Why Do I Care What Others Think?

Trumpeting our successes

Trumpeting our successes

Most people trumpet their successes and hide their failures.

When we win a race, a game, or an award, public recognition gives us a boost. We want to spread the word — and we hope that others will, too.

But when we fail at a project… or basic stair climbing… we hope no one sees the fall. And if they do, we hope they won’t gossip.

Rejection and humiliation make us think we’re no good.

But why do we care?

We seem to be hardwired to care

We seem to be wired so that how others see us affects how we see ourselves.

After all, how I see myself seems merely “subjective.” But when many others see me a certain way it seems more “objective.” And hence, more real… more significant.

A fancy phrase for the phenomenon is, “the social construction of personal identity.”

The wiring can benefit us

Sometimes we, and society, benefit from caring about what others think of us — if it spurs us to meet high expectations. We may be more courteous and competent. We may work harder to serve our families, friends and humanity. So everyone can benefit.

The wiring can devastate us



On the other hand, the wiring can be devastating — and unnecessarily so.

Middle schoolers may torture kids who are “too something”: short, tall, poor, skinny, heavy, ethnic, gay, fem, butch, proper, smart/geeky, nearsighted, farsighted, carrot-topped…

Maybe the only thing you can’t be too much of is cookie-cutter?

Because life is just better when everyone’s the same, right?

Widely held opinions aren’t always right

Life isn’t better when everyone’s the same.

And other people’s opinions aren’t always right.

If other people’s opinions aren’t always right, they needn’t determine how we see ourselves. Instead, we must realize that:

  • Some people will like us and some won’t. If they don’t, that may be more a reflection of who they are than who we are. So we can pick and choose whose view to trust.
  • We can judge others’ motives. Is someone trying to undermine us by saying something untrue? Is someone putting us down just to build themselves up? Is it really a reflection of their insecurity?
  • We know more about ourselves than anyone else does, so we needn’t acquiesce to others’ judgments.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s parents adored him. But the kids at boarding school? Not so much. He was bullied for being too proper and courteous. Of course, the boys knew nothing. FDR became one of the greatest US Presidents, successfully guiding us through the Great Depression and World War II.

Meanwhile, his wife Eleanor suffered as a little girl when her mom ignored her and said she was ugly. And when her mom and dad both died, she grew up feeling lonely and apart. But she was named “most admired girl” at boarding school. Later, she became a powerful and admired political activist, First Lady and UN delegate.

An Ugly Supermodel

Supermodel, Paulina Porizkova

Supermodel, Paulina Porizkova

Paulina Porizkova was an immigrant child who was relentlessly teased in Sweden for being so ugly. She moved to America and became a supermodel.

“They” say I’m ugly. Is it true? And would it matter if it were?

Our physical shells don’t accurately reflect us. And beautiful people can be downright ugly.

Our identities are socially constructed… influenced.

But our identities need not be socially determined.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 14, 2015, in psychology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 55 Comments.

  1. Indeed, when we accomplish great things, we want the whole world to know about it. It’s because we want recognition of our achievements, especially if it’s something we worked so hard for. Besides, flattery feels good; it boosts one’s self-esteem and confidence. On the other hand, when we fail at something, we tend to hide it and keep it hidden forever. We don’t want to be judged negatively and elicit dreadful reaction from people around us. Truly, caring about what others think about us can greatly benefit us; it paves the way to improving one’s self and making us better citizens. Or, if others see us in positive light, we still benefit from it by maintaining our endearing ways. Caring about other people’s opinions can also cause us grief and sorrow, especially if we can’t seem to find a way to improve ourselves and go past our struggles. Some things happen that are beyond our control and caring about what others think will greatly pull us down and bring us to the depths of despair. It is all about balance and learning how to care if it benefits us and to not care if it will weigh us down.

