“You shouldn’t care about what people think of you.” “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
How many times have we all heard this? That we just shouldn’t care? That we shouldn’t complain about it because the real problem is us and our opinions of ourselves?
The problem with this statement is, humans are built to care about what others think. It’s certainly true that it varies from person to person just how much it affects them, and some people may have social disorders, or have developed mental disorders to cope with trauma, etc. Nevertheless, human beings, as a majority, have evolved to care about each other’s opinions. It was (and still is) a vital part of our survival. Being a person who was considered “weird” or was disliked, ran the risk of making you an outcast, and that made you more vulnerable in general. Humans are social animals, in part, because we developed an awareness that we had strength in numbers.
The fact of the matter is that people are born with a natural inclination to please others, at least in part, for your own survival. I am not suggesting that the rational action to take is to make people like you, or to bend to whatever people say you should be or do. You can still recognize that while the words or disapproval frightens you, hurt your feelings, may hurt your chances in future social endeavors, that it may still be worth it to be true to yourself. Most of us are intelligent enough to realize that while strength in numbers is a good thing, we are no longer cavemen and there are certainly positives to attending goals your own way and even positives in experiencing a certain degree of solitude.
Humans have also evolved the rationale to see when criticism is useful, be it presented in an unkind or kind manner, because there is value in both. I would argue that constructive criticism is often more productive for both the one giving and the one receiving criticism, because it is usually more easily received and accepted and it takes fewer steps for a person to take corrective action when they do not also have to first heal from emotional damage. Actions to correct the mistake, if it was indeed a mistake, are more likely to be taken. However, even information presented cruelly, is not necessarily “wrong” in that the information and may be correct and knowledge taken away from it.
What I try to do, is first accept however it is I’m feeling and say “I’m feeling really hurt about concerned about those words, but that is ok. I accept my feelings.” If you don’t, you’re only adding guilt onto your already anxious mind and irrational expectations of yourself as a moral being. How can one maintain a healthy mindset if one does not set reasonable goals? If you expect something inhuman of yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure. Next, I try to look at the information rationally. The content (regardless of how it was delivered) may contain helpful knowledge, or it might have been totally worthless crap. Knowing that information rarely makes me feel better, but at least then I know whether or not it is worth it to avoid making the same decision in the future or whether or not it’s worth it to continue dwelling on the issue.
Which brings me to my amended quote:
“You should not allow the irrational opinions of others affect your future actions.”
I would also take care not to dwell on especially hurtful and unhelpful comments. Take note that there is a difference between how the words they said made you feel versus the decision to dwell in thought on them. If you have thought about it and assessed that the information is hurtful and irrational, there is no need to continue the brainstorming further, but that might not mean the pain has gone away. And that is OK. You will feel how you feel. The hurtful words/actions that were said to you might continually pop up. It’s ok, you’re human, you’re a being of social creation. Acknowledge that it hurts you, that it’s still there. Give yourself room to feel however you’re feeling. And then do whatever the fuck you were going to do anyway. Keep being yourself.
This is obviously more easily said than done, especially if you experience any kind of depression or social injustice. All I can say is to keep putting one foot in front of the other and to try your best to surround yourself with others who believe in you. Just keep going, keep trying. The only constant is change, so if follows that eventually, things will get better. Don’t give up.