The unhappiest people in this world are the people who
care the most about what everyone else thinks.
“What’s wrong with wanting to please others?”
That’s what several people asked me via email in response to one of my recent articles. Today, I want to discuss why it’s not healthy to try to please everyone, and how to stop yourself from doing so.
Seeking approval from others is perfectly fine up until the point where you are compromising your health and happiness in the process. It becomes a serious problem if you feel as though widespread positive approval from others is the very oxygen you need to breathe. There was a time in my life when I felt exactly this way.
I literally felt like I was short of breath – almost as if I’d die if my peers didn’t approve of me. This is a condition that developed in my mind when I was very young, after kids in grade school teased me for being a “nerd.” I did everything I could to win their approval. And although I grew out of my awkward stage pretty early in my teenage years, the damage was done – I was left feeling insecure. I was conditioned to seek and beg for outside approval at all times.
The big problem was that, as a twenty-something college graduate entering the work force, I felt that anything I did or even thought only had validity if it was the “right thing” to say and think. And by “right thing,” what I really mean is “what other people thought was right.” I was terrified to step outside the box of acceptability – which was especially harmful to my creativity as I tried to nurture my passion for writing and blogging.
Once I realized what I was doing, I read several books, spoke with a coach, and focused diligently on healing this broken part of myself.
The bottom line is that constant approval-seeking forces you to miss out on the beauty of simply being yourself, with your own unique ideas and desires. If you are led through life only doing and being what you’ve come to believe is expected of you, then, in a way, you cease to live.
So how can you stop fearing what everyone thinks of you? Let’s take a look:
1. Get comfortable with not knowing what other people think.
When I first started writing on this blog, I’d agonize over whether people would think what I was writing was good enough. I desperately hoped they’d like it, and oftentimes I’d catch myself imagining they didn’t. Then one day I realized how much energy I was wasting worrying about it. So I’ve gradually learned to relax with simply not knowing.
Some problems in life, such as not knowing what others think of you, are not really meant to be resolved. How people perceive you may have more to do with them than you anyway. They may even like or dislike you simply because you’ve triggered an association in their minds by reminding them of someone they liked or disliked from their past, which has absolutely nothing to do with you.
So here’s a new mantra for you – say it, and then say it again: “This is my life, my choices, my mistakes and my lessons. As long as I’m not hurting people, I need not worry what they think of me.” (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” and “Relationships” chapters of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.”)
2. Know that most people are NOT thinking about you anyway.
Ethel Barrett once said, “We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” Nothing could be closer to the truth.
Forget what everyone else thinks of you; chances are, they aren’t thinking about you anyway. If you feel like they always are, understand that this perception of them watching you and critiquing your every move is a complete figment of your imagination. It’s your own inner fears and insecurities that are creating this illusion. It’s you judging yourself that’s the problem.
3. Accept that someone else’s opinion is NOT your problem.
How many times have you looked at a person and initially misjudged their brilliance? Appearances are deceptive. How you seem to someone and how you actually are rarely congruent. Even if they get the basic gist of who you are, they’re still missing a big piece of the puzzle. What someone thinks of you will rarely contain the whole truth, which is fine.
If someone forms an opinion of you based on superficialities, then it’s up to them, not you, to reform those opinions based on a more objective and rational viewpoint. Leave it to them to worry about – that is, if they even have an opinion at all.
Bottom line: The opinions other people have about you is their problem, not yours. The less you worry about what they think of you, the less complicated your life becomes. (Read The Four Agreements.)
4. Ask yourself, “Does what they think even matter?”
People will think what they want to think. No matter how carefully you choose your words and mannerisms, there’s always a good chance they’ll be misinterpreted and twisted upside down by someone. Does this really matter in the grand scheme of things? No, it doesn’t.
How others see you is not important. How you see yourself means the world. When you’re making big decisions, remember, what you think of yourself and your life is more important than what people think of you. Stay true to YOU. Never be ashamed of doing what feels right. Decide what you think is right and stick to it.
5. See the benefit in being unique.
If you’re thinking like everyone else, you aren’t thinking. And if you aren’t thinking, you aren’t truly living.
It’s human nature to attempt to mimic other humans we look up to – perhaps a parental figure or a celebrity – especially when we are feeling insecure in our own skin. But attempting to be someone else will always leave us feeling empty inside. Why? Because what we appreciate about the people we admire is their individuality – the qualities that make them unique. To really copy them, we need to develop our own individuality, and in that way, we would actually be less like them and more like our true selves.