  2. Christopher Solomon

    Great topic. I believe we all try to live by the saying “I don’t care what people think”, but to some degree we actually do. I believe there has to be some kind of balance in this. To be emotionally intelligent, we need to have some awareness and consideration of what others may be thinking of us as well as not caring so much that it prevents us being effective and our own original human beings. Worrying about being thought inadequate or weird prevents us even trying to do, or experience, what may be of great value to us. The fact is that someone will always be upset somewhere and that’s not always your responsibility. Of course it shouldn’t be to the degree where we act out inappropriately and are careless to others and our surroundings, but again to have some kind of balance to me is important. You only get one chance at life. Are you going to allow other people’s thoughts to make it less enjoyable? I wouldn’t.

  3. When I make a conscious effort to prevent someone from knowing about my failures, it’s usually for one of two reasons; I don’t want them to know about it because they would hold it against me or spread it to others, or I don’t want to admit to myself that I messed up. I feel like I care what my friends think and will take care not to insult or offend them, but I will still always be myself and stick up for what I believe in. The friends who judge me for that are probably friends that would’ve faded away eventually. I read an article a long time ago that talked about how young children cared what their parents thought about them, and tried to please them, because they could not understand conditional love and feared their parents would no longer like them. Then, some of those kids grow up and worry about what their peers think of them and whether or not they are skinny enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough to fit in with the cool crowd. I think that there is truly only one person’s who’s opinion should matter, and that is oneself. As my mother would often ask me when I felt or spoke negatively about myself, “If you do not like who you are, how can anyone else?”

  4. Hi, I find this post interesting and I think that, in a certain way it is important to know how people see us and how we can influence or be influenced by others through reputation. However reputation is built not only based on who a person truly is but many times through labels that others impose to someone.
    There are many reasons in which we can end up labeled, either because we are misunderstood or just because people among us don’t feel comfortable with who we are.
    The big concern here is that by accepting these labels, we come to believe that we are someone else beyond ourselves, I mean, in a negative way.
    No matter what motifs led others not to accept us, we need to be aware in keep our self confidence, because nobody knows us better than ourselves so when we see a mirror that reflect an ugly, distorted image of us, we cannot be afraid of breaking it, even though that is the only mirror we have in front of us.

  5. I think what enables us to care what others think is that sense of acceptance. Although this might not be true for everyone it is still a well known fact. As this article explains that people will judge you accordingly to their standards the real judgement is your own. Something that grabbed my attention was the fact that in middle school it is extremely hard be accepted by everyone but most times you will be acknowledged even if it’s in a small group. I myself like to be recognized for my successes but I can also live without them because I know what it took to accomplish my goal and that in itself goes way beyond the need for recognition. I believe the main focus for this topic is to not take peoples hatred towards you and turn it against yourself but instead take it and better yourself, not for them but for yourself. The only person that can judge you is yourself, I practice self motivation and influence to better my decisions in life rather than listen to someone’s rude remarks making me an outcast to society.

  6. Wow, I really liked this post. This subject really hits home with almost everyone. I can take everything you wrote and apply it to myself. I sometimes feel sort of like a hypocrite in a sense. I really do try to live by the things you mentioned, such as “if people don’t like me, that’s their problem and so what” and, “it doesn’t matter what others say”. I am really good at seeing it that way when it comes to other people, but not myself. Hence the hypocrite comment. I am my own worst critic and honestly sometimes its worse than what other people might say. At least I wouldn’t have to hear them :).
    There are a few people in my life that do exactly as you mentioned about society and other peoples opinions can benefit us. They do exactly that. The ones that say I can’t, I do it, the ones that are jealous and nasty towards me, it makes me want to be a better person and succeed even more. Again, the hardest person to overcome is myself.
    Oh, and the last 3 lines of this post are sheer genius! Those words will be written on my mirror an read every morning. Thank you!

    • You’re welcome.

      Your problem of being your biggest critic is common. I’ve experienced it, myself. I’ve found it helps if I imagine getting outside of myself and talking to myself as I would a friend. Suddenly, I’m much more compassionate to my friend (Who is actually me).

