People often ask me why they become anxious over others’ opinions and judgments – and how they can get rid of those feelings.
We become “people pleasers” when we make others our standard of knowledge and truth. If the herd thinks something is true, it’s true; if they reject an idea, the idea is false. Rather than relying on objective, rational facts, they place themselves at the mercy of others’ judgments. Even if most other people were fair and reasonable, this would still be a problem, because individuals need to have confidence in themselves before they place confidence in family, associates or friends. Regrettably, many people are not consistently fair and reasonable. Today’s hysterical political climate – on both sides – is proof of the trend away from reason and reality, in favor of doing whatever “feels right.”
My experience has shown that much of this is part of a major self-esteem problem out in the world. Cyber-vehicles like Facebook and online commentary websites are perfect venues where others can cut pretty much anything down so that they can feel better about themselves. In a sick sort of a way, they need other people to be flawed so that they don’t have to feel so badly about their own shortcomings. We live in an age where people feel better about themselves by looking down on others. Is this is the sort of mentality whose favorable opinion they so desperately want? No wonder they’re anxious!
Well-meaning people often make two profound errors without fully realizing it. First, they surrender their independent, objective judgment to the perceptions and beliefs of others. Second, those to whom one’s perceptions are surrendered are often less than rational and usually in pursuit of their own personal agenda. Another trigger for anxiety, and it’s the cause of our widespread self-esteem crisis. No, it’s not our childhood or our brain chemistry. It’s simply a mistaken way of defining truth or falsehood as we try to determine our core premises about how to use our minds and gain knowledge.
The antidote to all this lemming-think is simple: Objectivity. Among the many methods for achieving objectivity, there is one technique that has proven 100% effective in those who employ it consistently and with an open mind. Try this: At the end of each day, write down what you did well. Write down objective evidence of your strengths and virtues, both internal and external. Maybe you worked extra hard on a difficult task. Maybe you gave a public talk even though it made you nervous. Maybe you asked someone special out on a date. Maybe you did a bit less procrastinating than the day before. Maybe you took the time to question some silly (and probably untrue) inflammatory political drivel on Facebook. The possibilities are endless. There is no right or wrong to this exercise, other than to stay focused on facts and to remain positive about yourself.
The exercise will only work is you write down objective facts about what you did well. Keep them brief. Condense them into key words and phrases on an index card. Carry the card with you throughout the day. Every so often, give it a glance to remind yourself of the strengths you’ve already exhibited, and those that you can exhibit again. You will slowly become more focused on your reputation with yourself, and less concerned with how you appear to others.
Don’t disregard negative facts about yourself. If they are true, then that’s part of what’s real. But if you suffer from low self-esteem, it’s a good idea to identify your positive traits first. Don’t be sidetracked by the negative, lest you fall back into the old habits of worrying about what others think of you.
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