What Do Other People Think Of You?

It’s a beautiful, sunny day and you’re taking a stroll.  A group of girls approaches. As they pass you, they burst into a fit of giggles.

“They’re laughing at me” is your immediate thought, as grey clouds descend in your mind.

You’re having a meal at your favourite restaurant.  You look up mid-mouthful and catch the eye of a fellow diner who’s frowning.

The food instantly turns bitter in your mouth, preceded by the thought: “He thinks I shouldn’t be eating this because I’m fat”.

At a party, you’re chatting to a stylish, attractive woman you’ve just met.  At one point, she glances down at your outfit.

“She disapproves of what I’m wearing”, you think without hesitation, as you wish the floor would swallow you up.

Most of us have had experiences where we’ve known exactly what the other person is thinking about us, which just goes to prove we can read minds.

Brilliant.

Except we can’t.

Rather than being able to read minds, we have the ability to project negative judgements about ourselves onto other people.

Of course, sometimes we may be right.  The group of girls may be laughing at us, the man may be judging us, the woman may be criticising us.

I was so convinced I knew when other people were thinking negatively of me I considered it a personal skill.

But we can’t know for sure.

Unless someone chooses to share their thoughts with us, we can’t be sure what they’re thinking.

If we constantly assume people are thinking badly of us, we’re going to feel pretty awful about ourselves most of the time. We’re also far more likely to mistrust others, keep ourselves isolated and turn to food as consolation.

Shortly after I qualified as a psychotherapist, I was hired to teach counselling courses. One day, I was discussing a group session with my personal supervisor. At one stage, I casually mentioned I was “very good at picking up negative vibes in the room” directed at me.

“How do you know?”, he interrupted.

“Er, I just know”, was my response.

“How?”

“I don’t know, I just know”, I said, slightly annoyed.

“Ah, no you don’t”, he said, “you just think you do”.

It was then I realised something as profound as it was aggravating.  He was right.

I was so convinced I knew when people were thinking negatively of me I considered it a personal skill.  In reality, a self-critical part of me was interpreting facial expressions and projecting negative judgements. Although I had no idea what others were thinking – I felt as if I did.

We owe it to ourselves to challenge thinking that keeps us entrenched in shame.

It was an important piece of learning for me.  And since then, I’ve endeavoured to notice and correct myself when I assume people are thinking the worst about me.  I’m not able to do it every time, but that’s OK, it doesn’t have to be perfect. What’s important is it’s an improvement and I feel a lot better as a result.

We have a choice when we’re projecting our negative self-beliefs onto others. We can run with the idea they’re judging us and feel rotten about ourselves. Or we can be mindful of our thoughts, remind ourselves we’re not telepathic and rectify our assumptions.

And it’s our responsibility to do so because we do other people a disservice when we ascribe our own negative thoughts to them and then think badly of them when they’ve done nothing wrong.  We also owe it to ourselves to challenge thinking that keeps us entrenched in shame about our bodies, our eating behaviour and our very selves.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent far too much of my life worrying about what other people think of me.  Nowadays, I’d much rather spend that energy developing a solid sense of self so I’m more able to weather whatever storm might come my way.  I’d also prefer to relate to others on an authentic level, with as little interference from my inner critic as possible.

I’m currently on holiday and writing this post sitting in one of my favourite cafés in Berlin. I’ve just glanced up from my laptop and caught the eye of a woman sitting near me who’s also working at a keyboard.  As she looks at me she could be thinking “wow, that blonde woman sure is ugly” or she might be thinking “I really hope there’ll be a third season of ‘Fleabag’” (isn’t that what we’re all thinking?).

But I don’t know.  I don’t know what she’s thinking.

I choose to think it’s not something negative about me.  I choose to think well of her and of myself.

Instead I just smile.

And she smiles back.

***

 

“What Do Other People Think Of You?” is the focus of the next eatonomy group session on Saturday 27th April.  For more information, please see the Community page.  To book a place, use the Contact Form.

29 thoughts on “What Do Other People Think Of You?