  7. I always found this topic interesting. Personally, I think everyone goes through a period where they care about what others think of them. For me, that was my entire high school experience. I went along with the crowd and did what my friends liked, to protect my self-image. Not myself. I think that feeling of caring what others think about you slowly goes away when you get into college. Suddenly you aren’t surrounded by the same people 5 days a week for four years. In high school, that mindset is like a survival trait. You learn to adapt with the crowd to make it out alive. When you finally get out of high school and make it to college, suddenly you find yourself, whether or not you were always really there. College becomes the time where you grow into the person you really want to be. I do think a lot of time is being wasted caring about what others think about you.

    • High school and college are like two different worlds. Interesting that they come so closely together and yet are so different. High school: everyone to conform. In college uniqueness and creativity, for example, are much more valued.

  8. This is good, because it is a summation of the attitude of the superficial world. I don’t think that there is a living person who does not become, even momentarily, disappointed about themselves based on the patterns and/or opinions of the superficial world.Thankfully, my mother encouraged me and let me know that it’s okay to be different; I don’t have to be a carbon copy of the world.

    I strongly believe that if you meditate on God’s word, concentrate on walking in your purpose, developing your gift and pursuing your God-given dream, the negative opinions of the world will matter little. You will be an independent thinker and appreciate your individualism.

    I find that those who think superficially are the kind of people you should only have superficial relationships with: “Hello, thank you, how can I help you?…Polite, because their love and acceptance is conditional. True love and acceptance is not conditionally based on the superficial. Their may be superficial acquaintances and family who don’t accept and love you, but your gift will bring you into contact with people who unconditionally do; because you are the exact kind of person they need in their lives.

    I’m reminded of the song lyric: “Everything is beautiful in it’s own way…”

  9. Everybody has their own opinion , everyone is going to gossip about you whether you are doing something right or if you are doing something wrong so it does not matter. You only need to please yourself and don’t need to worry about the people around you. If they see you fail it gives them the satisfaction I told you so” but in reality no one sees you do better than them. Women are always in competition with other women. Lets say you do fail in something you do not want to make a big deal about it you just want to keep moving forward with a positive attitude. I also believe depending how the person grew up and raised and their surrounding as a child they might not even pay attention to what people think of them. My parents always told me to not pay attention to the negative things in life and encourage me to keep moving forward and not let it get to me.

  10. Lindsey DiSilvetsre

    I think how we are raised has a lot to do with how much we care what other people think. In my family, for instance we never tired to fit in to the “mold” of normal or what society wants us to be. My parents were always supportive and encouraged me to do what ever I want and be who ever I want to be. Where as if you parents or peers tend to tease you of pick out you imperfections that is when you realize and begin to think of you self in a negative way. The more people have negative influence like that in there lives, i think it will encourage them to think more about what others think. I do agree with the point made in this post that it can encourage people to succeed or better them selves, but i still think is more negatively affects some one to put too much importance on what others think.

  11. sandra mitchell

    Depending on a person’s personality type and even how they were raised can have a huge impact on how people view themselves. From an extrovert’s standpoint, I could see negative comments from others and failures in their own lives act as fuel to push them to try harder and overcome and failure or negativity. Being an introvert myself, I know this plays a very opposite role in personality types such as mine. I was raised to be confident and not care what others think, but there has always been this innate desire inside of me to belong with and be liked by others and prove that I’m talented and successful in some way. Every time I go almost anywhere, I have a sense that people are talking about me, not because I think everyone notices me, but because I imagine they are seeing my bad qualities, and can’t help but say mean things about me.

    • Dr. Phil said something that I have found helpful on this count: You would worry less what other people thought of you if you knew how seldom they did (although this could be depressing, too!)

