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Episode 216: Can We Not Care What Others Think?


And hello to you and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast.
The personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be the best you can be.

I’m psychotherapist Richard Nicholls and this is episode 216 it’s titled Can We Not Care What Others Think? And if you're ready we'll start the show.

Hey there you fabulous folk. Have you had a good month? What've you been up to? I've been making little 5 minute videos every Friday and putting them on YouTube. If you haven't seen those do subscribe there, link is in the show notes. Actually I started videoing these podcast episodes too, so they're on YouTube too if you would prefer to watch a podcast than listen. This is the 21st Century there are lots of ways to get content nowadays isn't there.

And because there are so many ways of putting yourself out there too, no matter who we are, we might all need a slightly thicker skin than we needed 20 years ago. You might meet people who say "I don't care what people think" But it's likely that either: One. They're lying to us. Or two they're lying to themselves.

Caring about what people think is one thing though, but worrying about what people think is another. But it's common thing that so many people who come into therapy will talk about. And when they do it's worth drilling down on who they mean when they say to themselves that they worry about what Other People think. Who are these anonymous other people? If you can be a bit specific about who you mean you've got a bit more control over it.

But if for decades you carry around this feeling, even if it only belongs with 1 person in your life whos opinion you care about, it can spread out to everyone until you've totally forgotten that it was really only your Dad you were trying to impress when you were 10 and he's long past caring anymore. Do you actually care what other people think? Or is it just a feeling.

Examine it because if there are some instances that you genuinely and specifically care what they think, then it can help you understand yourself better. Because you might find it's just your Dad, or your boss or the attractive friend you havent plucked up the courage to ask out yet. But if you think that EVERYone will judge you or EVERYone thinks bad of you then see if you can shrink down all of these everyone's to exactly who in your life you care about. You might find that it's easier to control the feeling everywhere else then,

because you're able to challenge it.
I hate to give you an ear worm but sometimes you do have to say to yourself "is this the real life or is this just fantasy" because the extremes of these worries might come from a personality disorder. Borderline or avoidant personality, even complex ptsd will distort our reality so that things feel real when they're not.

The reason borderline is called borderline is because when these labels were first created many people were thought of as possibly being schizophrenic because of their paranoia. They FELT that everyone was thinking about them. The difference being though that someone with neurosis, as opposed to psychosis, knows that it's just a feeling. They know that not EVERYone is thinking about them, judging them, expecting something from them.

But it doesn't stop their reality from feeling like they are. Thats why it's called borderline, because the symptoms border on a diagnosis of psychosis. Rest assured that if this is you, you're not psychotic, you're just hurt.
And we can be hurt for so many reasons. It can be as extreme as growing up in a neglectful or unpredictable home. Or it could come from moving schools and feeling as if you don't fit in.

Sometimes we don't have to be bullied for the people around us to make it feel as if we're a freak and don't fit in. We don't need a bully to hurt us when we've got one in our head do we? So years later having practised this way of seeing the world, this schema it's sometimes called, for our whole life we need practise something else and see if we can get into a habit of questioning our feelings

so that you can genuinely say to yourself" am I feeling this way because of reality or because of my anxieties? Or however you want to call it your disorder, your view of the world or your schema, your internal working model, your cognitive framework of mental representations for understanding how you fit in, or not. However you want to phrase it ask yourself "is this just fantasy?"

Because just because it feels real it doesn't mean it is. Now that's really digging deep into the reasons behind why you're worried about what everyone thinks and there's obviously a spectrum of anxiety about it but no matter where on the spectrum you are it's pretty much impossible to not care what people think. Its akin to being ok with throwing yourself out of an aeroplane without a parachute. Or maybe more accurately if I think about it,

its actually more like jumping out with one, but doing it over a desert and not knowing where the hell you're gonna be when you land. That's how rejection feels, it hurts, it's an ancient instinct with us since the dawn of all mammals probably to find your tribe and be accepted by it. And if you've learned to focus on that specific fear for whatever reason it's totally unrealistic to just say to yourself "let the haters hate, I don't care"


especially as sometimes the criticism is actually helpful. Whether they want to do it or not, managers are supposed to give appraisals every few months aren't they, to look for where things can be improved and someone who was learning how to handle criticism better said to me once that after they were critiqued at work and all the negatives in what they did were highlighted, which would so often send them spiralling downwards,

especially as there was something very specific about how they'd presented something. They took a deep breath and messaged them back saying. "I hope despite this there was something for everyone to learn from what I did" and their boss messaged straight back with "Absolutely, of course, you're awesome. Keep up the good work" and I thought "Aaaaaaargh! They really should have led with that before the criticism."

Because that boss's map of the world is different. It's one where people find negative feedback useful not threatening. Because THEY do, maybe THEY are always looking for ways to improve and love to see where things could be better but without the underlying message that says that they aren't good enough. Long time listeners might remember what I was saying in the external validation episode a couple of years ago about the looking glass self.

