Other people’s opinion of me is none of my business. Intellectually, this is a statement that we can believe. Since you cannot control other people’s thoughts, and since neither people nor their thoughts are perfect, then it really makes no sense to live your life based on your flawed impressions of other people’s flawed impressions of you. Got it? Great! I would stop right now, except for one thing.
Emotionally, as a species, we are built to care about what other people think of us. Except for people who have personality disorders or are sociopaths, we are hard-wired to care what people think of us. It’s part of our social-being biology. Because of this hard-wiring, we operate under the scrutiny of an imaginary audience which social scientists call our “generalized other”. Some of our “others” give us a daily dose of warmth and encouragement; some can be witheringly cruel. Even if your “generalized other” is mean and cruel, you cannot just will yourself to be indifferent to it.
The key to ending the tyranny of this “generalized other” is to spend some time really hearing what is going on in your head the next time you try to step out of your “norm” and dare to do something different. If you feel afraid, or shut down, pay attention to the voices you hear that are being critical. Often these voices are from very real people in your life, usually from your childhood. We develop this sense of the “generalized other” very haphazardly, especially during childhood, and tend to pay the most attention to the cruellest people – people who hurt our feeling or shamed us, or undermined our dreams. We allowed these people’s voices to become part of our “generalized other” so we could avoid attacks from them. As children, we obsessed about living up to their standards so we could be safe. And unless we consciously have made changes, these wicked trolls still live in our heads and try to control us! So, as adults, even though we know that what “they” think of me is none of my business, these mean folks are still alive and kicking in your head.
So what to do about this? You fire them….give them their pink slips and kindly thank them for their input, but explain you are now headed in a new direction. But your key to success is to reassemble a new committee to represent your “generalized other”. Remember, as social beings, we need the committee. But choose wisely.
The new “chair” of your committee needs to be one who loves and accepts you unconditionally. If you don’t know any accepting people, you must find one. This person doesn’t actually have to be alive…or even human. If you’re stumped, think of someone who has treated you with respect and kindness (a teacher, grandma, relative, or even a furry animal!). It can be a writer or a spiritual teacher, or a higher power. But, please reject any idea of an insane, jealous God who loves to hand out one-way tickets to hell. You’ve probably had enough of that. I am referring to a loving presence in your life who wants nothing but your happiness. Do NOT offer a seat in the committee of your “generalized other” to anything less than a loving presence. Then, start adding a few other positive people – living or deceased – to your “committee. You only need a very few people to represent the whole world to the irrational and emotional part of your brain that allows other people’s opinions to control you. Just be sure they are all on your side.
Finally, the most important step….you must consciously connect with these new committee members every day for at least 30 days. Longer than 30 days is better, but I don’t want this to seem overwhelming. Connect with your new “committee” (ie., generalized other) by spending time reading their words,, meditating, Facebooking, watching, and/or physically interacting with your new loving, accepting, encouraging Committee. It will feel weird at first, but if you stick with it, positive changes will occur.
So, if you continually do things that hold no joy for you, never feel you are good enough, believe that deep down, people don’t really like you very much or at least wouldn’t like you very much if they REALLY knew you, then do yourself a huge service. Oust your internal critics who say you’re not good enough, that you are on the wrong track, that you’re not very cool or smart. Choose to be watched over by people who forgive your errors and believe in you. And….if this makes me a bit crazy in your eyes, or just plain bonkers, that’s ok. It is really none of my business.