The reason you want to please other people (if you do) is that you have made them your standard of knowledge and truth your whole life.
If the herd thinks something is true, it’s true; if they reject an idea, the idea is false.
You may not have realized you were doing this. Instead of making objective, rational facts your standard, you have put yourself totally at the mercy of other people’s judgments.
Even if most other people were fair and reasonable, this would still be a problem. You need to have confidence in yourself, not only your associates and friends.
Large numbers of people, regrettably, are not consistently fair and reasonable. There’s a real trend today away from reason and fairness, and towards doing whatever feels right — and damn the consequences.
There’s also a major self-esteem problem out in the world. Many others will cut you down so that they can feel better about themselves. In a sick sort of a way, they need you to be flawed so that they don’t have to feel so badly about their own shortcomings.
They want someone to look down upon, to make them feel better about themselves.
This is the sort of mentality whose favorable opinion you so desperately want? No wonder you’re so anxious!
You’ve probably made two profound errors over the years, without realizing it fully. (1) You’ve surrendered your independent, objective judgment to the perceptions and beliefs of other people; (2) the specific people to whose perceptions you’ve surrendered are less than rational and, in extreme cases, outright irrational!
This is why you’re anxious. This is the fundamental core of your self-esteem problem. Not your childhood. Not your brain cells. Rather: your mistaken way of determining truth or falsehood. Your silent, unspoken premises about how to use your mind and gain knowledge in the world.
So what’s the antidote? Objectivity. Many specific methods are available to you. Let me describe one effective technique which works for many people I know. At the end of each day, write down what you did well. Write down objective evidence of your strengths and virtues. The strengths and virtues can be internal or external. Maybe you worked extra hard to concentrate on a difficult task. Maybe you gave a public talk even though it made you very nervous. Maybe you asked someone special out on a date. Maybe you simply
did a bit less procrastinating than the day before.
The possibilities are endless. There is no ‘right or wrong’ to this exercise, other than (1) stay focused on the positive; and, (2) stay focused on the factual. The important thing is to write down objective facts about what you did well. Keep them brief. In fact, condense them into key words and phrases and write it down somewhere. Carry it with you throughout the day. It will remind you of strengths you have already exhibited, and that you can exhibit again. It will help you become more concerned about your reputation with yourself, and less concerned about your reputation with others.
Should you disregard negative facts about yourself? Of course not. But if you suffer from low self-esteem, it’s a good idea to develop the habit of identifying positive facts first. If you allow yourself to become sidetracked by the negative, then you will probably fall back into the old habits of worrying about what others think of you.
My suggestion is to spend several weeks or months on this positive exercise first. Then, once you become used to it, start to include your flaws and weaknesses on your list of strengths. But don’t be negative and hateful about them. Simply write down some constructive criticism—traits or behaviors that you know need work, such as ‘listen better’ or ‘think before speaking.’
Continued in tomorrow’s column.
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