  12. Haomeijie Liang

    I just watched two TED talks related to this article, so I’m exited when I found this article. And I strongly agree with these three statements, “Some people will like us and some won’t”, “We can judge others’ motives”, “We know more about ourselves than anyone else does”. One example from these TED talks is almost 40% of teenager girls would skip school if they don’t think they look good; many women would not go to their interview if they think they don’t look confident enough. I was shocked by this, but think about ourselves we DO care a lot about what others think. For example, if I go to school with my pajamas, I will be in the corner of the classroom to avoid others’ attention. Judging people or Judged by people are what we hate but we are still doing it. It’s very tricky…

    The TED talk links are:

  13. Yes i agree with this post because personally although i say i do not care what other say, deep inside i do because when i hear something that is being said about me i get angry if its not true or not positive. for example when i was in high school i would only hang out with guys, and most girls didn’t like me because i was a “hoe” but i never had a boyfriend in high school it just wasn’t my thing i was into school and just hanging out with friends but my guy friends only saw me as a good friend. It bothered me so much that they would go and say that i was a hoe when i never messed around with any of them or even had a boyfriend so i stopped hanging out with them for a little because i let it get to me. I can say we as women face this problem everyday, we always try and get ready so we aren’t judged, we get ready for dates and take so much time to get ready for someone else and in most cases a lot of men do not do the same. We try and stay fit and look like the traditional media sees the perfect women as for attention from men. Overall I do agree that in some way even if you say you do not care everyone cares about what someone else thinks of them even if its not everyone.

  14. Indeed, most people face this problem on regular basis. We as humans sometimes depend on what others say. Well, it depends on our level of self confidence. When I was younger, it really mattered to me what people are saying behind my back and I didn’t even want to think about it because it will make me upset to some degree. But now, I can say I have overcome this problem as I go out wearing my pajamas ( I know its not nice, but as long as I am comfortable.) However, I still do care a little bit as I wish I could just shave my head or cut it too short without being judged, and although those people who will judged don’t even matter to me, it is still a problem to a certain degree. In addition to that, sometimes its not just what people say about me that affects me, but I am afraid that I will shame my family. As I remember, when I was younger, my family designed for each of the females of us a dress for my uncle’s wedding just to show off. I wasn’t happy with that and I didn’t even like my dress, but I had to wear it because that night all eyes were on us, and in my society, what people say about you matters a lot to the point that people will fight and some will get killed for it. Its very sad that what people say about us is a huge a problem instead of thinking about how can we improve ourselves for our own sake.

    • Maybe it’s because women, And especially celebrities, can feel so much pressure to be the ultimate in gorgeous. Why women feel like they need to be not just pretty but the most beautiful ever is an interesting question. Since it’s so widespread it must be something cultural.

  15. Speaking of perceptions of others towards us. I saw this on yahoo and that it was good. Female celebs sharing pictures of themselves without make up. Well, some I’m not sure if they are all completely without make up in, and simply using a little amount and natural looking make up. Either way, I always found it interesting how women have felt the need to wear make up so often and that they are unattractive without it. It’s interesting, because while some may need it or unattractive, men don;t and I doubt men have more attractive faces and I as a straight man and other straight men know how attractive, sexy and beautiful women’s faces are and can be.

    So I don’t see why women’s faces aren;t naturally beautiful and attractive and why their faces aren’t attractive without make up. The women to me looked attractive without make up and I think more women are more attractive without make up than they think. Actually some I think look better without it. Lady Gaga was always extreme and I think she is much more attractive without make up or toned down to a natural look.

  16. You should always be concerned about what others think of you. Research clearly show that the most accurate portrait of any person are other people. Not the person himself or herself. Why? Because we are biased when evaluating ourselves. Remember, we are all “above average.” Yet, such is simply logically not possible.

    The supermodel IS a case in point. She is a supermodel precisely because a lot of other people thought she was in fact beautiful!

    Look how often people think they are great and “nice” when in fact they are really nasty, self centered, and narcissistic. I am sure you know people who fit this mold. I do!

    It does not matter that Huggy Bear thinks he is kind and compassionate. What matters most is that others view me as kind and compassionate.

