Why I am a prisoner of others

— SH Subrahmanian


Moving away from the common mind set and inspired by "If you want to become successful, stop thinking what is right and what is wrong about others. Instead start thinking what is right and what is wrong about you" (MN Raju, Issue Number 35), here are some "Reasons to think aloud about stop 'worrying or not' about what other people think of me".

“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner,” says, James Frey Who cares what anyone else thinks, right? Easier said than done.

Most of us, however, do care, at least some point of time. Especially because some of us so frequently rely on other’s perspective as we can’t always ourselves, so clearly and confidently.

Caring about what others think isn’t really the problem. Worrying about it is, though! What’s the difference? Caring about what others think means you respect their opinion and will bear it in mind, but it doesn’t suggest that you will rely on someone else’s viewpoint to determine your worth. Worrying about it implies that your worth is contingent on someone else’s appraisal.

I hypothesize that almost all people, from time to time, worry about living up to other people’s expectations and that the few who have 'never' cared are probably sociopaths. It is human nature to want to be liked and accepted, Isn't that so!

But for most, this worry can affect their lives almost universally. It can be so debilitating that it interferes with their ability to feel at ease with themselves and around others, and possibly even limits what endeavours they take on in life. This kind of need for acceptance can be so great that people will actually forgo their own needs and desires in order to do what they think will achieve the approval of others. Letting go of this mind set, however, is not an easy task. It's unrealistic to think that I will never again care about what others think. But it is possible to worry less about what other people think and to care more about your own needs, beliefs and desires.

And the reasons to stop seeking our worth in approval from others are:

1. Me, me, me!
Honestly, isn't it that our favourite saying goes something like this:
“You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do”, says David Foster Wallace. To me this is a very profound statement, but it can be taken one of two ways: that either
a) people don’t think about me or my shortcomings as much as I think they do, or
b) people generally don’t hold me in high regard.
Someone with low self-esteem might be apt to think the second interpretation is true. But I believe and generally don’t think outside myself a great deal of time. It is a sad, It is that the average person filters his world through his ego, meaning that he thinks about most things in terms of ‘me’ or ‘my’. Hence, all people, events and phenomena are judged according to how they affect ‘me’ or ‘my‘. Therefore, unless who you are or what you have done directly affects another person or their life, you are unlikely to spend much time thinking about you at all!

2. It’s none of my business!
People are entitled to think whatever they want, just as I'm entitled to think what I want. What people think of you cannot change who you are or what you are worth. Their thoughts, even the ones about me, are their business. Their thoughts or opinions of me won't add or subtract anything to or from me, unless I allow them to. Try as I might, ultimately do not have control over what they think.

3. What 'Difference' does it make to me?
What does it really mean to my life? If I decide to wear something unusual or bold and I'm met with (what you interpret as) a disapproving look from someone else, how does that really affect my life? Thinking about the answer in tangible terms, sure, I might be embarrassed momentarily, but, even a few days or hours from now, how much will their fleeting opinions really matter to me?

4. Give back the Cards.
I'm not a mind reader or a fortune-teller. I may think I know what other people think, but unless I ask them directly (and assuming you would get an honest answer), I will never truly know!

5. Life is complicated.
I have many things going on in my life. I have unfulfilled desires to dream about, worries to worry about, families to care for, jobs to do and careers to advance, chores to be done, plans to be made, hobbies to indulge, and so on. If I sleep six hours a day and work another eight, that leaves only another ten hours to devote to those other things. How much of those ten hours others would devote to thinking about me and my perceived short-comings?

And, think about this: people have million plus thoughts a day. Even if someone else think about me ten times a day, that is only miniscule! That is so inconsequential it is almost imperceptible. Something that insignificant is hardly going to make much of a difference to the person thinking it, so why should it affect me a bit?

6. Time flies.
People’s thoughts, ideas and views change on a regular basis. Philosophers suggest that we are in a constant state of flux, so much so that we cannot even say we have one, specific ‘self’ or a fixed personality. We are constantly changing. Hence, even if somebody does think badly of me at the moment, there is a good chance they will think differently in the near future. Either they will have changed their opinion, or they will be thinking about something entirely different one!

7. Do your duty (Bhagavad Gita).
Worrying too much about what other people think of me can become a self fulfilling prophecy. Frequently, people indulge their need to be liked so much so that it actually dictates to the way they behave. Some become people-pleasers or so submissive that many people are turned off. The behaviour I use an attempt to ensure I'm liked may actually cause me to be disliked!

8. Everybody’s doing it, after all!
Everyone has negative thoughts about other people and themselves from time to time. So when I'm worried about someone in particular, what do I derive?

9. It’s a piece of cake?
Let me draw myself a circle. Imagine that it is a point. Now think of everyone in my life, and draw segments in the circle, whose sizes are proportionate to their importance in my life. Why care what they think!

10. Can I 'Please' everyone!

I can’t please all the people all the time, but I can please some people some of the time. It is impossible to live up to everyone’s expectations so there is no point in burning myself out trying to do so. Let me "Just make sure that one of the people I please is myself!"

About the Author
An electronic Engineer, LF IETE, LF IB(E)S IB(E)S Retiree in Sr Engg Mgmt Cadres from AIR & DD, MIB, GoI. Currently a social activist and LACC Member BMC

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