I have strong memories of how I cared about what other people think at a young age. In my early teens, I recall the many times I tried hiding in my room when the customary talent show starts during family gatherings. I was often preoccupied with my goal to not be found or seen because I did not want to be asked to sing.
I had this fear that people would laugh at me because I wasn’t good enough.
Through the years I’ve learned to care less about what other people think. But there are still times when others would say or do thing that would cause me emotional distress.
The other day, I received a call from an acquaintance. Despite my being calm and well-mannered, this did not stop my distressed caller from leaving hurtful words and personal attacks. This was the first time I’ve ever spoken to this person, who doesn’t even know me on a personal level. But I still could not help feeling upset following the call. I was quite bothered by what was said to me.
The Need to Belong
As a human being you are thought to have the innate need to belong (Baumeister and Leary 1995). A sense of belongingness and to feel accepted allows you to start and maintain relationships. To not belong may have ill effects to both your psychological and physical health.
It would then be natural for you to think that your belongingness could be threatened depending on what others think of you. Therefore, negative opinions in a form of accusations and insults can cause you to distance yourself to others and even end your relationships.
But wouldn’t it be nice to not care at all about what others say or think? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Both Words and Actions Cause Hurt Feelings
Spoken words and occurrences (such as receiving criticism or being ignored) can cause hurt feelings, which can last a long time, be memorable and its effects can sometimes be permanent (Leary et al. 1998).
According to Tabary (2016):
Often, it’s because someone said something to us: either they insulted us, or rejected us, or judged us, or ignored us, or differed with us in some way. It’s usually someone we interact with often – a friend, spouse, parent, child, boss or colleague and 9 out of 10 times, this is the reason for our emotional pain and drama.
What if you can care less about what other people think?
The Nature and Quality of Your Relationship
First of, you should consider the nature and the quality of your relationship before giving importance to people’s opinions.
Neuman (2013) proposed the following hierarchy of whose opinion we should give importance to:
What matters most is the opinion of immediate family: a spouse, children, and parents, probably in that order.
The opinion of a boss and of close friends should matter a lot, although not as much as family.
The opinion of colleagues and of neighbors should matter somewhat less.
The opinion of acquaintances should not matter very much.
The opinion of people you encounter in the street or casually at a party should not matter at all.
If a sibling, who knows you very well, tells you that they think you’re lazy, the opinion is probably worth considering. In my case, the opinion of my caller the other day should not matter at all.
Rational Thinking Could Help
Rationalizing can also help you find explanations that are more satisfying emotionally. This can lessen the impact of receiving negative feedback.
In a study by the group of Schmeichel (2015) from Texas A&M University, College Station, participants were asked to take a social skills test. After the test, participants were given negative feedback (i.e. they were told that the results of the test showed they lack maturity and tend to be selfish). After receiving this negative feedback, participants were either asked to write down their thoughts or emotions about the negative feedback.
Those who wrote down their thoughts were found to experience less negative mood than those focused on their feelings after receiving the negative feedback.
Questions to Ask Yourself
The next time you find out about a negative opinion about you, take the rational thinking approach. Use your knowledge and gradually rationalize the negative opinion. To start of, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I believe this negative opinion to be true?
- What could be the reason behind the negative opinion?
- What are the intentions of the person giving this negative opinion?
- Is it worth putting so much importance in the person and their negative opinion?
After doing my own rationalizing, I started feeling better. I can honestly say that I’m a lot less bothered by the hurtful words that was said to me. Later that evening, I received news that I won a pack of mini jam jars and a jam serving spoon. Considering that I almost always never win anything, this win totally grabbed all my attention.
How much do you care about what other people think? What do you do to deal with it?
Baumeister, Roy F. and Leary, Mark R. “The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation.” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 117, 1995, pp. 497-529.
Leary, Mark R., Springer, Carrie, Negel, Laura, Ansell, Emily, Evans, Kelly. “The Causes, Phenomenology, and Consequences of Hurt Feelings.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 74, 1998, pp. 1225-1237.
Neuman, Fredric. “Caring What Other People Think.” Psychology Today, 23 Jun. 2013, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fighting-fear/201306/caring-what-other-people-think.
Schmeichel, Brandon J., Caskey, Ryan, Hicks, Joshua A. “Rational Versus Experiential Processing of Negative Feedback Reduces Defensiveness but Induces Ego Depletion.” Self and Identity, vol. 14, 2015, pp. 75-89.
Tabary, Shefali. “What’s the Main Reason You Feel Hurt by Someone? The Answer May Surprise You!” Dr. Shefali, 16 Mar. 2016, www.drshefali.com/feel-hurt-by-someone/.