You may have seen this sentiment posted online, printed on a coffee mug, or displayed on a wall plaque: do your own thing and stop caring about what others think. But do you really benefit by living your life with no concern or regard for what others think? Is this really healthy, liberating, and beneficial?
While well-intentioned, this sentiment (if taken at face-value) overlooks the reality of who we are as human beings and how we function.
Caring about what others think is mature and healthy.
Caring about what others think is the sign of a mature, healthy emotional state. The capacity and willingness to care about what others are thinking, feeling and experiencing is central to healthy relationships at both the societal and individual level. At the same time, worrying about what others think can definitely interfere with your ability to express yourself truthfully, and can stand in the way of you living your life authentically.
As with so many things in life, the key lies in taking a nuanced look at things and finding the right balance. For most people, that balance does indeed encompass caring about what others think, but without being controlled by what others think.
We suffer when we allow ourselves to be controlled by what others think.
Have you ever gone along with something you didn't feel good about in order to please others? Maybe it was something you knew was wrong; or perhaps it was something that went against your core values. When we care so much about what others think that we're willing to dismiss or dishonour our own standards, that's not a healthy place to be in.
It's also possible to find yourself failing to do something you really want to do, due to fear it will garner disapproval from people around you. When you abandon deeply held dreams and passions to appease others, it leaves you feeling empty, discouraged, and dissatisfied. You can start to feel as if your very soul is fractured, due to the sense of disharmony between who you truly are and how you're living. At this point, you're no longer simply caring about what others think; you're allowing yourself to be controlled and held captive by what others think. This can lead to deep resentment over time.
There's nothing wrong with considering others or meeting someone in the middle.
Relationships of all kinds are an ongoing dance of give and take, as we negotiate space, needs, and wants. Continual selfishness, self-centredness, and self-absorption on either person's part won't build trust and intimacy, nor will it contribute to strong bonds. On the contrary, it's likely to be damaging and destructive.
Considering others or meeting someone in the middle does not have to be synonymous with sacrificing your own needs or giving up your identity. With some creativity and a win-win mindset, it's often possible to find a way to pursue your own agenda without alienating those around you unnecessarily.
Ironically, simply making it known that you do in fact care about what someone thinks and feels often makes a huge difference in situations of conflict or when emotions are running high. When someone knows their thoughts matter, that in itself is validating. That sense of validation brings a sense of security, which can lead to decreased defensiveness and greater openness.
Caring about what others think still allows room for disagreement, truth and independence.
Caring about what others think does not mean you can't express yourself truthfully and live authentically. It's possible to care about what others think while still having occasional disagreements, while still speaking your truth, and while still living independently. However, caring about others means that you'll navigate this terrain in a loving, thoughtful, and discerning way.
This means you'll disagree without attacking the other person. You'll express your truth without insulting or ridiculing others. You'll assert your independence while doing what you reasonably can to avoid hurting the people closest to you. The ability to engage this way is a sign of maturity and emotional intelligence.
Should you care what others think? Absolutely! It's all about striking the right balance. When you have the right balance, care and consideration for the thoughts of others is highly beneficial, and will help keep relationships healthy and strong.
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