Why We Care About What Other People Think of Us
... and what we could gain if we can stop.
Posted December 31, 2014 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
One of our more enduring social fallacies is the idea that what others think of us actually matters. While this notion clearly has primal evolutionary roots, its shift from survival instinct to social imperative has become one of our greatest obstacles to self-acceptance.
At a time when our ancestors shared the planet with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, no one wanted to get left behind. Group inclusion was necessary for survival.
Today, our greatest predatory threat is our own species, both physically and socially. Regardless of this threat shift, the need for acceptance—and the fear that we won't be accepted—remain powerful influences on our thoughts and feelings. In fact, this in large measure fuels the existential anxiety that has become the hallmark of a generation, driving everything from people-pleasing to codependence to over-sharing on social media.
We have an inside and an outside—an interior landscape and an exterior landscape. Our interior landscape is our subjective experience of our authentic self, while our exterior landscape is a product of our worldview. The two together create a psychosocial dynamic, but that dynamic has only one reference point, leaving us balancing self- and other-perception.
When this delicate balance shifts because we begin seeking approval or attempting to control outcomes, we become externally focused and can literally lose sight of our essential nature. That essential nature is different from the ego-self—the self-image fed and influenced by what is outside of us.
In looking out, rather than within, our sense-of-self and sense-of-place become clouded. The more we attempt to establish these sensibilities through external means, the more clouded our vision becomes and the further we get from our authentic self. Instead of being fully present in our social interactions, our thoughts and behavior become means for eliciting a response, rather than an expression of self-value.
The ego-self is a false self, a façade scripted by the demands of our context as we perceive them. It is our self-image, our social mask, the role we are playing—and it thrives on approval. That need for approval is driven by self-criticism and negative self-talk, which are fear-based. That fear derives from any number of sources, from our original premise concerning fear of rejection to a "less-than" mentality, all of which begs the question:
We’ve been disapproving of ourselves our entire lives without much success. Why not start approving of ourselves and see how that works out?
Self-approval comes out of self-acceptance, which rises out of the recognition that we are, in fact, enough, just as we are. With that recognition, we can free ourselves from fear; we no longer need to look outside for a validation that, on the inside is self-evident. We come into our power, our full humanity, in the recognition that our essential nature is all we need to be fully us.
© 2014 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved.
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