Teen Breathe

Why you should stop worrying about what other people think of you

It’s natural to want to gain family and friends’ approval. Worrying too much about people’s opinions of you, however, creates unnecessary stress. Read on for some tips on how to overcome the fear of judgment and boost your self-esteem.
WORDS: Pascale Duguay

Why are we so concerned about other people’s opinions of us?

Do you sometimes worry about what other people think of you? Maybe you’re concerned about whether you’re wearing the right outfit or anxious that you’ll say something silly during an outing or at a party. Perhaps you tend to fret over what friends might say about you when you make a mistake. If so, you’re in good company.

Early humans evolved to pay attention to such things. It helped them fit into groups, which allowed them to share resources like tools and food. In turn, this increased their chances of survival. They learned to socialise and create networks, a skill that’s been passed down all the way to you.

Why it’s normal to obsess over embarrassing incidents, especially for young adults

You might belong to a number of different social groups, such as family, school friends, sports teams and clubs. Being part of a group brings positive feelings of acceptance and belonging, which is why it’s normal to want to be liked. But, at some point, as you interact with others, you’re bound to find yourself in situations that may cause you to feel awkward, embarrassed or even ashamed. Few, for instance, would want to be remembered as the person who missed the winning goal, wandered into the wrong changing room or was sick in the middle of class.

Even smaller mishaps, such as calling out the wrong answer in class, being late or forgetting something important, can be mortifying when you imagine what others might say about them.

While such experiences happen to everyone, it can be hard to let them go when they happen to you. It’s easy to find yourself reviewing the moment over and over in your mind, reliving each embarrassing second endlessly, cringing at what others must be thinking about you.

Mylène Foisy is a psychoeducator in Quebec, Canada. She says: ‘It’s absolutely normal for all humans to feel stressed when they perceive that others are or may be judging them, or when their ego – or personality – is threatened, which can happen at any age.’

But there are times when anxiety about the perceptions of others is heightened. One study, carried out by researchers at Harvard University in the US, showed that when adolescents believed that one of their peers was watching them, they experienced more self-conscious emotion compared with younger children and older adults.

How being kind to others can help you overcome your fear of judgment

Fortunately, there are ways to cope with this anxiety. One trick is to be kind to others. This has two benefits. It encourages others to follow suit and, therefore, be less critical of friends and it allows you to worry less about what people think of you as you know they primarily regard you as a kind person.

Don’t forget that it’s important to be kind to yourself as well. It’s helpful to consider that no one is perfect and that everyone makes mistakes, including those who may have made fun of you in the past. It’s better to see blunders on both sides as a learning opportunity for next time.

It’s also useful to remember that it’s common to amplify how much others think about your mistakes. Most people are usually too concerned about their own shortcomings to pay much attention to yours or recall them for any length of time.

Why knowing and accepting yourself is key to putting the opinions of others in perspective

When you’re feeling vulnerable, it’s easy to assume that people think the worst of you. In reality, however, others will link positive traits with you that you’ve never even thought of before.

It’s helpful to try to find a few of these of your own to lean on. ‘In order to know yourself better, you can explore and experiment with new activities such as sports, creative activities and leisure,’ says Mylène.

‘Knowing yourself can help decrease the weight of other people’s perceptions. By knowing your own strengths and limits, you may feel less threatened by what others think about you.’ After all, the only opinions about you that truly matter are your own.

Some top tips for overcoming the fear of judgment

Break the cycle: When you feel stressed, you’re likely to worry more about how others see you, and their reactions may set off more anxiety. Use tried-and- tested techniques for calming your mind and body, such as the TIPP method or tapping. You can find more information here: https://www.mindfulteen.org/dbt/distress-tolerance/tipp-skills/

Develop your confidence: Those with low self-esteem are more likely to care too much about what other people think of them. Build up a sense of pride in yourself by listing all the things you’re good at. This might be drawing, football, cooking, singing, being a good listener, chatting easily to grandparents. The greater number of positive qualities you add to your list, the more confident you’ll feel.

Reframe setbacks: If you train yourself to see life’s hiccups as a chance to learn and develop, you’re less likely to feel embarrassed by them. It will also give others the opportunity to admire your ability to take things in your stride.

Connect for compassion: Reaching out to people who care about you will help you feel better when things go wrong and remind you of all the reasons to be proud of who you are.

You can read more articles about mental health and self-esteem in the latest issue of Teen Breathe magazine.