How do I stop worrying about what other people think of me?
How do I stop seeking the validation of others, such as close friends and family? I have listened to plenty of podcasts about not caring what others think, and sometimes I do things that I truly believe are right and best for me. But the ones closest to me have harsh opinions.
I feel anxious about it even though I know the only opinion that matters is my own. How do I stop my thoughts from constantly being worried about what my friends think, even though I know I’m doing what’s right for me?
Dear reader, I must first ask: Who gave you a copy of my journal? I’m certain I have multiple entries that express this very sentiment. Coming from a larger family, I’m used to having my decisions and opinions challenged. And for all three decades of my life, I’ve cared deeply about what others think of me; I continue to struggle with this today.
You’re right: Most often, we know what’s best for us. While feedback from others can be helpful (when we ask for it—because, boundaries), it hurts to have our thoughts, opinions, and even actions questioned by those we love.
To be clear, we’re not talking about a healthy debate—I think you and I both know that, but I want to emphasize it all the same. Because it is helpful to have our worldview and opinions challenged. This is how we grow and learn to see things from various perspectives. What we believe to be right and true is relative to our experiences. So I’m not saying that we should dig our heels in and refuse to ever change our minds about things that matter. But what you’re talking about is much deeper than that—it’s the struggle to feel at peace with yourself despite harsh criticism.
Keep in mind that there’s nothing inherently wrong with caring about what other people think. We all seek external validation to some degree. And this can be especially true with our family and friends. What’s concerning is when we allow our voice to be drowned out by others’ critiques.
I’d like to gently ask you a question. It’s one I’ve had to ask myself while reckoning with my need for validation, and it’s greatly helped in getting to the root of things: Do you value your voice as much as you value the voices of others? And if not, why do you think that is?
I know for me, a lot of soul-searching helped me realize I didn’t have a strong foundation from the start. This was a result of growing up in performance-based settings. While I thought I was confident in my opinions, I realized I only believed them to be as true as the validation I did or didn’t receive. As a result, I spent most of my life taking cues from others. Even though I knew my opinions mattered, I valued them less than the acceptance I craved; I couldn’t stand the thought of someone disliking me. I often felt worried about sharing my opinions because I didn’t know how to remain firm in my stance amidst criticism.
It was a hard truth to acknowledge, but naming it helped illuminate a path forward. To lessen the anxiety I felt about others’ opinions, I needed to strengthen my own voice—which is why I created this self-validation practice.
I’d propose you also ask yourself this question, and give yourself time to wrestle with the answers. Unfortunately, there’s no quick solution to “stop your thoughts,” or the anxiety that can come from worrying about what others think. But you can capture your thoughts and learn from them. My hope is that once you get to the root of why you’re seeking validation, you may discover how to strengthen your own voice and be at peace within yourself.
This can feel a little abstract, so here’s an exercise I find helpful: The next time a friend or family member critiques you, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. You may even want to write them down so you can see the words on paper. Reflect on the narrative that you create as a result of the feedback, and then write a paragraph to counter it with the truth. I’ve found this practice immensely useful in differentiating between helpful and harmful thoughts. It’s also shown me when and where I need to start drawing boundaries.
Because, of course, there does come a time when boundaries must be set in relationships. If you find yourself being bullied or continuously criticized by a loved one, it may be time to have a conversation. It’s never fun to be on the receiving end of constant critique, but sometimes those closest to us don’t realize their words are hurtful. Of course, this isn’t an excuse, and I’m not suggesting emotional labor where it’s not due. But when it comes to family and friends, people can too quickly lose their filter and forget that their critique is not always wanted. A conversation to reset boundaries can do wonders.
Just remember: However you decide to move forward, it’s human to seek validation and care about others’ opinions. We all do it. We literally post things online for *likes.* The trick is learning to trust and care about our own voice first and foremost. It’s then that we’ll discover how to release some of our worries and find peace, even in the face of the harshest criticisms. x
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Kayti Christian (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for enneagram 4s and other sensitive-identifying people. Outside of writing, she loves hiking, reading memoir, and the Oxford comma.