By Brianna Wiest
It’s pretty tired advice, but you should stop caring what other people think. Not because other people’s opinions don’t matter. But because you don’t know what people are thinking. What you assume is simply a projection.
We are a social species. We are hardwired to adapt to what the group finds acceptable. This is why it seems so impossible to disregard social norms and do whatever it is you please: it rejects our need to fit in with the pack. “Fitting in” is not valued in our heavily individualistic society, but in other parts of the world, it is. Being part of the whole is important. It can provide us a sense of belonging that we need to thrive.
But it’s also how we develop our “looking glass selves,” or the way we see ourselves through other people’s eyes.
Some psychologists argue that often our entire self-image is comprised of projections of what we assume other people think of us. We gather this from their responses, micro-expressions, comments, and mainly, what other things/traits/people they give praise and acceptance to.
Our “looking glass selves” are not our true selves, they are adaptations of our true selves which serve to make us seem more normalized. The difference between who we really are and who we feel we need to pretend to be can cause a lot of suffering.
I am not going to tell you to stop caring about what other people think, because it is part of our nature to do that. In some cases, it’s even helpful. (We sometimes want to consider the opinions of others out of respect – it can hold us accountable for our actions.) However, I am going to tell you to not put as much weight on it, because you do not actually know what other people think.
Their opinions are transitory, subjective, and largely kept secret. Their opinions are jaded by jealousy, stoked by assumption, and conflated by laziness. This is all to say: the singular idea of “what someone thinks” is not an objective truth, it is your projection.
But that projection can give you insight into your subconscious mind. What you project as being “other people’s opinions” has much less to do with what they actually think and much more to do with what you hope, fear and assume is true about yourself.
Having a healthy, realistic self-image begins with identifying what you think is true and false. The best way to know this about yourself is to write down what you assume other people think, and how other people perceive you.
As with many things, your “looking glass self” is not just a hindrance to your peace of mind, it can be a tool. You just have to be honest about what you see.
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