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!.. it seems that being judgemental and using ridicule is on the rise these days, or perhaps with technology we are just more aware of it… I believe when someone judges negatively or ridicules another it is their feeble attempt to create the illusion they are better than the one being ridiculed or judge… I can assure you, Julie de Rohan, you are a far better wonderful person than they can ever hope to be!.. 🙂

    “One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” Michael J. Fox

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Terrific post, Julie. Thanks for being so honest about your own experiences. It’s always so interesting when someone else holds a mirror up to us and our assumptions. You make some really good points about believing the negativity – I used to do that a lot and the awful thing is, you can create your own reality. So even if the negativity wasn’t there originally, by thinking negative thoughts, you invite it in. Another wonderful post, thanks a million, Lxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience too, Lol. As you say, we create our own reality. It doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to stand up for ourselves if people really do treat us badly. But it’s important for us to notice when we’re making unhelpful assumptions. Great to hear your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve learned over time that the saying is usually true, too, that others are too busy worrying about what others are thinking or worrying about other things in their heads than to pick apart you personally. If that makes sense. You’re quite right, we think we’re excellent mind-readers but we’re not, it’s projecting and assuming and our self-critic doing its best to make us feel lousy. “Or we can be mindful of our thoughts, remind ourselves we’re not telepathic and rectify our assumptions” – it’s definitely worth the effort to consciously do this, to catch ourselves we next wonder and worry about what others are thinking of us. Great post, Julie!
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right when when you say it’s our “self-critic doing its best to make us feel lousy”. That’s exactly what’s going on when we don’t know what other people are thinking but we presume we do. Lovely to hear from you, Caz, many thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There is freedom in not giving a hoot what others think. When I was younger, I worried like this. Now? Not so much. Once you know who you are, you become comfortable with yourself. It’s a wonderful feeling. Have a happy holiday Julie! Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re absolutely right, Erin – once you really know yourself you care a lot less about what others think of you. Having a very happy holiday, thank you! Now sitting in another of my favourite Berlin cafés, enjoying a peppermint tea. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing…I used to think that I could pick up on negative vibes, but I may have been creating them! Thank you for reminding me that I am not a mind reader and if someone does think bad about me, it doesn’t really matter anyway!
    Have a great vacation!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience – always good to remember we’re not mind readers, I think. So nice to hear from you, Merri! You’ve popped into my mind a lot recently. How are you doing?

      Like

  6. So very true Julie and particularly so for the youngsters, at my age I’m past caring haha, but I know of people older than me that still worry about what people think. I think there’ll have to be a third season of Fleabag x

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It does! My mother is a psychotherapist as well. She always tells me this. I believed her don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I felt like: yes I may project my insecurities on others, but other times, people are just mean and do look at you in a certain way, angry or with contempt, or do send negative vibes your way… people don’t always mean well, just like people don’t always mean bad. I do project at times, yes. But I’m not an idiot. I can see the difference between a smile and a frown. And the tone of voice also means something. There is such a thjng as body language, that is a big part of communication between people. And sometimes, people with the tone of their voice, their facial expression, and bodylanguage give themselves away… yes people do project, but sometimes, you are right and someone is mistreating you. That should be acknowledged as well. You can make someone feel really unstable by always telling him or herm she or he is projecting everything. Thats what my mother does sometimes. She makes me not trust myself anymore… psychology is good. But sometimes it can reason out some truth in yourself. Sorry i don’t mean to judge. And i do admit i need to work on my projections, bu i also need to be able to trust myself sometimes… long message, sorry!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No need to apologise at all! I think you make really valid points. It’s important to trust ourselves and our instincts – that way we’re able to tell if we’re projecting our own negative beliefs or if someone really is treating us with contempt. You’re right when you say that tone of voice and body language play an important part in human interaction, we just need to be careful we’re not misinterpreting them because of our own negative self judgements – I think often the best way is to check it out with the other person. I absolutely agree that, sadly, people don’t always mean well and there are some people we’re right to keep our distance from or avoid altogether. I really appreciate hearing your thoughts on this, thank you for sharing your experience and adding to the conversation.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Now that you put it this way and totally agree with you! Thank you for understanding my reaction. I will check on your blog regularly, it’s very interesting! Have a great night! 🌺

        Liked by 1 person

  7. We need to make more connections with people. It’s hard to do in this insulating world. If they don’t smile back, it may not mean anything. How is their day going; better, worse, or the same as ours?
    And in the end, just smile.

    Thanks Julie.

    Liked by 1 person

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