We all have quirks and unique perspectives. The more relaxed you become with your own differences, the more comfortable you will start to feel just being YOU. Celebrate being different, off the beaten path, a little on the weird side… your own special creation. If you find yourself feeling like a fish out of water, by all means find a new river to swim in. But DO NOT change who you are; BE who you are. (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
6. Be fully present and aware of how you DO want to feel.
It’s OK to know how you do not want to feel, but that’s not all you should be thinking about. Imagine someone trying to learn to read by spending all their time focusing on how they do not want to not be able to read. It doesn’t really make any sense, does it?
Enough is enough! Forget what you do not want to feel for a moment. Work out how you DO want to feel right now in the present moment. Train yourself to live right here, right now without regretting how others once made you feel, or fearing the possibility of future judgment.
If you were delivering life-saving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on your mom in public, you’d be 100% focused and present. You wouldn’t be thinking about what bystanders thought of your hair, your body type, or the brand of jeans you were wearing. All these inconsequential details would vanish from your consciousness. The intensity of the situation would motivate you to choose not to care about what others might be thinking of you. This proves, quite simply, that thinking about what others are thinking about you is YOUR CHOICE.
7. Speak and live your truth.
Speak your truth even if your voice shakes. Be cordial and reasonable, of course, but don’t tread carefully on every word you say. Push your concerns of what others might think aside. Let the consequences of doing so unravel naturally. What you’ll find is that most of the time no one will be offended or irritated at all. And if they do get upset, it’s likely only because you’ve started behaving in a way that makes them feel they have less power over you.
Think about it. Why be fake?
In the end, the truth usually comes out one way or the other, and when that happens, you’re standing alone if you’ve been living a lie. So live your whole truth starting now. If someone gives you a hard time and says, “You’ve changed,” it’s not a bad thing. It just means you stopped living your life their way. Don’t apologize for it. Instead, be open and sincere, explain how you feel, and keep doing what you know in your heart is right.
A life spent ceaselessly trying to please people who, perhaps, are incapable of ever being pleased, or trying too hard to always be seen as doing “the right thing,” is a sure road to a regretful existence.
Do more than just exist. We all exist. The question is: Do you live?
I eventually realized existing without ever truly living was not what I wanted for myself. So I made changes – I implemented all seven of the points discussed in this article and never looked back. If you are in the same place I once was, seeking approval from everyone for every little thing you do, please take this post to heart and start making changes today. Life is too short not to.
How has the fear of what other people think interfered with your life? What has it stopped you from doing? How have you coped? Leave a comment below and share your insights with us.
Photo by: Zev
When I broke up with my boyfriend last year, my confidence which had strongly built inside my mind collapsed. All of a sudden, the sky of my world turned dark due to this tragic situation. Because we’re in the same school, I would always see him appearing in front of me and even hearing some gossips about us being told by classmates who I completely didn’t even recognized. I couldn’t help but wonder why those people kept talking about me since it literally none of ur businesses!!! But still, I was afraid of being myself at that time and always guessing what they were going to about me time after time. One day, I was browsing YouTube best videos, I saw Taylor Swift, I’ve always been a big fan of hers, released her song “Shake it off”.
I clicked the bottom immediately and replayed it again and again. I thought what she sang was exactly the truth! The haters would hate no matter how good you are. It’s okay to feel lost sometimes but all u need to do is to change your twisted thoughts of caring what they say.It’s your life you have to focus on and no one can defeat you but yourself!!!
Thanks to this article, it did make me believe in my belief even more deeper than before!
jennifer Jones says
I just have to say, I googled. “How to get over people’s opinion of me”? this is the sight that came up. I am grateful for it.
Paige Nichols says
This is exactly what I did, and I feel the same way.
I’m amazed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both equally
educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you have hit the
nail on the head. The problem is something that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about.
I’m very happy I stumbled across this in my hunt for something
relating to this.
I really needed this right now! Glad I found it. Thank you!
I would do whatever it takes to get people’s attention only to find out that no matter how hard I tried, I would never do so. Why? easy, I was not pleasing myself. Sometimes, you keep on going even though you know it is wrong, and you cant help it because you are unable to identify the problem. Once it is identified, you can work on it. Thanks to this blog, I can see more clearly now.
This helped me a lot. Thank you.
I wouldn’t normally write a reply to something like this but I thought you all should know how much this article is helping people like me who are basically “people-pleasers” to our detriment. I’ve bookmarked it so that I can go back and try to remind myself that it is ok to be different, alone, and I guess sometimes lonely leading to depression because I am most often all of these as a result of never living my truth and always somebody elses. This article is really helping me get a handle on this because I’ve done this my entire life and now that I am 38 it is having a really bad effect on me…after reading this…I know that I can get through it and that this doesnt have to have a fatal ending for me….
