Photo by Tillah Freckleton @tillahslens
Caring about what people think is the number one reason we don’t take action. This is a recurring theme not only with my clients, but also with my loved ones, and myself. Worrying about what people think of us can really screw us out of having a life we truly want and enjoy. We put a lot of weight into others’ opinions, which makes sense, because at some point in human evolution it was detrimental to our survival for others to like us, accept us, and need us. Back then, if people didn’t want us around, or no longer found us to be useful, we could get kicked out of the group and we’d be screwed - it’d be more likely that we would starve to death on our own without the backing of a community, or get eaten by a fucking bear as we wandered the wilderness solo. So, it makes sense why caring about what people think is deeply ingrained in us because it was necessary for survival at one point, but it no longer makes sense to let this dictate our decisions today in the modern world. Today, if someone doesn’t like you, or if you get criticized, you’re not gonna be thrown into the streets and get mauled by a hippo on your way to Trader Joe’s, alright?
It can be uncomfortable when we get criticized by others, but it’s not life threatening.
(I am speaking to the more trivial situations we experience, and how we can get in our own heads when pursuing things we care about. I am not addressing situations where one's safety is actually at risk based on how one responds to an unsafe person’s criticism. That is obviously very different.)
In this post, we're going to acknowledge the things you might not be moving forward with because you’re worried about criticism, and we’re going to come up with a solution that works for you, so you can move forward and work through this fear. When I reference criticism, I am not referring to constructive criticism which is an awesome tool that we all need at some point - the criticism I’ll be referencing is destructive criticism, when people criticize with the intent to hurt someone and there's nothing constructive about it.
You can get the worksheet that corresponds with this post here.
For in depth discussion about this topic:
If you continue to let what others think dictate your actions, or your inaction, you might find yourself growing more resentful, jealous, and miserable because you’re not living the life you actually want. You might end up living a life based on what someone else wants for you because it reflects positively on them, or you might end up living a life based on how someone else thinks you should live due to their own fear that has held them back from pursuing what they truly want, and thus projecting that onto you.
This "giving a shit what people think of you" might never go away completely, but, if you can be aware of it, you can manage it, and take steps to follow through even when you’re nervous about what people will think.
I'm going to share some practical steps you can take if you’re concerned about being criticized because of a new venture, and steps you can take if you are currently being criticized.
People who spend their time criticizing other people...
Whether these are strangers on the internet or people within your own network, community, family - let’s talk about them.
These people you’re concerned about - the people who leave mean comments on social media, the people who criticize your creative endeavors, the people who tell you that you’re being unrealistic if you’re pursuing a career you’re passionate about - these people are unfulfilled in some way and are projecting their own shame, fear, and disappointment on to you. Their reaction to you taking a courageous step in a direction that feels good for you has nothing to do with you, it has everything to do with them and how they feel about their own choices and their own life.
The people who have been courageous and who have taken those steps themselves, would never criticize you, because they’ve been there, they’ve been through it, they’ve put themselves out there, they know how it feels and what it takes to make those moves - and chances are, making those moves changed their life. If anything, those are the people who applaud you because they fucking get it.
Happy, fulfilled people don’t spend time and energy cutting others down.
They're too busy enjoying the shit out of their lives, they don’t have a desire to waste a breath on that because their focus is elsewhere. They’re doing things they love, they’re seeing people they love, they’re creating the next thing that makes them happy. It doesn’t register for someone who feels fulfilled to take time out of their day to dedicate to trying to hurt other people.
Think of a few times when you have felt happy and fulfilled vs times you felt miserable...
Did you display different behavior? When I’m feeling happy and content, it feels like almost a shield around me to where small things don’t tend to bug me as much because I feel very solid with where I’m at. However, when I’m unhappy I might find myself letting those kinds of things derail my entire day, or week. When I’m feeling unfulfilled I might get judgmental, irritable, critical, or jealous of someone or something.
There's definitely a shift in how I navigate my day when I feel good vs. when I feel stuck or sad. If we look at our own moods and behavior, we know that in order to be unnecessarily critical towards someone, it’s because we are not in a good place at that time ourselves. This can give us some perspective on where "trolls," critics, and a-holes are coming from. I’m not excusing their behavior, but we can understand them a little better and not take things so personally.
When someone criticizes us, our guttural reaction can often be to respond with something like "fuck off, dipshit!"
Just me? Ok. But seriously, our initial response might be to want to tell them off - and show them and others how stupid, cruel, or wrong they are. However, I encourage you to remember that they aren’t in a good spot which is why they’re doing this, or saying this, in the first place. Instead of giving them an emotional reaction, or giving their shittiness any kind of attention, which is what they want (they want you to stoop down to their level, they want to get a rise out of you so they can feel powerful and important in some way, so they can feel like their opinion matters, so they can feel seen)...
I encourage you to react with compassion instead. Step away, take a moment, and remember, that they are acting from a place of sadness.
