Have you ever dressed for an evening out, only to then go and change your clothes, suddenly doubting their suitability, concerned at what others might think? Or rejigged the tone of a presentation due to last-minute trepidation?
How many of us have felt mortified when the contents of our supermarket trolley have been noticed by a friend or neighbour, even going on to explain or justify ourselves, with a hurried, 'those biscuits are for the builders!'
There are no doubt times when we find ourselves modifying our behaviour or sometimes refraining from speaking up, fearful at what others might say or think. It's no bad thing to sometimes pause before coming out with something pithy. It's not easy to retract something once it's been said or done, and a little restraint can sometimes be a valuable decision, but constantly vetting ourselves is a very different thing altogether.
What about those people who are so vigilant, who monitor themselves so rigorously that they never act without first considering what others might think?
- Some people are driven to conform. They are so eager to fit in and be accepted that much of their lives are ruled by concern about other people's acceptance or rejection. Their lifestyle choices, shopping, even holiday decisions are made against a backdrop of what friends, neighbours, their social circle perceive as suitable. The approval of others hovers over their everyday lives.
- It matters little that these perceived 'friends' are unlikely to know or care about the 'am I good enough?' stresses being agonised over; they probably have issues of their own to contend with. But many people could well be living a 'keeping up with the Joneses' lifestyle, desperate to fit in, conform, be accepted and acceptable, no doubt experiencing personal, financial and relationship stress as a consequence. What others think overrides all other concerns.
- Inexperience sometimes means that people don't trust their own mind, perhaps don't even know what they want, don't understand the choices available and are loath to risk looking foolish, amateur or becoming the butt of a joke. Self-deprecation can be a good response here; laughing and making jokes about oneself can defuse anyone else's attempts to highlight failures by showing that it's not being treated as such a big deal; 'here I am laughing at myself'!
- Insecurity often results in people looking to others for guidance, maybe copying, seeking inspiration and some indication as to the right choices and decisions that should be made. They may be new to a situation, trying to find their feet, aspiring to prove how well they can cope, show that they're sophisticated, worldly-wise and experienced enough to do the 'right' thing. But there may well be situations where some prompting and a little help is needed in order to navigate their way forward.
- Confidence in not being too swayed by what others may think often comes from a stable, secure background, a childhood where there was acceptance, encouragement and support aplenty. Children from difficult or abusive backgrounds may have missed out on opportunities or the guidance to attempt things and learn from mistakes or failure. Taking a chance on things going wrong or trying something new from scratch may not have been an option when they were growing up.
- As people gain more life experience there often emerges a better, more-rounded familiarity with the many different lifestyles, values and perspectives that exist successfully enough in the world. We discover what is accepted and acceptable, what might be too much and what might simply rock the boat or shake things up a little. Having a more sophisticated barometer allows better decisions to be made in order to realise how little what others think really matters.
Over time many of us come to appreciate that what other people think is largely irrelevant. Few people care unduly or are lying awake at night fretting over us and our choices! Some will want to see us happy, others may raise an occasional eyebrow or be amused by what we do but then forget about it moments later! Certainly if we're able to demonstrate that we're fine with our choices most other people are okay, even ambivalent about the way we choose to live our lives.
Susan Leigh, Altrincham, Cheshire, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.
She's author of 3 books, 'Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact', '101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday' and 'Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain', all on Amazon & with easy to read sections, tips and ideas to help you feel more positive about your life.
To order a copy or for more information, help and free articles visit http://www.lifestyletherapy.net