It’s normal to worry about others’ opinions of you, but it’s not necessary. Two ways to break free from this are: 1) desensitize yourself by assuming that it’s always going to happen; and 2) recognize that their critiques are directed at your “social self,” not your “essential self.”
Here’s a non-affiliate Amazon link to Martha Beck’s book that I reference in the episode.
Hi, this is Rob Sepich, and welcome to Relaxing with Rob. How much do you worry about what people are thinking of you? I've known many students who are really anxious about this. Now, if you're a totally secure person who does not concern yourself with other people's opinions, save some time and skip this episode--but let me know how you do it!
In her song, "Cheers (Drink To That)," Rihanna sings, "Life's too short to be sitting around miserable / And people gonna talk, whether you're doing bad or good." And I don't think you have to "let the Jameson sink in" to benefit from her wisdom. But I do believe that most people are actually not talking about you, because they're in their own heads, worrying about what others are thinking of them! And if you doubt me, then think of yourself. What do you do most of the time? I spoke briefly about this in episode 11, "Public Speaking with Ease." But today, I think it deserves a little more attention. There are a couple suggestions I've shared with students that I'd like to offer to you.
First, let's assume Rihanna is right and people are gonna talk. But what if you do all you can to get on somebody's good side? Have you ever noticed the same behavior could put you on somebody else's bad side? So instead, can you just accept as a given that people are going to talk about you--for better or for worse? Sitting mindfully with this acceptance will help desensitize you to the process. Otherwise, here's what happens. An acquaintance might say behind your back: "I can't believe she got an 'A' in that class. She's not even that good at [the subject]." Okay, so your hard work and high grade gets rewarded by criticism or jealousy? By somebody undermining your accomplishment?
Well, if your goal is not to be criticized or not to be spoken about, what's the path? Oh, I know, you can be mediocre! Then you won't be criticized for failing, and you won't be criticized for excelling. Maybe people won't notice you at all. You can fade comfortably into the background. I'm not saying don't do this, because if being invisible is what you want, who am I to object? But if you want to shine, or really make a difference, then you've got to decide if it's worth the risk of being talked about. For most people, when they rationally consider the risks and the benefits, they decide that, yeah, it's worth it.
And second, consider a distinction made by the psychologist Martha Beck in her book, "Finding your own north star: Claiming the life you were meant to live." I'd ask my students to read a chapter from the book, and we'd see how applicable her concepts of a "social self" and an "essential self" are today. Although it was published back in 2001 before the widespread use of social media, her distinctions of these two selves have actually become even more relevant, according to the young adults I know. And I'll place a non-affiliate link to her book in the show notes. In other words, if you purchase something, I don't receive anything.
What we present to others in person and online is our social self. There's nothing wrong with that. Our social selves allow us, in Beck's words, "to play social systems without losing your mind or your integrity" (p. 171). But I've seen countless students whose confident social selves were really just covering some sad and fearful insides. And when there's a big gap between our inner and our outer selves, life gets hard to manage. And seeing people like this was a reminder to me that we often don't really know most people we think we know. If we're lucky and trustworthy, a few close friends might reveal their essential selves to us. And when that happens to me, I feel so privileged and honored. So I'd like you to consider that when people are talking about you (critically or otherwise), it's likely they're only responding to what you're projecting: your social self. It's not your essential self.
And by the way, you don't have to use Beck's language. You could call it your inner self, or your core, or your soul. Others don't have access to that unless you grant it. I think of it as being "password protected." And just as you shouldn't share your passwords with everybody, don't share your essential self with everybody. It would be too much information. Like if an acquaintance you pass on campus asks, "How's it going?" And you respond, "Well, I'm really sad about a memory I just had of something that happened in middle school, and I'm trying to work through that and come to terms with my identity as a . . ." and they're like, "Sorry, gotta go, have a great day!" That would just be awkward.
But when a friend says, "I've noticed you seem kind of down lately. How are you?" Well, please take a risk and tell them. Don't cover it with something like, "I'm fine, just busy." Or the classic we've all used, "Well, it's complicated." Like that really explains anything. Because those are rare chances to share your essential self, possibly get support, and start to bring your two selves a little closer together.
This episode can best be summarized by my favorite Dr. Seuss quotation: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." Thank you for listening, and we'll talk again soon.