Just how much emphasis should we place on the responses of others?
None? Some? A lot? Dependent on whom?
If there is one thing that has been exposed on a grand scale it is our insecurities surrounding the idea of having our thoughts, our actions, our choices, our achievements – in essence our existence – validated by others. But, how much, if anything, should we care about what others think of us?
Of course, it is lovely when people think well of us and show their appreciation and support for what we say and do. Perhaps then we should only increase the emphasis of what others think of us when it is good, and decrease the emphasis when they think badly? Alas, it is not that simple. We do not live in a naïve child’s fantasy.
When we care about what others think of us, when we really seek that external validation, this can lead us into problems – like poor old Brucey above. We start to externalise our “locus of control”, basically the control of our thoughts and behaviours become located in other people – and this is a recipe for disaster! Because you then become at the whim of things beyond your control! So you act and say things that will get a positive response from these people and if you don’t get a positive response, you might feel pretty lousy, you might even start to feel resentment towards these people. You may even change your behaviour so these people will continue to positively affirm you, but then you start to feel at odds with yourself as you’re not acting authentically.
One way to counteract the above is with not caring at all. In recent times there has been a big push to not care what others think of you (and I talk about this here). This is almost the mantra of every modern person pushing “self-development” and “motivation”, but the irony seems sadly lost on these people as they don’t practice what they preach or they expect you to care about them, but they won’t care about you. This type of thinking can lead to narcissism and apathy. Once again, it’s not that simple, nor correct to do this, despite what these people say. I mean, ask yourself, would you really want a world where no one cared what you did and thought? And everyone was like that to everyone else? Like I said last week, just stop and think about it for a moment and you’ll see how devoid of thought it is!
So, you can care about what others think of you – and which leads to problems. Or you can not think of what others think of you – which leads to problems. These modes of being are half-truths at best. So, what do we do?
Let’s start here shall we? Self-awareness and self-knowledge are the keys to knowing who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, goals and life direction (amongst many other things). This will help you to internalise (and potentially reclaim) your self-worth and locus of control. But, Martyn, isn’t this just the same as doing what I want and not caring what others think? Well, no, it isn’t, inner monologue Martyn. The reason being is that not caring about external validation is just eliminating (or lets be truthful, reducing) that potential for extrinsic negativity as well as increasing possible delusions of grandeur. Whereas internalising your self-worth and locus of control builds integrity and moral character, gives you strength and courage by making you more steadfast in the face of environmental influences.
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” – Rudyard Kipling
Next comes understanding the greater population we inhabit. The individual and the society. The micro and the macro. As I said before, society wouldn’t function if we all didn’t care what people thought of us. It is how we moderate our behaviour, attitudes and actions. It is how we can learn (new) views and information. There are evolutionary aspects which help to explain this as our species has survived in part due to our ability to form groups and communities. Now, being isolated or expelled from the tribe meant certain death for most primitive humans, so you had to do what the group wanted and be respected by them i.e. you had to care what people thought of you. Fast forward to today, and we might not be swinging from the trees or grazing the savannahs per se, but that hardware is still in us and those societal responses and reciprocity are still there. They just manifest themselves differently. Ingroup/outgroup biases are as prevalent as ever. And while we like to think of ourselves as strong and independent, that feeling is only nestled within a much larger, worldly interdependence connected to everything around us.
I’ve had my own struggles with external validation. Not liking anyone having a negative view of me, I’ve been guilty of caring too much about the opinions of others. I’ve never really had a group that has accepted me for who I am, warts and all so to speak, for whatever reason I seem locked out of the purple circle for eternity. Generally speaking, people have always been more interested in what I could do for them or a particularly talent or skill I had rather than me personally, it felt. Having a developed sensitivity to my impact on others, along with my empathetic and understanding nature, the problem for me is always going to be caring too much rather than too little of what people think of me.
If you’ve made it this far you’ll want the answer to the million dollar question – Who are the people that we should care about what they think of us? You, first and foremost. It’s amazing how many people will overlook themselves in this situation. At least a member of your family (hopefully). Your partner and/or closest friend/s. A mentor, guide or respected figure. Basically it’s someone whose opinion you value and who you can trust. And I’d say fewer rather than the many. Learn how to be by yourself so that you can be with others out of want rather than need, and understand who you want in your life and who you do not. Utilise the fact most people don’t care about you nor will they stay with you throughout your life, and once you’ve gotten over the shock of this reality, it is liberating to say the least.