Are you having trouble wrapping your head around that? I did. I still do. I’m not sure if it’s my upbringing. The Wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident and What will the neighbor’s think kind of upbringing. My parents are always passing judgment on whether or not so and so is too thin or too fat or spending their money unwisely. I know when I dress in the morning, I’m wondering what people will think. Is the skirt too short? Is the blouse too tight? I’m not paralyzed by this but as I read that statement I realize it’s a monologue that goes on in my head unconsciously.
Actually, the source of this valuing other’s opinions above all else is Junior High School life at its finest. I was in 7th grade in the 70’s. Bell bottoms and corduroy were the rage. I had purchased 10 pairs of corduroys in 10 different shades with all my hard earned babysitting money. I cared a lot about blending in. God forbid I walk into the cafeteria and stand out by wearing a dress. My world centered on what others thought about me; if I gained weight or lost weight, had an opinion different than theirs, had a bad hair day…the list goes on and on. Heck, I do that today. Has anyone noticed I lost 5 pounds? Should I point it out? Am I expecting too much? Do people really notice me? I realize I spend a lot of time and energy wondering about others’ opinions.
Here are some ways to let go of the importance of others’ opinions:
- Realize that this is self-inflicted pain. Bryon Katie’s book, Love What Is, posits that the suffering is in your head. The first question of “The Work” is “Is it true?” When I work with clients, I hear all kinds of statements that are causing the client pain. “She doesn’t like me,” “He wants me off the project,” and “They think I’m incompetent.” How can you verify that, that is true? Realize that believing it is true is in your own head. You are suffering from your own beliefs and thoughts.
- Beware of how you accept both criticism and compliments. These are two sides to the very same coin. Someone can be validating you and giving you feedback that sounds like or is actually a critique. Whether it’s positive or negative it is an opinion that you could potentially benefit from and has no bearing on who you are. You are still you. If you are focused and enamored only with praise, when you are criticized you will roll down the other side of the hill and be thrown off your game. I believe a simple “Thank you” for either is just fine. Temper your reactions and how you internalize feedback. Find a way to benefit from the critique of those whose opinions you trust.
- Let go of the battle. In Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart, he writes, “Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.” Fighting requires a lot of energy. It’s exhausting to spend your day worrying about what everyone else is thinking. Put down your armor and let go.
- Be skeptical. As written in don Miguel Ruiz’ book, The Fifth Agreement, “Doubt takes us behind the words we hear to the intent behind them. By being skeptical, we don’t believe every message we hear; we don’t put our faith in lies, and when our faith is not in lies, we quickly move beyond emotional drama, victimization, and the limiting belief systems our ‘domestication’ has programmed us with.” When you find the truth for yourself you are free to live without regret and fear.
- Let go of attachment. Kornfield has some wonderful meditations in his book. One of them is letting go of anger. He writes, “The strength of our anger reveals the strength of our attachment.” It’s amazing how many things I am attached to and how much suffering it causes. It’s my control freak inside who doesn’t want to let go. But this constant striving to control the thoughts of others is unobtainable. This is a huge insight for me. It’s futile. Don’t attach.
- Be careful of your own language. My daughter made me aware of this. I would say “Have you lost weight?” She asked that I say, “You look healthy.” You might think that it’s a compliment but as she explained, it’s also a value judgment. It is essentially saying that you were or weren’t thin enough before.
- Give up the idea of perfection. I think about this when I meditate. I feel like when my thoughts wander (and they always do) that I am not being perfect at meditation. So what? It’s the same with your self-dialogue. When you are trying out #1-#6, let go of being perfect. So when you start worrying that your boss thinks you’re incompetent, acknowledge that you let that thought slip in and maybe you can avoid it the next time. Perfection is exhausting.
All of this can be difficult to try and implement. It’s a habit that you’ve likely been doing since you were a child. Changing your thoughts takes patience and trial and error. We are all just works in progress. How wonderful it is that we have others to help us!