I used to get tremendously anxious about what other people thought of me. Hang on a second; used to? Who am I kidding? I'm still as neurotic as the next person. But I have been making some inroads into this particular phobia lately.
It helps is knowing where it comes from, and it's partly an evolutionary thing: we evolved in tribes where individuals specialised in what they were good at, because that gave the tribe an evolutionary advantage over individuals living every-Neanderthal-for-themselves. Our ancestors were interdependent, and that meant they needed to get along with each other. Since the cook couldn't hunt and the hunter couldn't cook, rejection by the tribe meant certain death; so we learned to worry about what other people think of us.
Or I could just blame my mother. She used to say “Who cares what other people think?” But the way she hid her feelings, and her intolerance to criticism left me thinking that unconsciously she worried about what other people thought of her a great deal. I probably learned this habit by osmosis.
Regardless of where it comes from, while consideration for others is a good think, worrying too much what they think is something I've overdone in the past. If I were to describe my fear of what other people think in terms of a limiting belief, it would be something like:
Other people's thoughts can hurt me.
Sounds pretty crazy on the face of it, but try telling that to my hyper-vigilant nervous system.
With that in mind, I decided to run this irrational belief through the 26 thought reframing patterns from L. Michael Hall and Bobby G. Bodenhamer's book Mind Lines: Lines For Changing Minds to see if I could neutralise it with a little neuro-semantic magic.
This gives me 26 Ways To Chill The Fuck Out About What Other People Think:
#1: Specificity: Chunking Down
Which other people are we talking about here? Some random dude in the street? A family member? My mother? They're all individuals you know. That whole collective consciousness thing could just be made up. When did I buy into that new age bullshit about other people's negative energies affecting me?
And which thoughts, in particular? They're probably thinking more about what to have for lunch or how they're going to get away with their last sexual indiscretion than they are about me, anyway.
#2: Detailing the Strategy's Sequence
When I feel the impulse to do something that I want, I suddenly think “What will they think!” Then I freeze and get all anxious and panicky.
Well that's a kick-arse strategy, isn't it. How about I try just skipping a couple of links in the causal chain and quit pretending that just because I've played this game in the past, I've got to keep it up ad-infinitum.
#3: Content Reframing: Reframe the External Behaviour by Redefining It
How can I seriously give a fuck what other people are thinking inside their heads? If it's anything like what's going on in mine, the bullshit is flying thick and fast. I don't even know what they're thinking most of the time, and they generally don't even bother to tell me. It's just not that important. The people who do offer me an unsolicited free character assessment are just expressing their ill-informed point of view anyway. Who gives a fuck?
#4: Content Reframing: Reframe the Internal State by Redefining It
So I feel a little anxious when other people are around. I get socially anxious sometimes. Public speaking freaks me out. Big deal. It's just a feeling. Maybe it's even a good thing. Get over it. Move on man!
#5: Reflexive Reframing: Reflexively Apply External Behaviour to Self or Listener
Other people should be more worried about what I think of them. But it's not as if my thoughts can actually hurt them, so why should their thoughts be able to hurt me?
#6: Reflexive Reframing: Reflexively Apply Internal State to Self or Listener
Hang on a second. I'm the alpha-dude here. I set the frame, and the person who sets the frame has the power in the interaction. If somebody's going to get hurt here, it's not going to be me.
#7: Counter Example Framing
I've met plenty of people who thought highly of me. What do you think I am, an idiot? Every day I meet other people who find me interesting enough to stop and give me the time of day. Remember the people at the presentation I gave yesterday? They loved what I said so much, they all wanted to hang out and talk afterwards. They told me they thought I was awesome. They're right.
#8: Positive Prior Intention Framing
There's always a positive intention behind other people's thoughts about me, since we're all searching for happiness. The way other people think just provides another perspective on how to get there. It just takes a little work to uncover sometimes when they don't communicate clearly.
That woman at the beach who told me she thought I should be more careful with they way I spoke was just trying to help, really.
The bullies at school just wanted to help me identify my weaknesses so I could work on them more quickly, by pointing them out to me in front of everyone else, every single day of my school life.
#9: Positive Prior Cause Framing
Other people's thoughts often contain a refreshing perspective on reality. Some people follow religions that have been invented in very recent history, even though they are obviously made up. Others believe in gods that almost certainly don't exist. Some people reading this will think I'm having a go at them. Many of them will be right.