Thank you so much for what you do…
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
I just googled how to deal with depression and came up with this. After this I read every blog post you have (not every but several). And I feel way better now. I needed someone to say all this to me, like my family or my friends on which we usually count but it didn’t work out with them this time. Recently had a breakup and things are messy.
Your blog really helped.
Once Again thank you 🙂 I love the way you explain everything.
Thank you for this article. As a hospice nurse, I seem to walk that tight rope everyday with patients and co-workers. Heck as a nurse I walk this line everyday. As many have mentioned, the past/childhood seems to be where this issue to please people begins. I felt I was never heard as a child especially after my dad died. Then we moved to a new neighborhood and school and it all went down hill from there due to kids making fun of me and my mother coming home drunk after work just about every night and staying out all Friday and Saturday nights leaving me with my grandmother, my sisters who were dealing with their own issues, or my aunt’s home where she was bi-polar and I seemed to irritate people wherever I went so I spent my life trying to people pleas I thought I moved passed all that until this past week at work. Some people I can help and all goes swimmingly, but for those people who remind me of my family and something inevitably goes wrong and they call and complain about me. The complaints are never the same thing. I love the company I work for and I love doing what I do, but sometimes I feel like I cannot work at lightening speed and when I feel pressured to be somewhere at a specific time and I have been at their home for quite sometime and I need to leave to see another pt. I feel conflicted because at this point I will not be pleasing anyone and I feel like I’ve let everyone down. This article was very helpful and insightful. I feel I was pointed in this direction to help me work through this dilemma.
I’ve been reading a lot about depression, anxiety, assertiveness and mindfulness lately. I’m 36 and I’ve taken a break from work in an effort to untangle my mind, and your article has helped with the unpicking.
What I’ve come to realise is that I’m a chronic people-pleaser. On my break I’m struggling to find things that I enjoy, because there’s no one setting me tasks and to consequently win approval from!
It struck a chord when you said you were bullied at school. I was too, and there are still moments NOW when I get caught on a negative track thinking what I could do to impress the bullies and still win their approval.
Clearly it’s a destructive pattern but your article has provided insight, so thank you.
I just recently started college and I chose to join a fraternity. About half way through the semester I have hit a rough patch. I have realized that I am caring too much about what my fellow PC brothers think about me. I also get the feeling that everyone seems to like someone else more than they like me. This has gotten really hard because I feel that I am not fully accepted by my peers. This has made me depressed the last couple weeks. This article helps with me not worrying about what others think a little, but I am still caught up on feeling that I am left out. Is there any way I can mentally deal with this issue to make myself feel better and not worry about it?
Thank you so much, your blog is totally awesome and that’s the bottom line! 🙂
I found this very, very inspiring. I love the work you guys do!! Love the book as well – it’s one of my faves!!!
Lots of love, coming from Jamaica! 🙂
Ivana lenardic says
Very very nicely written.. I’m 16 in exact situation, and I am trying to get away from it.
But what I’ve leart by now and is also sth I want to add.
Every decision or thing you make, it can be anything, just make sure you do it proudly and if anyone dislikes it or makes fun of ot or whatever, your very confident response will push them back and they wont even care about it, or get use to it.
I’ve always felt a strong desire to please people and to make them have a good opinion of me. It’s kind of suffocating. I’m drowning in this need for approval. Sometimes I’ll try to change it, and then I’ll think “but then they’ll all hate me. And what’s the point in living if I have no friends and I’m all alone?” I couldn’t bear that. This article has opened my eyes a bit more, but I’m still stuck.
Jeremy james Mackinder says
Wow so true , I found myself even worried about this comment and really impressed and scared by the gravity of choices that led me to this page, I used to not ever worry about any of this but some where along the line I forgot not to focus on other people’s negativity, my lie of a life caught up with me. Yes I am people pleaser and I this was not always so, I grew up in a very abusive family and in my attempt to escape the abuse I led my self down a very dark road filled with the lies I created to please others and strong want to fit in. All of those lies have almost entirely destroyed the fun unique person I once love to be. I’m only 34 and I can’t even begin to explain the insane ride that has been my life, but in an unexpected twist I have pulled my ass up from literally having heart pelvatations from the stress of it all to trying my hardest to just be me again and smile and in no small part thanks to the quote always remember if some has a problem with its theirs not yours! Because in the ladder years of your life those stupid worries won’t matter.