• As humans, we're programmed to care about what people think – our social relationships are important, to our health and sense of identity

  • But, caring too much can be paralysing, leading to anxiety and diminished self-esteem – Ruairi Stewart, The Happy Whole Coach, offers five tips

  • If you struggle with low self-esteem or want to understand yourself better, therapy can help – find your therapist here

I speak to people all over the world, every single day, who are holding themselves back in life because they are worried about what someone else might think or say about how they are choosing to live their life. This can be hugely anxiety provoking. Some of the most confident people you know at one point in time in their life have worried or struggled with the idea of what other people might think about a choice or action they have made. 

How people view us is important to us, whether we consciously know this or not. This is particularly prevalent if you have grown up dealing with negative experiences like bullying, hyper critical parents/siblings/teachers or care givers, dealing with abuse, or the opposite – overly involved parents who didn’t allow you to build confidence or were anxious about every little thing.

These experiences can lead you to form negative beliefs about yourself that ultimately impact on your self-worth and self-esteem. They influence the extent to which you show up in the world and allow yourself to be authentically seen, heard and understood for who you are as a person. This is why the thoughts, opinions or criticisms from others can be majorly anxiety provoking to certain people because it may touch upon a vulnerability that reinforces this negative belief they hold about themselves.

People become afraid of negative feedback, criticisms or opinions of others because it can hit home to them in a way that reminds them of this deeply engrained negativity, whether it’s that they believe they aren’t good enough, that they aren’t lovable, that they aren’t worthwhile, that they aren’t capable, that they are a failure, that they don’t fit in. People perceive it as evidence, confirmation that they aren’t good enough. That there is something inherently wrong with them and worst of all, that others see it too.

Here are five actions you can take to help remedy the problem and allow space for growth…

1. Become solid in who you are as a person

It's important to give yourself the space and time to understand who you are as an individual. You can do this by considering the following questions: what are my beliefs? What are my values? What matters most to me in my life? What impact do I want to have on the world? Reflect on your answers and compare them to the life you're living now. Do you believe that the life you're currently leading directly aligns with the life you want to lead? 

2. Recognise your business

It’s very common for anxious people to waste their energy trying to ascertain what others are thinking. The hard truth is, you can never truly know what others think or feel unless they explicitly tell you. The other thing is, it's not really any of your business! Focus on allowing the real you to be seen and heard. Showing up honestly will attract people who value you for you. You’ll learn to shrug off any external rejection or criticism you may experience because you’ll feel confident in yourself to an extent where the only opinion about yourself that matters, is yours. 

3. Own and honour your feelings

Trust your gut! Especially those people-pleasers out there. Practice speaking the truth, let your feelings be known and you will unlock those deeper, intimate connections in your personal relationships. The right people will listen and respect you and your thoughts. The wrong people will kickback or react negatively. It’s about knowing the difference. 

4. Understand that perfection does not exist

Ultimately, you cannot be all things to all people. Making mistakes is what makes us human, and your failures do not define you. When you fail, because you will, learn from the experience and empathise with yourself – pick yourself up and try again. 

Secondly, check the standards you hold yourself to. Hear your self-talk and listen to the judgements you are making about yourself. Ensure that these judgements are coming from you, not anybody else, no matter how important you believe their opinion to be.

5. Develop empathy and self-compassion

Do not forget that how you construct your inner world has a direct impact on how you show up in the outer world. Become your own cheerleader. You can do this by:

  • Reminding yourself of your strengths and successes on a regular basis and taking stock over daily or weekly wins
  • Being aware of how you speak to yourself
  • Speaking to yourself in a loving and positive way

Lastly, remember that you can't change thought habits or patterns of behaviour overnight. You need to work consistently to show up honestly in the outside world and push through the anxiety you feel. When you learn to let go of the need to control what others think of you, it will change your life and relationships for the better.

Ruairi Stewart is a coach and therapist: The Happy Whole Coach @thehappywholecoach

Further reading

3 steps to challenge your limiting self-beliefs

Moving from self-criticism to self-compassion

7 ways to strengthen your sense of self-worth

What's the connection between shame and low self-esteem?

5 tips to relax on perfectionism