Fear of What Others Think
*Author's note - As always, I didn't edit this. It's a full-on stream of consciousness. There may be typos, there may be run on sentences. This is how I like to write. Enjoy!*
“No one on this planet thinks about you as much as you think about yourself.”
(I just quoted myself hahahaha)
Whenever I post polls on social media about what people want to read about, the themes of self-worth, not being good enough, not being deserving, and comparing ourselves to other people always come up. I have written extensively on the topics of self-worth and self-love, but I think one major piece I have been neglecting to broach is that of self-centered fear.
Self-worth and fear of what others think about us go hand-in-hand.
When we are struggling with our feelings of self-worth, there are usually two factors involved. One is that we genuinely and internally have lacked a sense of self for most of our lives. The other (much more common) factor is that we project our fear of unworthiness onto others. We throw our negative self-talk onto the blank slate of other individuals - be them personal friends and family, or strangers on the internet that validate us through social media, then internalize the judgment that we are assuming that they have.
That is a mouthful.
What I'm saying is this:
We live in our assumptions of what others think of us. We let these fears and assumptions dictate the person that we try to be. Our outer selves. The part of us that we show to the world.
We often tell ourselves, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, that we aren't good enough. But the real question is good enough for who?
Do we feel as though we aren’t good enough? Or do we fear that others feel we are not good enough? These are two completely different, yet often intertwined, internal dynamics at play.
For this article, I am going to focus solely on the fear of what others think about us.
When I was early in my sobriety, I remember being consumed with what we call “self-centered fear.” This term, coined by those in the 12-step fellowships, means that our fear is derived in what others think, feel, and say about us. It was so bad that I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom during a staff meeting or a 12-step meeting due to the fear of people judging me if I stood up to leave the room.
But when I dig deeper, what was the judgment I was so afraid of?
This is an easy one to answer. I was afraid that people would think I was rude, that I was wearing clothes that they didn’t like, that I would be perceived a certain way superficially (too short, too thin, too fat, too ugly, too pretty, too much effort, not enough effort), etc.
Essentially I was afraid of being seen.
The first time I was asked to tell my story at a 12 step meeting in a rehab for the patients, I was paralyzed with fear. I was so caught up in what the audience was going to think about me. Was my story bad enough? Was I a “real” alcoholic if I got sober so young? Was I going to gain their trust and respect even though I didn’t hit some of the “bottoms” that they might have?
I must have looked noticeably nervous, because the secretary of the meeting leaned over to me and said,
“Don’t worry, everyone is probably thinking about themselves.”
That statement has never left me.
How much of our lives do we spend worrying about what others think about us, feel about us, say about us, and whether or not they’re judging us?
The reality is that most human beings are concerned about this. Even and especially the people who proclaim “here I am, I don’t care what anyone thinks about me,” want to show the world an image of themselves that screams nonchalance and apathy. But that, in and of itself, is an image to show the world.
I was recently in Barcelona, traveling with my boyfriend, when I had the opportunity to go into some very high fashion stores. Gucci, Louis Voitton (I’m not sure how to spell that), and other shops that made me feel painfully inadequate. I became obsessed with the brand names during those few days and wanted to spend tons of money on whatever I could afford.
I couldn’t actually afford any of it, and we left empty handed.
I felt deflated. I was fixating on this Gucci bag and wanted it more than I have wanted anything in a long time. It felt like a high almost, an adrenaline surge that overcame my body every time I thought about flying back to the States with a brand new, expensive bag.
In retrospect, I can see where this obsession was rooted.
I could care less about handbags and brand name things (despite buying a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo slides on Poshmark a few weeks ago). I care about what others think of me. I worry that, because almost every article of clothing I own is from Target, I will be perceived as “not enough.” You can fill in the blanks for whatever the “not enough” is referring to.
For me, sometimes it’s that I won’t be perceived as professional enough, adult enough, established enough. I was hell bent on buying some expensive things to “make me look the part.”