    • There can be different views of who we are. And the views that are expressed at any one time may not accurately reflect who we are. So at some point Paulina was identified as a supermodel. But that was only after had been teased for being so ugly. Same with the Roosevelts. Different people told them very different things about who they were. That’s why you have to think about what people’s motives might be, How well they know you, etc.

    • Yeah, exactly, sometimes people’s perceptions of you can be helpful as it makes you more objective and self critical of yourself so you aren’t too biased and see no wrong with yourself. It’s about balance. You don’t want to feel down on yourself from people;s thoughts, but you also don’t want to be self absorbed or a know it all and completely ignore or not care of constructive criticism either. Some judgments are good and can help us better ourselves or help us to not make asses of ourselves out in public too. Too completely disregard all judgments makes a person very unlikeable and definitely gives up a sign of having a bad attitude which is never good.

      • Bob,

        This is precisely my point.

        I think this “I don’t really care what other people think..” thingy is a consequence of the rise of narcissism in American culture. It goes hand in hand with this “just love yourself or you don’t love yourself enough..” nonsense.

        Sure, we can undertake specific actions or make specific decisions where we take a “damn the torpedoes” attitude. But, still there are consequences. We have to be cognizant of this fact.

        Research show that the most confident people in society are also viewed as the least liked!!! Why? Because, over confidence is associated with arrogance and narcissism. Since such people actually think they are liked, they do nothing to change their behavior. While people with low confidence tend to be more aware of it and undertake measures to improve themselves.

  17. Ah, another favorite topic. When I told my children about my crossdressing habits (primarily by way of reassuring them that I was not gay nor did I desire to become a woman), that led to another lengthy discussion on the merits and perils of conformity. To some extent this follows nicely on the heels of your discussion about how men react to carrying a wife/girlfriend’s purse.

    I told them, you are free to be whomever and whatever you want. You can express yourself however you want. BUT — it may come at a price too high for you to pay.

    There is an invisible line in social standards that is deadly to cross. Up to a certain point, standing apart from the crowd is seen as a good thing. If your differences from the vast majority are minor and perceived as beneficial, being different serves to help people remember you, which can often get you special attention in a good way — getting hired or promoted over people who don’t stand out, being the one that a potential mate remembers and wants to find out more about, etc.

    But if you ever go TOO far, it’s a different story. There are cultural norms that we just do not stray from, ever. The more you deviate from those unwritten standards, the heavier the price you will pay: Maybe instead of being friends with everyone you meet, you’ll only have a few friends who like you and accept you with your differences. Go a little further, and you’ll be lucky to have one person you can call friend. Go further than that, and you might find it hard to find a boyfriend/girlfriend/wife, or get a job. You could face hostile responses from people in the world, anything from dirty looks to pointing and laughing to overtly hateful abuse to physical threats to murder.

    I can’t tell you where to draw the line, I told them. I can only tell you that you have to consider how valuable a nonstandard aspect of your personality is to you, and whether it’s important enough to pay the price. Some people don’t mind that they are isolated from the world, as long as they can be true to themselves. Some people choose to hide the less socially acceptable side of their personality from the world, preferring to fit in as much as possible. Will conforming make you happier, or crush your spirit? Only you can figure that out. Me, I’ve spent my 50+ years finding exactly the right sweet spot between “lovably eccentric” and “freaky pervert”. So the terrible jokes and grunge look clothing (faded t-shirts and jeans in all weather on all occasions) and the lack of intererest in haircuts or shaving and the dry snarky wit and the nerdy obsession with trivia all go out in public; the crossdressing stays safely behind the walls of my own home.

  18. It’s about balance. Because there are some people who don’t care what others think or say and then become rude or obnoxious or unlikeable for their complete disregard of others judgments of them. You know what I mean? I’ve seen some guys or women, “too comfortable” with themselves and “very headstrong” to where they really don’t care what others thing and for that fact can be rude, bitchy, defiant. That “confidence” can make someone overly self assured, opinionated.

