will also affect it through criticisms.
N.B. It doesn’t mean you should ignore the person who is praising you. You can simply reply with a “thank you” and a smile.
Leave the game and reclaim your self-worth
When you play the I-feel-good-when-you-praise-me/I-feel-bad-when-you-criticize-me game, you unconsciously accept the rules that come with it, which are: “my self-worth depends on what people think of me”. Are you okay with that? Are you willing to entrust people with your own self-worth? Isn’t it wiser to leave the game and refuse to let one self-worth depends on the opinions of others? Remember that as long as your self-worth will depend on others, you will be controlled by people’s opinion.
Taking praises or criticisms personally reinforces the conditioning that made you believe in the first place that your self-worth could be affected by other people’s judgment of you.
Dealing with praise
How can we stop feeling good when praised? Of course, you could suppress your feelings each time you get praised, but nothing good comes out of such a thing. What you must do is understand your feelings, and the best way to do that is simply to observe them.
Observe your feelings each time you are praised. You can ask yourself questions like:
- How am I feeling?
- Do I feel like I need that feeling? Why?
- Am I okay giving that person the right to decide of my self-worth?
- If that person can, doesn’t it mean that anybody even strangers can play with my self-worth?
- Does my self-worth really depend on what people think of me?
- Am I really ready to give up my freedom for that feeling?
Does it mean that you should also stop praising other people? Considering that 99.99% or more of people you will meet in your life will react positively to praise and feel good about it, the answer is no. People who understand what I’m talking about in this article, won’t really care about being praised anyway. The others will be high on praise until some criticisms knock them down.
If you want to stop caring about other people’s opinion of you, you need to be aware of the emotional impact that, not only negative judgments, but also positive judgments has on you, and understand how much you are actually deriving your sense of self-worth from the judgments of other people. You will actually be shocked to realize the extent of your addiction to praises. Here is a great question: How much of your day are you spending trying, either to get approval (praise, recognition or fame) or to avoid disapproval? For some people it is 24/7!
Most of us fail to realize that our self-image is nothing more than a mental construction resulting from the identification to particular thoughts through the power of attention. We take our self-image too seriously while it is not really a big deal. Things that don’t get registered in the mind leave no trace. However, as soon as you start giving events or thoughts the power of your attention and make them personal, they will stick in your mind for days, weeks or even years. In life nothing is really personal unless you make it so.
When you start realizing that you are not your self-image, not abstractly but empirically, you will naturally care less and less about the opinion of other people.
What about you? How much do you care about what people think of you? What does it say about you? Leave me a comment below with your praises or criticisms.
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