| Family Reflections |

How Am I Doing?

It’s painful to rely on others’ opinions

We’re built with inner drives to accomplish and succeed. Toddlers get frustrated when their Lego towers collapse because they want to succeed at building towers. We get frustrated when we lose our temper or go to bed too late (yet again) because we want to succeed at reaching our personal goals. Goal-setting is as important to us as succeeding; we instinctively and voluntarily establish our challenges — things we want to get done today, this year, this decade, this lifetime.

Reviewing our progress is an important part of the process. We want to know if we’re moving in the right direction, if we’re where we should be on the trajectory. Regular monitoring and self-evaluation are essential to achieving our eventual success whether the realm is character development, learning, health concerns, spiritual development, financial goals, career milestones, or relationship goals.

We can ask for other people’s feedback when we feel it will assist us along our path.

However, many of us are over-reliant on others’ opinions. In fact, we can be quite anxious about it. Do they think I’m doing okay? Do I look good enough — in their opinion? What do they think of my kids? Are they cute enough, smart enough, and accomplished enough?


Why We Care

We care so much about other people’s opinions that we may choose our spouse, our vocation, and our location primarily because of what they think. And don’t worry — that’s not even weird! We’re programmed by Hashem to care about other people’s opinions. Failing to do so can in fact be a symptom of a mental disorder (for example, ASPD, Antisocial Personality Disorder).

Caring about what other people think of us keeps us on the straight and narrow. It’s good for us — up to a point — helping us to live lives that are “normal” in all the important ways. However, overvaluing other people’s opinions can get us into trouble.

“I’m so uncomfortable in group situations. Everybody’s talking and I’m trying to ‘jump in,’ but I’m kind of practicing in my head what I will say and then I think that everyone will think my contribution will be boring or dumb or worse. I wish I could just speak without worrying about whether everyone will approve.”

Painful social anxiety is one example of the debilitating effects of over-caring about other people’s opinions. If only we could all think: “So what if you don’t like a given remark of mine? After all, I tolerate your less-than-stellar communications, and I don’t reject you flat out because of them.”

“I don’t want to go out in public. Everyone knows what happened to my husband, and I just can’t bear their pitying stares. I’m actually thinking of moving to a city where no one knows me so I can start all over again.”


You Don’t Need Permission

Here’s another example of caring way too much about other people’s opinions. We can all see how frightened this woman is! Perhaps we could just call her up and reassure her that, yes, when we heard the news we did feel a moment of shock and perhaps some other feelings like pity, judgment, fear, and horror? BUT we got over it really quickly because, after all, we have our own problems to deal with and just don’t have time to spend worrying about hers! Just tell her straight out that she doesn’t have to run away because we give her permission to continue living her life right where she is!

Actually, skip that last point because that’s the problem isn’t it? She really believes that she needs everyone’s permission. Instead, please tell her that she doesn’t need anyone’s permission for anything and that other people’s thoughts on her life don’t matter. Remind her that her life is between her and Hashem, as is everyone’s.

Anyway, we’ve probably all been misjudging each other while assuming that everyone is judging us. We need to recognize that other people’s opinion matters only insofar as Hashem says it does (like, for example, when it comes to establishing community standards). Apart from that, we should concentrate on setting our goals, setting up our systems for self-monitoring and self-evaluation, seeking feedback when it will help us achieve those goals and living our unique missions. And, although our opinion really doesn’t matter, we think others should do the same!


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 881)

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