This week, as I settle back in at home in Canada after 15 months of travelling back and forth dealing with a family issue in England, I was reminded of one of my all-time favourite quotes.
It’s stuck to my computer monitor, and says:
“We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” Ethel Barrett
The first time I read this quote, I laughed out loud – because I instantly recognized myself.
But it’s not just me! There is literally “a plague” of concern over what OTHER people think of us. And worrying what others think goes really deep – remember that most of our core beliefs about ourselves and the world are formed by the time we are just 7 years old.
For example, from a young age I was raised never to do anything which might cause a raised eyebrow, criticism or judgement. I was brought up to constantly consider what other people might be thinking of me. I had to be presentable, do well at school, be polite and do the right thing – not for myself, but for worry of what other people might think. As I got older I wasn’t allowed to have polish on my toenails (too brash) nor was I allowed to wear leggings or mini-skirts (too revealing).
I got used to feeling disappointed, resentful and uncomfortable. And I got used to stuffing down who I was and what I really thought in order to avoid drawing attention, shame and “making waves”. And by the time I hit 30 years old, I was unhappy and felt hollow inside.
We can never know what other people are truly thinking. What pleases or impresses one person may displease or disappoint another.
Yet we spend our lives tying ourselves in knots, worrying what other people think when – and here’s the irony – most people will have forgotten us within a few moments! And even when you do something truly worthy of gossip, laughter, disdain, jealousy or criticism – people quickly move onto the next juicy topic.
I don’t want to die! The need to please and “fit in” goes deeper than our individual childhoods. As humans we have a fundamental need to belong. When we were cavemen, if we were abandoned or cast out by other humans we would literally die. So it makes sense that we find it hard to be ourselves, to deviate from the norm, to do the unexpected and be our unique and fabulous selves.
We take so much care of how we appear to others, that we have forgotten who we are.
And while you don’t necessarily want to be “real” and tell your boss he’s behaving like a raving idiot, I wonder if we need to:
- tone down our dress sense so that mom (or our friends) won’t comment on our outfit?
- keep our mouth shut when we hear a sexist or racist comment?
- settle for less in a relationship because other people think your partner is “good” for you?
- tidy our house so it’s spotless every time a good friend visits
- avoid following our (possibly crazy) dreams and ideas because others think we’re frivolous, getting above our station or that we might fail?
The answer is a resounding “No!”
Every time we change who we are to please or avoid upsetting others, we let our “selves” down. And we create more of a chasm between who we are in the world – and who we are inside…
So if you feel a hole inside, like something’s missing, what’s missing is probably YOU – the real, quirky, amazing you that keeps getting shut down and stuffed away.
It’s tiring – literally – to continuously keep our real selves in check. But that’s what you’re doing when you worry more about what other people think than what you think. People will move onto the next topic – and you will have sacrificed who you are.
It’s time to stop. To figure out what you want, what you love and enjoy, what’s important to you (and what’s not!), how you feel, and in short, who you ARE. And then it’s goodbye “hole inside”, and hello wonderful, fantastic YOU!
So, next time you notice yourself worrying what others think, ask yourself instead, “What do I think?“, “What matters to me?” Because it’s time to stop worrying, start living, and start being FABULOUS YOU!
If you liked this article on worry and being yourself, you may also like:
- Want To Enjoy Life More? Send Your Inner Critic on a Vacation!
- 5 Helpful Steps to Turn your Worry into a Healthy Activity!
- The Power of Solitude: 9 Reasons Why You Need to Spend Time With Yourself!
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