How to stop obsessing about what other people think of you

How to stop obsessing about what other people think of you

As much as I’d love to pretend otherwise, I sometimes care a little too much about what other people think of me. Are those tourists judging the way I look while I run? Does my boss see me as a screw-up after making that mistake? Is my latest Instagram story kind of cringe?

These self-conscious moments are normal to an extent, Adia Gooden, a clinical psychologist based in Chicago and host of the Unconditionally Worthy podcast, says. “We want to be loved and accepted and feel like we’re part of a community,” Dr. Gooden says. And of course we do — we’re social creatures, so it’s only human to crave our peers’ approval.

But this hard-wired desire to belong can also go too far: “When an obsession with others’ opinions interferes with your life, relationships, and decisions and is more of a chronic, long-term issue, that’s when it becomes a problem,” Dr. Gooden says. In the extreme, people-pleasing tendencies can prevent you from setting healthy boundaries in relationships, for example. Or, you may rely on others’ approval for your self-worth — you’re not okay unless they think you are.

Constantly worrying about what people think can be exhausting, says Geoffrey Gold, a clinical psychologist specialising in self-compassion at Therapists of New York. (It’s a lot of mental work to keep coming up with “worst-case” scenarios about how no one likes you.) Not to mention, when you strive to please everyone, you’re moulding yourself to fit their expectations instead of embracing your true thoughts, feelings, and desires, Dr. Gold says.

Obviously, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and suddenly stop stressing about how you’re perceived. That said, there are small steps you can take to reel in those spiralling thoughts and reclaim some peace of mind — and we asked psychologists for the best ones.

1. Know that no one thinks about you as much as you do.

This reality check might be something you’ve already heard, but that’s because it’s legit: Research suggests that we often overestimate how much others truly care about us and our perceived failures. And as a chronic over-thinker, I can attest that keeping this fact in mind can do wonders to quiet those racing “What if they think THAT?!” thoughts.

“We are the centre of our own worlds,” Dr. Gooden says. Everyone has their personal stuff going on — which is likely what they’re focusing on. So that slip-up you’re losing sleep over? Chances are, it’s not even on anyone else’s radar, and simply remembering that most folks probably don’t give much of an F about you can give you some peace of mind, she adds.

2. Don’t try to mind-read or guess what someone else is thinking.

“It’s really, really pointless to assume what others are thinking because the truth is, unless they tell you, you’ll never know,” Dr. Gold says. Sure, you can convince yourself that everyone at the party thinks you’re a loser because you’re still single, or that your partner’s parents don’t consider you to be “marriage material” since they weren’t particularly friendly to you at brunch. But is dwelling on these hypotheticals the best use of your time?

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