"Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner."
Recently this topic showed up in a number of my coaching conversations. Asked about what their goal is, my clients replied that they wanted to get to a stage where they didn’t care about what others thought about them anymore. My first reaction was “Hell YES!”. Nobody should give a shit about what others think! In a moment of self-grandeur, I also thought to myself: how lucky that I don’t have this problem. Look at all the inner work I’ve done and now I am totally detached from the opinions of others.
Well, let’s get real though. The reality is: I care. I would like you to like me. I would like you to agree with me (regardless of whether I like YOU, by the way). I feel uncomfortable not being liked. I don’t enjoy conflict or disagreements. So, why did I instinctively separate myself from my clients’ experiences?
And then it hit me: maybe the issue is not whether or not we care but what we do when we care. I believe it’s human to care. It’s human that we want to feel connected and that tends to be when others agree with us. It’s human to avoid feelings of discomfort and exclusion. Of course, I totally agree with the opening quote, too, and it is a worthwhile goal NOT to care about what others think. But what if we aren’t there just yet? What is the consequence while we still care? Do we try to fit in no matter what? Do we change our behaviours or appearance or lifestyle in order to be liked? Do we go against our own values and core beliefs? If we choose any of these, we are likely to simply replace one form of discomfort with another. We might end up fitting in but going against who we are doesn’t feel good either.
"I don’t care what people think or say about me, I know who I am."
Here’s another aspect: when we are met with disapproval, we may start doubting ourselves. In addition to feeling the discomfort of assumed separation and disconnect, we experience the discomfort of our own insecurities. What if they are right? The better we know ourselves, the easier it becomes to answer that question.
Continue to work towards not caring about other people’s opinions. But when you do catch yourself caring, don’t beat yourself up over it.
Feel into the discomfort and find out where it comes from. Does it come from the difference of opinion? Or does it come from realizing that the other person may have a point?
If the first: relax! The feeling will pass. Remind yourself that having disagreements doesn’t automatically mean you dislike each other. Secondly, remind yourself that it really doesn’t matter what others think. It matters what YOU think.
Thus, if the second: rethink your position and adjust accordingly. You can always change your mind and change your path. Nothing is set in stone.
Once you’ve figured out what you want, go ahead and go for it and enjoy the freedom of not needing to please anyone but yourself.