I have a confession to make…
I care what people think about me… like A LOT. Too much, in fact.
Like, I have super intrusive anxiety attacks when I think somebody is mad at me, they don’t like me, I’m left out of a group, I think I’m being gossiped about, or, or, or…any other litany of things that may or may not be truly happening — or even about me in the first place.
I spiral into an ugly vortex of what if’s when I think I have done something, (who knows what that might possibly be), to cause somebody to think negatively of me. Even when there is no evidence this is true.
I’m embarrassed by this, maybe I even feel a bit of shame (gasp)!!!
After all, here I sit as a middle school counselor, licensed professional therapist, burgeoning life coach, and I give a huge crap about how people feel about me. I spend my days telling kids and adults they shouldn’t give a shit about what people think of them. I tell them as long as they are proud of who they are and know they have good intentions, they should stand in their truth and not let other people’s opinions bother them.
It shouldn’t matter what other people think, but let’s be honest, to many of us it just plain does. Often, it matters more than we care to admit.
It feels painful and uncomfortable when people say and do mean and hurtful things to us.
I know plenty of people who are lucky enough to not really care about what others think, or at least that’s the face they paint for the world. Maybe it’s true, maybe people really are made of steel, and other people’s opinions don’t matter one bit to them.
I am not one of those people. I care deeply about how people feel about everything, including me. The reasons go back many years, but that baggage is a blog for another day.
But here’s the thing…After my most recent, completely unwarranted and disruptive freak out about nothing that should have really mattered, I was able to be vulnerable enough to ask myself why I kept falling into this anxiety spiral. I had the courage to admit my dirty little secret to somebody who knows me so well, and that was just enough to start the exploration and healing journey.
This conversation provided me “just enough” to move forward.
Just enough to start noticing.
Just enough to start shifting my thinking.
Just enough to take control.
And just enough to realize that these faulty perceptions don’t have to be my truths.
Once you become aware of your thoughts and your responses to your thoughts, anything is possible. Really! The potential for personal growth is endless once you are aware, and that is both amazingly reassuring and exciting!
This realization is reassuring because I just took major control over something that has caused me such mental and emotional agony. Now I know something that keeps me in a super negative zone can, at the very least, be minimized.
This realization is exciting because the anxiety I feel over what others think doesn’t have to be a part of who I am. I can take charge of that shit, throw it out the window, and make room for all of the positive growth I can possibly stand.
As one very wise Catalyst Noelle Cordeaux reminds me frequently, “Feelings are not facts.”
No, my friend, feelings are not facts.
Just because I feel like somebody is mad at me, or talking about me, or purposefully excluding me, does not mean they are. And even if they are, it doesn’t mean I suck at life.
What it does mean is I can either sit in my own mess feeling sorry for myself, wondering what I could have done this time, or I can realize I’ve been triggered.
Anxiety is just our mind making up ugly, irrational fears. Some people have anxiety around crowds. Some people have anxiety about flying. I have anxiety about what people think of me.
However, I had to ask really hard questions in order to figure that out. I had to have the courage to wonder why I kept experiencing the same patterns of extreme discomfort and the vulnerability to explore the answers a bit.
It’s incredibly empowering to know it, to name it, and to do something different next time.
So go ahead, ask yourself the hard questions. I promise it’s worth it.