Listen, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with owning nice things. If that’s your passion, or you just enjoy having nice, well made pieces of clothing or accessories, do your thing!
For me, it was feeding the delusion that I need to change myself to look better in the eyes of others.
But who am I?
I'm this girl in a hot dog suit.
I haven’t written anything since February, and I’m wondering if that has to do with beginning a new career venture and being fearful that my writing is “too raw, too authentic, or too much.”
I put quotes around those statements, but the reality is that I’m the only one projecting that fear of what others might think about it. This is my truth! I DO care what you think!
I am a human, no more, and no less, and susceptible to every single fear and discomfort that everyone else is!
If i truly play the tape through, the worst thing that can happen from being authentic is that someone does, in fact, judge me. Then what? Will it decrease my self worth? Will it stop me from stepping into the light of truth? Will it ruin my life?
Not without my permission.
When I'm struck by the thought, "ugh, I'm not good enough," I can almost hear myself saying to my clients, “good enough for who?”
Am I good enough for myself?
But when I fall into the trap of projecting my expectations of myself onto others, that’s when I fall into the hole of becoming invested in what others may or may not think of me.
The hard truth is this:
No one on this planet thinks about you as much as you think about yourself.
We live in our heads about what others may think.
The kicker is that those people, those individuals that you’re concerned with, are living in their heads thinking about what you may think. We stay isolated in our own constructed, maladaptive narratives that separate us from our fellows.
If our goal is to please others, to show a side of ourselves to the world that makes us look good (cue social media – as Brene Brown says, we are the most technologically connected and spiritually/emotionally disconnected culture that has ever existed), we aren’t showing the world our authentic selves.
How am I supposed to have genuine connections with anyone if I’m not allowing myself to be genuine? If my behaviors, thoughts, patterns, appearance, and even feelings are being dictated by how I think YOU think I should be?
This manifests in our sex lives (not communicating effectively, pretending we like something that we don’t, etc), in our relationships (trying to be who you want me to be, jeopardizing my worth and my authenticity to meet you at the level of your needs or wants), in our work like (settling for less than we truly deserve, changing ourselves to fit a mold of what we think we should be), in our families (playing the role that we always have, not setting boundaries) – essentially in every single area of our lives.
How would you think differently, act differently, feel differently, behave differently, if you weren’t being dictated by what you think others expect of you?
What would be different in your life if you let go of the fear of what others think?
Would you still be in your current relationship? Would you still be in your one-sided and sometimes draining friendships? Would you stay at your job? Would you keep frequenting the same social situations? Would you be able to set and maintain boundaries? Would you communicate more effectively and directly? Would you be as people pleasing? Would you think less of yourself, or grow into your own strength and empowerment?
These are tough questions. And you don’t need to answer them right now, not by any means. But let this article be a guide – a starting point even – to start to lean into your truth.
Remember: NO ONE on this planet thinks about you as much as you think about yourself. Literally no one. And while that may feel defeating, lonely even – let it be a call to freedom. You are free to be you.
There is no individual, no group of people in this world that need to dictate who you are.
I like scream-singing musicals in the car. I love the British (disbanded) boy band One Direction. I don’t own nice, designer things (except those Ferragamo slides) and I don’t drive a fancy car. I wear makeup because I still care what I look like and I also like to feel pretty. I base being "pretty" off of cultural and generational standards. I compare myself to people every day. I try to be mindful of this and acknowledge my worth, my truth, my individuality. I feel immense fear every time I write another article. I fear that I’ll never “make it” in life, whatever that may mean. I used to post things on social media and take them down if they didn’t get enough likes. FUCK that. Be you. Own it. Embrace it. And try to detach from the almost insidious pattern of people pleasing and changing ourselves to fit a mold.
One more time for the people in the back:
No one, not a single living soul on this planet,
thinks about you as often or as intensely as you think about yourself.
Let this be your call to freedom.