When I was 10, I was prescribed glasses because I couldn’t read the blackboard at school.
Every morning my parents put them in my school bag & there they stayed, coming out only if I thought no one was looking. At one point the teacher phoned my parents suggesting I needed glasses; ‘but she has them in her bag’ was Mum’s firm reply.
NOTHING would persuade me to wear them. I was petrified of being name called & crippled by the question ‘what will people think?’
Do you recognise this?
How often in your life (past & present) have you been paralysed by concern over ‘what will people think?’
A friend says she wants to go to an exercise class but never will because the story she’s been telling herself for years is that ‘everyone’ will be looking & will judge her negatively. She’s made no new friends in years & her confidence; self-esteem & world are shrinking. She regularly says ‘but I don’t have your confidence’ & my (perhaps harsh) reply is that I only have the confidence because I’ve done things.
I want to do new things, to explore myself & the world. And the way I’ve done this is by putting aside what others might think. I’ve had many, many wonderful experiences, made lots of lovely new friends & as a result, my self- confidence & self-esteem have increased & my world has got so much bigger.
Summer, the season of relationships
This is part of the series about the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Seasons & now we’re in Summer, the element is Fire, the emotion is joy, the colour red & one of the Organs is the Heart. It is the Heart’s powers of emotion, love & connection which govern our ability to form connections & relationships, so this is my focus.
Connection & comparison
The Heart gives & receives love & is our most vulnerable organ. It must be open to receive the gifts of connection, yet too open & it risks being hurt. No wonder, then that we build walls round it. We rarely see others as who they really are, because we’re looking through a lens distorted by our history, beliefs & values & self-image.
We’re also wired to compare & use this lens we’ve created to predict the future; hence we ‘know’ what others will think. Perhaps we were judged negatively once so we believe that ‘everyone’ will think the same.
According to Brené Brown in her book, Atlas of the Heart ‘Comparing ourselves to others leads to fear, anger, shame & sadness’. Ouch!
And the possibility that we might be found out
We want to be viewed positively, even by strangers, so we construct a false self which we show the world. And perhaps underneath the question of what will people think, is the fear that we’ll be discovered & found wanting & they’ll realise that I’m not who they thought I was, that the image I was projecting was a lie.
This was my recent experience. I was asked if I would teach some yoga classes ‘after all you’ve done a lot of training’. My first reaction was ‘I can’t do that, I’ll be found out, they’ll realise I’m not a good teacher, they’ll think less of me, what will they think?’
I also set my comparison bar unrealistically high, I knew absolutely that I wouldn’t be as good as my teacher, Emma so I refused to try. Which is of course true, but Emma’s been teaching for many years. I’m sure in time I could be a good teacher & develop my own style but the fear of being ‘found out’ is stopping me from starting. Does any of this sound familiar?
So how do you stop worrying about what other people think?
First realise that you can’t control what others think
If you think about it, you know that you can’t predict what others think of anything not just of you. Remember the last time you recommended a book or film to close friends; did they all love it as much as you did? I thought not.
Despite reading the same book/watching the same film, what they thought about it was different. Their thoughts had nothing to do with you, but everything to do with them, their past, how they felt on the day, their beliefs, values, judgment, likes, dislikes, ie the lens they’ve created. Just as your thoughts of the book/film were shaped by your distorted lens.
I remind myself of this every time I publish a blog. Some readers will love it & think I’m wonderful, some will be neutral & others will hate it & think I’m an idiot. This used to bother me, but now I do my best to write what I hope is interesting & useful & in line with my values. And that is enough.
I’ve been using the phrase ‘what WILL people think?’ purposely because that tends to be the question we ask & perhaps on reflection it should be ‘what MIGHT people think?’
And realise that I’m in control of my reaction
I love this quote because it describes what happens when we build our life round potential views of others. We close ourselves within walls of comparison & judgment & over time the walls close in, making our world ever smaller.
Everything; the lens you look through, the beliefs you have about others, are just stories you tell yourself. And the bottom line is that you have the choice to tell a different story, to own how you feel & what you do with your life. You & only you can dismantle the prison walls you’ve built so you can set yourself free.
Freedom is gained by connecting to your Heart, your inner Emperor
TCM describes the Heart as the Emperor, ruling the kingdom by being herself or himself, shining love in all directions. Together with its companion Organs, it controls the doors to the kingdom to keep out invaders & to me, connecting with my Heart so I can control the doors to my Kingdom is the key to not worrying about what others think.
Your Heart knows the way, it has always known the way, you just have connect to it & re-member. I do this via meditation & yoga, quietening my mind & connecting to my heart removes the lens of judgment & enables me to see things more clearly & to be more like myself.
And be yourself
How much energy do you use pretending to be someone you’re not? It’s exhausting, isn’t it? And all the time you’re hiding behind those prison walls your beautiful true self is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it’s time now to take your lead from nature & Osho’s advice to ‘be natural & you will flower.’
And back to the glasses
You’ll have noticed that I now wear glasses. I persisted not wearing them for over a year. I was determined (Mum would have said stubborn 😊). I then became an early adopter of contact lenses & wore them for 40 years. And through all those years the fear of what people would think persisted. (& here’s one of the 3 grainy photos I have of me wearing them – a family of glassses wearers!)
Eventually my eyes decided they’d had enough so I had no choice. And the irony being, that when I started wearing glasses, many people didn’t notice & those who did made positive comments.
Ok, my friends are no longer 10, but it shows that we never know what others might think & can spend years worrying unnecessarily over something.
Thank you for reading.
I’d love to hear what you think & especially if you’ve found this helpful.
You can read my other seasonal blogs here
I took Inspiration from John Kirkwood’s book, The Way of the Five Seasons, Mimi Kuo Deemer’s book Qigong & the Tai Chi axis, Gail Reichstein, Wood becomes Water, Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life & Emma Peel’s teaching & training