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4 min read

Why do I care so much what other people think?

man in suit drinking and thinking

 

Humans are, by nature, social animals. That's why we care what others think of us: We want to belong, to be accepted, and to bond with other members of our social "pack."

Caring about other people's opinions of us is a survival mechanism as old as humanity itself. It's definitely healthy to align yourself with the social order and to behave, at least publicly, in a manner that is conducive to building solid relationships.

But there is certainly a point at which caring what others think becomes unhealthy. For the sake of our mental health, we have to be careful that we don't change our principles, core traits, or overall belief system in order to fit in.

It's important to respond to constructive feedback, but it's also important to maintain your own self-esteem and live your own life.

If you feel that you care too much about what others think of you, therapy may be able to help you reach a place of confidence in your own authenticity.

In this article, we're going to explore why we humans care so much what others think of us, at what point this worry becomes unhealthy, and how to improve it if it is.

Key Takeaways:

  • Caring what others think of us is natural, but can definitely reach an unhealthy level of severity.
  • "Approval addiction" refers to cases where someone is causing themselves excessive and undue stress, or changing their entire identity, to fit in socially.
  • Therapy can be a great way to boost self-acceptance and have a healthier reaction to what others think of you.

Read about why we care what other people think of us on this page:

Why am I so bothered by what others think of me?

When is it unhealthy to care what others think of me?

How To Care Less About What Others Think of You

Therapy for Approval Addiction: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Why am I so bothered by what others think of me?

The fact that you care what your friends think of you has nothing to do with social media, your high school bully, or how you were raised (though those can definitely magnify it.)

In reality, it comes from a very primal place. We can use an evolutionary anecdote to understand why we care if someone thinks badly of us.

The theory of evolution takes the observable phenomenon of genetic mutation and infers its implications across generations of organisms. If an organism has a genetic mutation that makes it more likely to be able to reproduce, that mutation has a chance of incorporating itself into the general population over the course of many generations.

We care what others think because, back in the primeval forests of the Eocene Epoch (about 50 million years ago), our ancient primate ancestors had to band together to fend off predators, share food, and stay warm.

The members of "the old gang" that didn't fit in or were considered threats were shunned, left to be eaten by a million primeval predators or to starve to death.

The other evolutionary process at work here is sexual attraction. Primates who were more charismatic, made stronger bonds, and were valued more highly within their social group were more likely to catch the attention of a mate.

After a couple of, shall we say, "dates," their offspring then carried this genetic predisposition for charisma (let's call it the "Keanu Reeves" gene) into the next generation, where the cycle started all over again.

Multiply these processes by thousands of generations across 50 million years, and the result is you!

When we say that caring what others think is human nature, we really mean that. It is completely natural - as in trees, birds, and bees - to care about other people's opinions of us.

But at what point does this become unhealthy in the modern world, where there are no more saber-toothed tigers looking for a snack and you can buy all the chicken you could ever want at your local grocery store?

When is it unhealthy to care what others think of me?

The short answer is this: if you are changing who you are as a person in order to please others or if you worry consistently and intensely about pleasing others, you most likely care too much about their opinions.

As the world changes, so do the priorities of society. Whereas in the primordial world we had to socialize for survival, we now do it just for fun!

Because forming deep social bonds is no longer necessary in order to not be eaten, we shouldn't have to sacrifice as much in order to do so.

If you find that you consistently change any of the following in order to fit in with your friends, family, or coworkers, it might be time to consider therapy to improve how much weight you put on their opinion of you:

  • Your core belief system (your faith, for example)
  • Your political beliefs
  • Your own perception of yourself
  • Who you spend time with
  • Your passions and career goals

Caring what other people think of you is an important part of being a member of society. If no one cared at all about what others thought, the world would probably be a very dangerous and disturbing place to live.

But if it causes you excessive discomfort or forces you to change the very things about yourself that you hold dear, it could be time to see a professional therapist. Severe cases of this are called approval addiction, and they can actually be very debilitating.

Book a Therapy Session in NYC or Austin Today

How To Care Less About What Others Think of You

There are a number of mental checks you can use when you start to worry about someone's opinion of you. To maintain a healthy level of concern, ask yourself the following questions:

Am I being objective about my assumptions regarding this person's opinion?

We tend to consistently overestimate how much people think about us. Ask yourself if the person whose opinion you are worried about is likely to even be thinking about you.

If you assume they're thinking negatively about you, ask yourself if that is also likely to be true. Chances are, it's not as bad as you think.

If I am, is my current level of concern in alignment with how much the person in question impacts my life?

In general, if someone is closer to you and has more of an impact on your day-to-day life, you should care more about their opinion.

Your best friend, for example, knows you better and is more likely to have your best interests in mind than, say, a stranger on the subway.

Ask yourself if this person's opinion is one that's worth caring about this much.

If I were to want to change this person's opinion of me, how much would I have to change about myself?

Even if you are being objective and you feel you should genuinely care about this person's opinion, ask yourself if making the necessary changes would be good for you.

Even if someone you really care about is making accurate observations about your behavior, you shouldn't necessarily have to violate your own creed, faith, or principles to accommodate.

(Quick note: This doesn't apply to you if your "creed" or "principles" involve hatred towards another group of people. You should probably still seek professional help, though.)

Therapy for Approval Addiction: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Williamsburg Therapy Group is a talk therapy practice with offices in Austin, TX, and Brooklyn, NY.

Our staff of doctoral-level psychologists is on hand to help you get over your approval addiction, build self-acceptance, and take care of your overall mental health.

Schedule an appointment today to get started. Feeling better may be closer than you think.

Book a Therapy Session in NYC or Austin Today

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