    I’ve seen some women that carried the “I don’t care what others think of me”, but they were kind of “bitches” and had a lot of attitude or lack of care of how they were behaving towards other people or in public. That’s where in a sense, it’s good for people to care in some level of what other’s think, otherwise it can go the absolute other direction and being crass, rude, obnoxious, bitchy, self centered out in public and in relations to people. Balance. It’s good to not let not people put you down and to have confidence, but also to be aware of others judgements too, which can help you be a decent person and be aware of what others could judge you on too.

    • I agree. The fact that how others see us affects how we set ourselves can be good or bad. The key is to figure out when you should care.

    • That’s a very good point, Bob. I believe it is important to be confident and not let people walk all over you…but some people take it way too far.

      I have a relative who is this type of person. She is very confident but to the point where it can be obnoxious. I understand why some women act that way, because we live in a world where women are often put down.
      But to me, quiet confidence (in a man or a woman) is much better. If a person is truly “all that” they don’t have to shout it out constantly…it just shows.

      I think that the culture of today promotes this attitude you’re talking about. We have all these reality TV shows like “The Bad Girls Club” and “Jersey Shore” and others, where that behavior is seen as positive and empowering but the truth is, it isn’t.
      I’ve seen women on the Internet refer to themselves proudly as a “diva” or a “princess” or a “bitch” and I’m like, really? No.

      And I’m glad you also mentioned the guys who act this way. There is a focus on being the “alpha male” in popular culture now and it’s pretty obnoxious.

      • Interesting thoughts. I suspect that real confidence is quiet confidence and the annoying “confidence” is actually bravado that is used to cover low self-esteem.

  19. I just read this article and I felt so much connected to it. It kind of define me at the moment. Before reading this article i was confused about who i really am. I am scared of myself, i always feel like i have to act differently when i am around my friends and other people to be accepted. I feel like if i show my real personality they want accept me. I try to please everyone i meet, thinking that they’ ll do the same for me but it always end up in the opposite. Like today for example

  20. I took a training awhile back in self-reference. I wish we could learn stuff like that earlier on during our more formative years— it really is something that has to be taught because of how the world is today still. Looking to one self first for reference rather than through everyone else’s with our perspective getting short shrift-even no shrift.

  21. This is really an interesting post. We all feel bad when someone puts negative judgement. But why bother? As long as I’m happy with what I’m, there’s no need to pay heed to those people who always try to find loopholes. After all, there is a difference between constructive criticism and hate statement.

  22. This is the post i have been waiting for! Pure genius!

  23. Excellent piece. Just what I needed to read right now. Thanks!

  24. I think we all care, even just a bit, what others think because we all want ultimately to feel accepted by those people around us. As for “ugly” and “pretty,” it’s all a matter of opinion – although I can find something “pretty” in everyone 🙂

    • Sure, that’s part of it. And thanks for bringing that up.

      I was kind of surprised to realize that we can feel embarrassed falling down the stairs even if no one sees us. Because we can imagine everyone seeing us and having that bad, but only imagined, opinion seared in our brains.

      And sometimes people care about other peoples’ opinions, even when they don’t care about those people.

  25. Very inspiring! We judge ourselves too much based on somebody’s perception of us. Cheers!

  26. What others think about us doesn’t matter when we are confident what we are and how we look! No one according to me is perfect. If someone looks beautiful or handsome, they may be dumb when it comes to their GK! If someone is ugly than they may be the intelligent person and many more examples like that. We should be proud of who we are, only than others would think of not telling us what we are and they would give up thinking that to whatever they say, nothing would affect us!

  27. Ugly , beautiful…. everyone has different ideas about it , luckily ! People can be very unkind unfortunately!

    • Yes, everyone does have different ideas, So it’s important not to take these things too seriously. And people who are unkind are probably trying to put others down in hopes of raising their own sorry self-esteem. Important to recognize that, too.

      Thanks for chiming in.

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