Why We Worry About What Other People Think of Us (And How to Stop)

“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” ~Winston Churchill

I often play a little game with myself when I’m feeling bad. The game is a simple one, and maybe one that some people might find slightly morbid, but it cuts to the heart of the matter.

I ask myself if this thing that is making me feel bad will matter to me when I’m on my deathbed. Ninety-nine percent of the time the answer is no.

The things that matter to us when we’re contemplating our demise are the things that are actually important like, Did I love enough? and, Did I do all of the things I wanted to do?

No one on their deathbed has ever said, “Man, I really wish I hadn’t stumbled over my words during that job interview.” Or, “I wonder why no one complimented me at that party when I was twenty-two.”

We spend a lot of our time worrying about things that won’t matter to us later.

You might be thinking, but it matters to me now, and it does. But there are two reasons why it shouldn’t: The first is that worrying is counterproductive, and the second is that worrying about what other people think of you doesn’t serve you.

Worrying is the most impractical way to use your energy. There has never been a time when worrying if so-and-so would like you, give you the job, or want to be your partner in life contributed to you getting what you want.

Not only does this not solve your problems, it typically leads to anxiety and overwhelm.

When things are outside of our perceived control, like when we’re meeting people for the first time, worry kicks in.

Our minds are wired for negativity—an evolutionary tool designed to keep us safe. But today, this process doesn’t serve us. We’re not meeting bears that might kill us at the event tonight, but our bodies are responding as if we were.

Just like anything that isn’t serving us, worry can act as a signpost for where we need to dig more deeply into ourselves.

Worrying about what other people think about you is a key indicator that you do not feel whole without the approval of others. 

You’re looking outside of yourself to fill something only you can fill. No amount of approval from an outside source will ever make you feel whole. You’ll get it once and need it again and again and again. It’s an addictive cycle that turns you away from yourself.

I remember when I began dating in my early twenties. I was super nervous because I wanted to make a good impression on whoever I was going out with. I was so focused on appearing likable that I didn’t even consider whether or not I liked him.

This, in the simplest of terms, is disempowerment.

We disempower ourselves when we’re more concerned with how other people perceive us than we are about how we perceive ourselves.

When you are truly content with who you are, you stop being concerned with whether or not other people like you.

You deserve to live your life for you instead of chasing an ideal your mind has created.

You deserve to discover who you truly are, and show that incredible person to the world.

You deserve to have people around you who love and admire you for who you are instead of who you are trying to be.

There are two techniques that have alleviated my worry about what others think of me. The first is my breathwork practice, a powerful active meditation that gives me clarity, connection to my deeper self, and lightness of being.

The second is mindfulness, the act of being conscious and nonjudgmental of my thoughts. Once I’m aware of my thought process, I work on actively shifting my focus to something that serves me.

I recently went through a shocking breakup. It was shocking because the person I had been dating led me to believe he was committed to me, and we were planning our futures together.

Without warning, he decided he didn’t want that. Of course, there is a natural grieving process when we lose someone we love dearly, but part of my challenge has been letting go of what he thinks about me now.

I will have thoughts about how he doesn’t hold me in the high regard he once did, and it will leave me feeling deflated.

In these moments, I am disempowering myself. I am allowing his thoughts about me to matter, and they shouldn’t.

It’s not that we shouldn’t ever care about what people think about us, but we should care what we think about ourselves first. So in these moments I ask myself who I am and place my attention there.

If he doesn’t think I’m amazing anymore, it doesn’t matter, because I know I am.

We disempower ourselves far too often. A simple shift in our thinking can bring us into connection with the truth.

When you find yourself concerned about what someone thinks about you, bring the focus back to yourself. If you’re thinking, “I hope she doesn’t think I’m a flake.” Ask yourself, “Am I a flake?” If you know the answer is no, then you’re good. Release it and move on.

If the answer is yes, then take note and forgive yourself for it.

When you spend time wondering how other people perceive you, you create stories that are often far from the truth. In order to change, we have to be able to see ourselves, accept who we are by giving ourselves love, and then make new choices.

Worrying about everyone else’s possible thoughts doesn’t contribute to positive transformation.

When I’m on my deathbed, the people who are going to matter to me are the ones who chose me, the ones who really saw me, the people who chose to give me love even when I fumbled.

These are the people who matter.

And it will matter to me that I lived a life I was proud of, that I was able to get to know myself and share that person with the people I love.

So, you have to learn to be your own advocate. You have to stop giving your power away to other people.

Like meditation practice, each time your mind wanders to the thoughts of other people, bring it right on back to yourself. Fill up that void with your own love. Stand in your own power. Show people who you really are, unapologetically.

Don’t wait for someone else’s permission to be amazing. If they don’t see it in you, it doesn’t matter.

The truth is that if they don’t see it in you, it’s because they don’t see it in themselves.

We are all acting as mirrors for one another. Don’t try to be the broken version of someone else. Be the best version of yourself and your own biggest fan.

About Michelle D'Avella

Michelle D’Avella is an author, Breathwork teacher and mentor. Her memoir, The Bright Side of a Broken Heart is available here. Download her FREE guide to heal your heart and follow her on Instagram for daily doses of inspiration.

