Small Town Syndrome

Living in a resort can be exciting—the hustle and bustle, the events, visitors from different cities and states. But I believe it gets even more fascinating when, at season’s passing, it turns back into a small town. Interestingly enough, one of the most common complaints I hear when I talk to people is: “Everybody knows your business.” It’s certainly a widespread feeling, but not really accurate.

Nobody knows your business unless you tell it to them. If you care enough to inform somebody of something personal, then obviously that’s something they should know. But if you don’t know the person who has (supposedly) formed an opinion about you, then on what basis could that opinion have been formed?

A lot of people get caught up in hating the fact that others think poorly of them. But most of these opinions are based on nothing more than a few random facts about you. The opinion is unverifiable, and yet you still care about it? It doesn’t make sense.

The only opinion that truly matters is the one you hold about yourself. A close second are the opinions of those whose values and reasoning you respect. Beyond that, caring about what others think is about as silly as superstition.

You know yourself better than any superficial acquaintance. Sometimes a really close friend or romantic partner might know you (at least in some context) better than you know yourself. Sometimes a good friend can save you from yourself (for example, ‘Don’t take that trip to Australia. You hate even short airplane flights!’). But ‘people in general’ are another matter.

Writer Warren Wojnowski of has an interesting take on the subject: ‘[Other people] don’t really know you. They don’t understand what thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. So they are in no position to offer an opinion—but of course that won’t stop most people from sharing one with you.

Then, because you become so concerned about how others will perceive you’, you find yourself making decisions within the context of what you think they might think. Which of course means it’s all made up anyway! You let the imagined opinions of others dictate the decisions you make in your life. So stop right there and get this clearly. The only opinion of you that matters is your own. Ever. Learn to operate from a position of confidence in your own abilities and intuition.’

Psychotherapist and life coach Nathaniel Branden puts it even better: ‘Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.’ Words to live by!

Years ago, I asked a client why she cared so much about the opinions of others. She answered honestly: ‘You know how it is, Dr. Hurd: We all want to be part of the pack.’ I understand—but I don’t agree. To want to be loved is one thing. To want to find people who share your values, your interests—to fulfill the need for human connection—is perfectly reasonable and natural. But acceptance by others, for its own sake, shouldn’t matter to a healthy person. It shouldn’t be an issue of, ‘Will someone like me?’ It should be, ‘Will I find people I like?’

We human beings tend to ‘project.’ To project is to assign—subconsciously—attitudes, beliefs, or motivations to other people with little or no evidence to back it up. We project without realizing it. People are particularly prone to do this in a small group or a small town. You tend to see the same people over and over again, although you don’t know most of them well. The degree to which you are insecure is the degree to which you will assume that others think certain negative things about you. How do you know what they’re thinking? In fact, what makes you believe that they’re even thinking of you at all?

A late friend of mine once interrupted her husband who was proceeding to explain what HE thought their neighbor (I’ll call her Rose) thought about him. ‘You flatter yourself,’ she said, ‘if you think that Rose thinks about you at all.’ This might be a bit sharp, but it hits the nail on the head. We don’t know that others are thinking about us. And whatever they might be thinking—so what?

A little common sense, applied persistently, can go a long way to curing your problem with small town syndrome. Tell yourself: ‘What’s true is true, and what isn’t, isn’t. Does so-and-so really know what I think, feel and do? If I think what I do is acceptable, and someone else doesn’t—whose opinion matters more?’

The road to success and happiness is paved with self-esteem. You can’t have self-esteem if you are overly concerned with what others think. Life is stressful enough and already has enough distractions. Don’t be sidetracked by things that don’t matter. Live your own life for yourself, and trust that others are doing the same. If they hardly know you and are, in fact, talking about you, then the problem is theirs, not yours.