Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lesson #3: What Other People Think And Say About You Is None Of Your Business

I grew up believing that what other people thought about me was my responsibility.  So when someone didn't like me or didn't want to be my friend, I took it horribly personally, and believed that rejection was a reflection of my value as a human being.  This preoccupation with other people's judgments sent me into a depressive tailspin as a child. 

Throughout my teens and twenties I spent much time and energy worrying about what people thought of me.  "Do they like me?" "Do they think I'm cool?" "Does he think I'm attractive?" "Does she think I'm smart?" Focusing on what other people thought or said resulted in feeling extremely insecure about myself, and even shaping my personality to fit into what I hoped would please others.  When all my machinations failed and someone still didn't like me, I demonized that person and made them the villain of my never ending dramatic story line. 

Around turning thirty I finally began to challenge the idea that I "should" be liked by others.  I had recently gotten a job working in an outpatient psychiatric clinic in California that offered great training, supervised intern hours, and a nice salary to boot.  I so desperately wanted to do well, to get along with others, and please everyone.  So I did my best to excel in all areas possible and to be as kind I could to the secretaries, the administrators, the therapists, and the doctors.  Despite all my efforts, it tended to be a perpetually dysfunctional family environment.  Sooner than later, the rumor gossip mill got around to me, and lies were spread about activities in my private life. 

I felt extremely indignant and enraged. Underneath the anger was a sense of hurt.  How could they do this to me? What did I do to deserve this?"  I slowed down, took out my journal, and thought about it.  I asked myself straight out:  "What does it matter what they think of you? Are you really going to let this great opportunity be sabotaged by petty gossip? Why have you spent your life giving others so much dominion over your self-esteem?"  I took this as a challenge and went to work the next day with my head held high, focused on being true to myself, and serving my clients.  I rode out the wave of pettiness, and soon enough, the toxic waste cloud of gossip hovered over someone else. 

Eventually I was promoted to run my own program.  I had trepidations about accepting the advancement because I knew it would entail receiving a fair amount of heat.  I would be heading a group-focused day treatment program in a neighboring clinic, and I had witnessed first hand that whomever led these programs was constantly on the "hot seat" during weekly meetings.  I slowed down, took out my journal, and thought about it.  "Are you really going to allow this great opportunity to be sabotaged by your need for approval?  What does it matter to you what they think of you? Can't you handle a little pressure on the hot seat?" I took this opportunity as a personal challenge:  How much could I tolerate being despised by coworkers?  As it turned out, this program was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life, my coworkers were mostly supportive, and I was quite able to handle a little "heat" every now and then. 

It was around this time that I began attending the lectures of Jacob Glass and studying A Course In Miracles.  I came to understand that it is none of my business what other people think or say about me.  I have positively no control over others, and when I focus and worry about other people's opinions it actually detracts from my own dreams and goals.

After forty years I have come to understand the my only real purpose is to make this world a better place than how I found it.  These efforts can be seen in my book Absolutely Should-less, in the work I do as a therapist in private practice, in the outreach/education I perform for HIV Vaccine Clinical Trials, my interviews at We Love Soaps, writing these 40 Lessons of 40, as well as yearly fundraisers like the AIDS Walk.  Note: pleasing others is not on this list.  As long as I'm clear on my goals, and taking action with integrity, then I am released from the exhaustion of worrying what other people think of me.

Learning Lesson #3 has given me more freedom than I can express.  This clarity and purpose is a gift of getting older, but by no means is restricted to any chronological age.  At any time in your life you can release the concerns of other people's judgments.  It is none of your business what other people think of you.  They have free will to think what they want, and so do you.  I am convinced that if we all kept our eyes "on our own papers," then we would have time and energy on making our own lives meaningful, and this world truly would change. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, body image, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at

**If you are in the New York City area, please come by for Damon's "Fabulous at Forty" workshop on Monday, April 25th, at 8pm, at 208 W. 13th Street, Room 410* 

Support Damon walking in the 2011 AIDS Walk 
Lesson #14: You Only Dislike Things In Others That You Dislike In Yourself
Lesson #17: To A Hammer The World Is Filled With Nails 
Lesson #22: Be The Change You Want To See 

1 comment:

littlegirlblue said...

What a great post, Damon. I wish more people would consider what they think of themselves, rather that what other people, who really have no idea, think about you.

When I was a little girl, I remember being horrified (still am) when I learned my mother cared more about what other people think than what I think really matters - being true to yourself. My mother was horrified (still is) that I care what -I- think and not what others think.
I have always wanted to be an individual, and while my mother has always wanted me to be more like everyone else, I always felt that she missed what it is like to blaze one's own trail.

I am an internally motivated person who does not care what most of the rest of the world thinks - but then, I also have my own limit - I care far too much about the good opinion of a selected few. While I feel this is something I need to lessen, I would much rather worry about the consideration of people I care about and respect than the approval of the world at large. This also corresponds to the fact that I am, in some ways, conceited, but I also work very hard to be honest with myself when I possibly can.

My conclusion is while I am hardly the poster child for mental health, I am an individual and one who has value. This is despite (or perhaps because) the fact that often I am outside the mainstream and misunderstood by much of my family. My saving grace is the friends I, or my better angels, choose.

It hurts me to see people I care about lacking confidence, second-guessing themselves, and not trusting their instincts. If they looked inside to see the beautiful person who resides within, perhaps they wouldn't worry so much about people who do not love them for themselves and who only see their 'designated role' or what they can get from you.

Please don't stop sharing your lessons and thoughts, Damon; they are much appreciated.