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When and When Not to Care What People Think


A common discussion I have with clients concerns their worries about what people will think of them. It’s a general attitude they carry around, rather than picking and choosing to care about what certain people think about specific certain things. While caring too much can get folks into trouble, you also don’t want to slide over to the other extreme and not care what anyone thinks about you. The goal is to figure out who’s important and why.

We care what people think of us because it’s hard-wired into us. If people don’t think well of us when we are young and we can’t fend for ourselves, we might die. Ditto when we’re old or sick. We need people to think well of us if we’re to survive and thrive.

So, when we hear people say, “I don’t care what anyone thinks,” assuming they really mean anyone, there’s something gravely wrong. This person must have had such hurtful experiences that they’re rejecting all people and making no exceptions. This is a dangerous attitude to have and for those of you who care too much about what people think of you, this mindset is not your goal. 

Your goal is to mix and match situations and people. You care what your boss thinks about your work and maybe some other related issues because you are dependent on her for a paycheck. But why should you care if your boss dislikes your taste in art, doesn’t think you’re a great cook, and thinks it’s dumb you spend your free time either camping or tracing your family tree?

As to friends, close family members, and romantic partners, you want to selectively care what they think about you regarding things like being honest, ethical, assertive, caring, compassionate, forgiving, wise and helpful. What they think about your traits are far more important than what they think of your accomplishments. 

As an adult, does it really matter what your grandmother thinks of how you dress or eat or what movies you like? It does not. I can’t think of anything offhand other than being a decent human being that I wanted my grandmother to like about me. As long as I was that decent human being, it didn’t matter to me what she thought of anything else. 

My point is that it’s okay to care what people think about you as long as you have a good reason for wanting it. It’s crazy to expect, or even think about, people approving of everything you do. They won’t and don’t need to for you to be a fully functional adult. You want to not need their approbation and know you’ll be just fine not receiving it. It’s what you think of yourself that counts, that’s how you grow confidence and self-esteem.