“I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think that you think I am.” And with this foundation to our personality we lose our sense of self, if we've ever really been able to create one in the first place. And the thing is what other people think is outside of your control anyway. Even if people have genuinely taken a dislike to you for whatever reason, you cannot control that.

And more importantly you don't need to. There will always be people in your life that you don't quite click with, don't get on with, for some reason, you maybe don't like them. It's bound to happen at some point. Therefore someone will think that way about you too. It's natural, and it's safe. It doesn't change who you are.

And I think in order to handle criticism better we do need to be ok with who we are. Otherwise the fight or flight response will kick in way too often. In these situations flight might make you overthink and worry and fight might make you very defensive and angry. The problem with defensiveness is that when you put up a wall with a "talk to the hand cos the face ain't listening" attitude there's no way of taking on board anything constructive.

And also it feeds a narrative that you're difficult to talk to which makes people around you anxious which makes you over think which makes you defensive which feeds the narrative and round and round it goes. The worst case scenario might be that there is nothing in what someone says that is constructive. That it's actually their issues that cause them to have criticism. But too much defensiveness and you wont see that either.

And maybe instead it reinforces the idea that people are crap and can't be trusted. When it's not people, it's just them. The message behind their criticism might be "I wish I was better than everyone" but you couldn't hear it above the nastiness of how they said it. And all you heard was "you're a waste of space" but if someone takes the time and effort to give you constructive feedback, if they sit down to help you to improve on something,

they critique how you did something, your behaviour. Then the message underneath isn't "you're a waste of space" even if out of habit you're so used to hearing that, whether they actually say it or not, the message instead is "i'm here to help you fellow human because you are worth it" and I know it might take you a while to hear that, but by challenging your version of reality until it feels normal to think positive things

you will eventually begin to believe it when you ask yourself "Am I a decent person?" And answer "Yes." Or a loveable person, or a worthwhile person. Because we can use certain cognitive techniques to help us create new narratives to our situations but we do need to look underneath all this sometimes and look for the reasons why we feel criticised all the time, which leads us onto this fear of what other people think.

And that's plain old self esteem. We need to do both. If someone is really anxious about being seen in public, they feel that everyones looking at them judging them then one idea to prove to them just how little notice people actually take of us is to pretend to look in shop windows but instead look at the reflections of the people walking past them.

Its honestly not uncommon for people to feel that they stick out, that there's something unusual, something weird about them that encourages people to stare. There isn't and they're not. And it's useful to prove that, it might not stop the feelings but it helps us to challenge what we think of as our reality. Which makes it easier to tackle the low self esteem that caused the feelings in the first place. A friend of mine had a tricky experience recently.

They were busy at work and someone who they trusted and thought that they liked them asked them to do something for them, a work thing. And this friend of mine had already told them how busy they were and on top of that was sick of being asked to do things that weren't her responsibility. And this is exactly what this colleague did. Tried to pass the buck onto my friend with something they didn't want to do and when my friend said "No" because they were too busy this colleague took offence

And was actually quite upset. Which upset my friend and it turns into something from the subreddit Am I the asshole. I don't know if you've ever seen those posts but Am I the asshole is well worth reading if you need some perspective on some of the assholes in your own life. Anyway. I mention this because this colleague of my friends was able to get over it very quickly, she'd kept away for a few hours and after lunch was acting like nothing had happened.

And this is how come I got involved because it was this that upset my friend. "They're acting like nothing happened and I'm still upset" my friend said and it wound them up for a week, all week it was all they could think about. How yet again, someone couldn't be trusted because they say one thing and then act another. They say they're upset and then they act like nothing had happened. And I had to explain to her that that doesn't mean people can't be trusted.

It means her colleague had fairly good emotional control. And the reason they were acting like nothing had happened was because that's a healthy way of moving on from something that upset them, they went to lunch, processed it. Maybe they even posted on the am I the asshole subreddit, was told yes, don't be an asshole. Finished their lunch and got on with their day. Yet a week later my friend is considering handing in her notice in the middle of the biggest economic downturn of our generation.

Because she couldn't feel safe knowing that people are unpredictable. People are fickle, people change their mind, get over things and move on and if there's one thing to take away from this episode it's that. People forget, they move on with their lives as if nothing had happened. If you remember that every time you open your mouth you'll worry less about what they think of your words. You are possibly a bigger critic than anyone else will ever be.

No-one cares as much as you do and we all just want to get on with our lives, remember that and meetings will be easier, saying no to difficult people will be easier, life will be easier. That seems like a great place to stop so I'll love you and leave you. If you enjoy the show and you'd like to support it, please do join me on Patreon where for 20p per day you can get a lovely warm feeling that you're making the world a better place.

It might not sound like much but with lots of people supporting me it means we're getting free therapy to people, we're helping food banks and charities and as a thank you I give you loads of mental health boosting content too, so everyone's a winner. The link is in the show notes or just look me up on, you do that and I'm going to carry on recording an episode for it now. It will be about social anxiety. If you go to my Patreon page it'll be there to listen to. Speak to you again soon. Take care.