That doesn’t mean being a pushover and not standing up for yourself when you need to - or removing yourself from a situation you no longer want to be in, but it does means not letting these people affect your self-worth and your momentum. Because at the end of the day, they’re just people too - with their own hopes, dreams, insecurities, fears, and trauma, and this is how they’re choosing to cope and spend their time.
Here are some tips for handling "internet trolls" or criticism online:
1. Delete the comment and block the person
If I feel like the comment or message the person sent or posted is offensive or hateful, I do my best to catch that, remove it, and block them so my platform is not giving them a voice to promote hate.
2. Restrict the person
I like this current feature on IG, this means that the person doesn't know that their stuff can’t be seen so they just think you, and everyone else on your account, is ignoring their comments and not responding to them. Their messages also go to a different folder so you’re not seeing what they send you unless you look for it.
3. Ignore the person
Depending on the comment, I just ignore the person and don’t bother doing anything!
4. Respond with kindness
If someone is criticizing something I said or posted about, and I want to clarify something for people who might read the exchange and not have all the info, I will share my thoughts in a respectful manner. If the person responds with something shitty back, they’re just making themselves look like a total douche to anyone who does read the exchange online and most people will assume this was an internet troll situation - problem solved.
5. Don’t look at it
I don't see most comments, messages, etc. online or on social media, and that is by design. I see the positive stuff, the important stuff, but not the hateful stuff - which is very helpful if you're pursuing things you care about. You might need to set up a filtering system for yourself - whether that's asking a team member or social media manager to assist you, adjusting your settings, setting up autoresponders, or disabling comments completely.
Time to whip out your E-ficionado worksheet, or whatever you want to use to keep track of your work.
1. Write down all of the things you are NOT doing because you are worried about what people think.
This could be in your personal or professional life. Is there a coworker you want to set a boundary with but you’re worried about coming across as a bitch, are you wanting to post some of your art on Instagram but you’re worried that someone will see it and think it sucks, are you worried about talking to your partner about finances because you’re embarrassed by your debt?
What are you not doing because you’re scared of what people will think? Write it all down.
Now that you have your list of things you might be procrastinating on, next:
2. Write down the ideal solution for each item on that list.
What do you wish you had the courage to do if you didn’t give a shit about what people think?
3. Write down the people you’re concerned about receiving criticism from. Be specific, write their names down.
We often think that it’s this huge ass number of people that are gonna come for us, and by writing the names down, you often find it might really only be a handful of people you’re worried about, but the fear is making you feel like it’s a much bigger number. Especially if the people you’re worried about have a big role, or presence, in your life. Write these names down. (And if you’re worried about something general like internet trolls just write trolls.)
Now, ask yourself these 3 questions about every single person on your list:
Would I trade places with this person? (Would you like to plug yourself into this person’s life - every aspect of it - career, relationship status, and so on?)
Is this person doing what they love? (Did they have the courage to pursue what they really wanted or do they feel stuck? Whether personally or professionally.)
Does this person seem fulfilled? (Are they happy? Are they mostly positive to be around? Do you feel good after having seen them or do you feel depleted? Do they complain a lot, or seem to attract a lot of chaos?)
When I did this exercise, I realized, that nobody on this list was living the life I wanted to be living.
Not a single person had what I wanted. You might have some mixed results but I have a feeling it’s pretty clear for you too that this list probably doesn’t showcase anyone you would truly want to be.
4. Write down a solution for each person on this list.
This is going to be different for everyone based on your relationship with this person so feel free to get creative.
For example, if you are concerned about a family member or friend seeing your posts on social media, can you simply hide them from seeing your posts? You don’t have to unfriend them or unfollow them, can you just add these people to a hide list? If you don't want reminders of this person popping up on your feed, can you mute them on social media so you don’t feel their presence as much as you put yourself out there? You can change this at anytime once you feel more confident.
Let’s say one of the people on your list is a parent, can you have a conversation with them telling them that you’re making some changes and their support would mean a lot because you really value their opinion? Would they feel honored that you care about what they think and maybe you giving them an opportunity to be included enables them to be a supporter of yours, rather than a critic? Or, what if you just didn't tell them about what you’re up to at all?
If you're worried about receiving specific, critical comments. How would you respond? You can write down and practice your responses if these moments ever arise. This trick has left me feeling much more prepared, even if I never had to use the responses.
5. Look at lists #2 and #4 that you’ve made, your "solutions" lists.
What is something you can follow-through with right now?
Write down 1 action step you can take, even if it's a baby step.
We can’t avoid criticism. We are going to get criticized by someone somewhere no matter what we do. You can get criticized at a job you don’t give a shit about, you can get criticized for your appearance, by friends or family about something you said, about a project you really care about, for being too nice, for walking down the street.
If criticism is going to happen no matter what we do, may as well get criticized while we’re doing what makes us happy.
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