Some people think I'm awesome. Others think I suck. Some people think I'm awesome at one point in time, and then later decide that I suck; like ex-girlfriends. The degree of flexibility and diversity demonstrated by the range of different thoughts that other people have about me is an exciting testament to the richness of human imagination.
#10: First Outcome Framing
If I go around imagining that other people's thoughts can hurt me, I'll feel more inhibited and less free than I otherwise would. Which is sad because I never really know for sure what's going on in someone else's head. I could end up making myself miserable for no good reason at all!
#11: Outcome Of Outcome Framing
If I carry on acting as if other people think poorly of me, and that their thoughts can hurt me, and I go out every day with that kind of crap going on inside my head, I'll probably end up acting all weird, causing people to think poorly of me.
#12: Eternity Framing
All right already! Say I walked around forever imagining that other people think negative, hurtful thoughts about me. I'd just end up a completely paranoid mental case. But that's what you were thinking already, wasn't it? Wasn't it!?!
#13: Model of the World Framing
What kind of world would I be living in if everyone around me just thought negative hurtful thoughts about me? Even strangers who have never even met me! Beam me up Scotty, this planet sucks.
#14: Criteria and Values Framing
My core value is fun. Worrying about what other people think isn't much fun. I'd rather be playing with them instead.
#15: Allness or Universality Framing
It's not as if everyone thinks negative thoughts about me all the time. Only my inner critic does that, and I don't always have to listen to it either. Even when people do think negative thoughts about me, they don't necessarily have the desire or opportunity to hurt me.
What other people think of me never makes any fucking difference to my life whatsoever.
#16: Necessity Framing
Is it even necessary to think that other people's thoughts can hurt me? I can survive just fine without continuing to think this way. It doesn't add anything useful to my life.
#17: Identity Framing
What difference do other people's thoughts about me make to who I am anyway? Nothing! They can think whatever the fuck they want, and I'll still be the same me. In fact, if I were to ditch this belief, I'd probably be an even better, freer version of me. The fear that other people's thoughts can hurt me is the only thing that restricts me, and even that doesn't change who I am. It's just a piece of useless thought-baggage I used to carry. I am who I am regardless of what other people think.
#18: Framing All Other Abstractions
The idea that other people's thoughts can hurt me doesn't reflect reality. It depicts a false dichotomy between myself and other people. It has a misplaced emphasis. It belongs to a different time zone in my life. I realise that it's not real. Insert broadly generalised catch-all statement covering all the other reasons why other people's thoughts can't hurt me here.
#19: Ecology Framing
Does thinking that other people's thoughts can hurt me make life a party? Not one that I'd want to go to! Fuck that. I'm heading next door where everyone's dancing naked without a care in the world.
#20: Metaphoring Framing Or Storying Framing
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who worried too much about what other people thought.
Yeah well, that was a long time ago. I'm all grown up now, and it's time to get over it.
#21: Both/And Framing
Maybe it's not that other people's thoughts either can or can't hurt me. Perhaps there's a grey area in the middle where I don't know either way, but it JUST DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER. Ah... I always feel better after a good scream.
#22: Pseudo-Word Framing
What are thoughts anyway? Just electrical impulses surging through tiny synapses in a person's brain. They aren't even real, regardless of how often we tend to get sucked into believing them. You can't pick up a thought and kick it down the road. If it's not even really a thing, then how the heck could it possibly hurt me?
#23: Negation Framing
Maybe I've been wrong all my life, and had the whole idea around backwards: what if other people's thoughts can only ever help me? They can never hurt me, because all they can ever do is teach me something... like what an asshole the mean thinker is.
#24: Possibility and “As If” Framing
What would it be like if other people's thoughts just didn't even factor into how I felt, what I did, or what happened to me?
#25: Systemic and Probability Framing
If I think of all the other people in the system called “the world”, they're diverse individuals, all going about their own business. What's the probability that they're thinking anything about me at all, let alone anything negative that could possibly hurt me? The probability of them even giving a shit has to be a billion to one. If they want to think negative thoughts about me, they can jolly well go and get fucked. I don't need them in my life. There are enough people in the world for me not to worry about the ones who enjoy thinking negative thoughts about me.
#26: Decision Framing
I'm just going to decide to live my life on the basis that other people's thoughts can't hurt me. If they do something that hurts me, I'll decide how to handle that at the time. I've decided not to waste any more of my valuable mental energy worrying about what other people think about me.