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  • Another reason I think we worry about what other people think is that we project our own fears and inadequacies on them. When Oprah Winfrey made up her mind to lose weight and start living a more healthy lifestyle, one of the first things she discovered on her journey was that she had to find new friends. Most of her current friends actually discouraged her, questioning why she would need to change since she’s perfect the way she is. Of course, they had other excuses, such as why they couldn’t lose weight.

    I’ve found that to be true in my own life. If I wanted to get really good at something, I have to first find new friends. I’d find someone better than me, model myself after him, and learn as much as I could from him.

    Most of all, during this time I have learned to stopped giving a crap what other people think. One of my own fears is that if I start associating myself with people better than me is that my current friends might think I’m snobby or stuck-up all of a sudden. “Why are you hanging around this guy now? We’re not good enough for you?”

    Well, yeah…There is a sense of truth in what you just said…

    One of the biggest gotchas I’ve noticed in my own growth and progress towards anything I want to do better is this: We tend to limit our selves and want to stay stuck to the glass ceiling because that’s how other people have always viewed us. It’s in some perverse logic our sense of preserving our identity. It’s a lack of positive self-image.

    And I always counter with this: Most of the population aren’t interested in getting better. Or, they are unaware of what is going on with their lives or why they keep getting the results they get. The ones who do notice are secretly jealous of the results successful people achieve without realizing just how much blood and sweat they’ve poured into their endeavors.

  • Gina

    What a great read. I think that this frame of thinking(worrying) is especially prevalent within our constantly changing, technological world. We live in a bubble of connectivity and we constantly are in the presence of others– maybe not physically, but mentally and emotionally.

    But mindfulness truly helps to heal this. Thank you for sharing!

  • Peace Within

    Thanks for sharing Michelle. I do not think you are being morbid when you are thinking of death, I think you are being a realist. Death is a part of life, I don’t view it negatively. Of course I get sad when someone I love passes away. When I have lost my loved ones it made me reflect on my own life and what matters / what doesn’t. Basically, the same thing you are doing. Also, I realized that I don’t care what other people think of me. Their perceptions are of what they have going on inside. I care about what I think of myself and try to grow as a person as much as I can. Not caring about outside sources has given me freedom. I like myself way better. I am being true to myself.

  • Peace Within

    Hey, I don’t think anyone is better or worse than you. We’re all just different. When you want new friends you want changes. That doesn’t mean those friends aren’t good enough for you. That means your life is taking a different direction than theirs. I’m on my own journey. A lot of my old friends are no longer on this journey, they are on their own. That doesn’t mean I am doing better than them, I’m just into different things now. I am growing in different ways. I’m following my own new path, like you.

  • lv2terp

    Wonderful Post!!!!! Thank you for sharing your insight, wisdom, and great points to ponder! 🙂

  • I find worrying about what people think of you is a massive handicap for those I work with who are trying to build their self-confidence. The sad thing is that a lot of people get their perception completely wrong. They think they come across a whole lot worse than they actually do. They form a much more negative impression of themselves than they need to. The most frustrating thing about this is that they stop themselves doing things because this. Often things that will really help them to move on. Thanks Michelle for a very revealing post.

  • Rachel Cain

    Sometimes it’s the way that people treat people that leads them to their deathbed.

  • David G Stone

    Thank you for this article, it was well written. The mirror analogy is something I noticed in my own experience. I always believed the quote in the bible that says ‘we are created in his image’ to me interpreted how we reflect Gods qualities so inherently we are supposed to be Amazing! The Bahai faith uses the analogy we are like a mirror that is reflecting light, God being the Light but we tarnish the mirror with our own selfish desires and caring about what others think is rooted in vanity. Its nice to read something like this because its makes so much sense and further conformation. I know I’m on the right path. Thanks again for sharing.

  • Thanks so much, David! Glad it resonated with you!

  • Hi Rachel. I’m so sorry for your loss. People can be cruel when they are in their own pain. This is why it’s so important for us to look within and find love for ourselves. That’s how we find the strength to endure.

  • Thanks, Mike! Totally agree. Our internal experience is far worse than the ways others perceive us which ends up holding us back from showing our true selves. Our negativity bias keeps us in chains. Being aware of these things is always the first step in transforming.

  • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed.

  • Beautiful! So awesome to hear this! Keep doing your thing. 🙂

  • Hey Gina! I agree. Our minds get addicted to the stimulation so it becomes more difficult to manage our thoughts. Mindfulness in all areas of our lives is really essential in this day and age especially.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know what you mean when you’re speaking about involving yourself with different people when you have certain aspirations. It’s well known that you are the five people you surround yourself with so that’s important. I don’t, however, think you have to drop all your old friends and find new ones. Although, we do outgrow some relationships.

    I think most of the population is interested in getting better, but people just don’t want to face the pain required to do so. It’s difficult, and people are burnt out from the fast paced lives we now lead.

  • Aelio

    Thank you

  • Ana

    I love the line ‘ the truth is if they don’t see it in you , they don’t see it in themselves’ , makes me feel a little better when I now realise the person judging or rejecting me is actually not feeling any better than I am deep down.