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Everyone wants to be liked. The acceptance and approval of people around us light up our oxytocin receptors, nurturing feelings of safety, bonding, and lower anxiety.
“Humans, by nature, are social beings who crave connection, intimacy, and relationships with others,” says Amy Kaplan, a licensed therapist with PlushCare. “Caring about what others think of us is part of that desire to make connections and feel accepted.”
But what if you’ve started putting too much value on the opinions of strangers and acquaintances? If caring what other people think is holding you back, we have some expert tips to help you care less.
In addition to Kaplan, we spoke to Dr. Joanne Frederick, a licensed mental health counselor and author of Copeology; and Dr. Robyn Graham, author of You, Me, and Anxiety.
Here are their top tips for not caring what other people think of you.
1. Identify your values
What are your values? They are the “why” behind everything you do. Maybe you love cooking nutritious foods because you value health. You regularly catch up with your besties because you value friendship. Or, you spend your free time traveling because you value adventure.
List your top 3 to 5 values in life. This list can be a gauge to evaluate your life decisions rather than making choices that you think your social group will approve of.
“When you focus on living according to your values and do not waiver on them, you will feel confident and secure with how you live your life, and the need to please others will dissipate,” Graham says.
2. Pick your people
You’re likely connected to hundreds or thousands of people through work, school, family, and social media. Not all of their opinions matter equally.
“For most of us, it is unrealistic to never care about what others think,” Kaplan says. “It’s just a matter of expectations and having the proper balance. Surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are and do not make you feel judged.”
Decide who you’ll turn to for advice and external approval. Don’t give every rando a say in your life.
3. Distance yourself from judgy people
While you’re building up connections with people who support you and give you positive energy, disconnect from people who don’t.
You may have to work with a judgy Judy, but you don’t have to put her in charge of your decisions. Set a boundary to keep toxic people out of your personal life and they’ll have less opportunity to pass judgment.
4. Clean up your newsfeed
We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling your social media feed out of boredom and reach that one person who always makes you feel a little worse. When you detect that sinking feeling, take it as a sign to unfriend, unfollow, or mute the person.
Really, you’re under no obligation to follow the posts of someone who makes you feel bad, for any reason! Try to cultivate a feed of posts that make you laugh, lighten your mood, and make you feel valuable.
5. Take a social media break
For a thorough reset, take a break from social media altogether.
Can you do it for a day? How does that feel? What about a whole week? When (if) you decide to go back, it will be even easier to identify the downers in your feed and put them on mute.
6. Have fun
You only have 24 hours in a day, a finite amount of time that can easily slip away. It stands to reason that the more time you spend doing things that make you happy, the less time you have to worry about what other folks are thinking.
“Take up new hobbies or activities that improve your mental health and add enjoyment to your life,” Kaplan says.
You do you, and you won’t have extra time to care what others think because you’ll be enjoying your life.
7. Be OK with not pleasing everyone
Your second cousin Wanda is always ranting about something, and you can never seem to please her. Even if everyone else loves the gluten-free cupcakes you brought to the cookout, Wanda repeatedly calls them trash and makes you feel like actual garbage.
Consider why you let this single person control how you feel, and how their opinions of you don’t let you succeed or feel good about yourself. While it’s easier said than done, work on accepting that some people will not celebrate your success. It’s not worth your energy constantly trying to make an unhappy person happy.
8. Let it go
Here’s a mantra you didn’t know you needed: You’re as powerful as an ice princess who can build a whole freaking ice castle, bring a snowman to life, and ride a water horse across the fjord. (Yes, you ARE Elsa.)
Sadly, you cannot control what other people think. Once you accept this, you can focus more on things that are in your power to change.
9. Don’t compare and despair
It’s hard to not do some mental calculations when you see how your friends from high school and college are living it up. Her kids are how old? Two whole weeks in Maui, that must be nice. Oh, he’s a doctor!?
Comparing yourself to others is a slippery slope that can leave you feeling ashamed of your own accomplishments. You may feel like you don’t “measure up” on a scale that doesn’t even exist!
When you catch yourself comparing and despairing, remember you’re the only person on your path, there’s no comparison.
10. Practice self-acceptance
Frederick advises you ask yourself who you want to be, independent of other people’s opinions.
Create a vision of who you are now and who you want to become. Accept that all the versions of you are part of one fluid continuum, and they are all valuable (like an “Interstellar” or “Butterfly Effect” that always has a good outcome).
If anyone else intrudes on your vision of your future self, it should only be because they can support and help you get there.
11. Focus on curiosity and gratitude
“Curiosity will help you understand others and give you the opportunity to build relationships, instead of isolating yourself or others,” Graham says. “Gratitude can help us navigate fear.”
Try keeping a journal of questions you’re curious about and things you’re grateful for. A positive outlook can take the focus off fears and worry about others’ opinions.
12. Keep a brag book
You just got called out for a mistake at work, and TBH you’re feeling like hiding in a mid-day shower and thinking, “What if they figure out I don’t belong?!” One negative experience doesn’t represent you as a person!
Start today and save every message where someone compliments you or says something kind. And keep track of good things that happen. Before you know it, you’ll have pages and pages of self-esteem boosters to counteract bad days and harsh opinions.
13. Forgive yourself
Maybe you made a bad decision or a poor choice. Everyone does at some point. Instead of placing all your value on how other people feel about your mistake, turn inward. Can you forgive yourself for this mistake?
14. Try affirmations
I am worthy. I am loved. I am a magical creature capable of great things. 🦄
Be your own hype person! Think of it as a good kind of brainwashing to rinse away any worries that someone thinks badly of you.
Affirmations can also be channeled to other people. Is your BFF getting down on themselves? Shower them with feel-good words of encouragement. You’ll both feel better.
15. Give yourself a reality check
The truth is, no one thinks about you and your life as much as you do.
“Realize that most people are self-absorbed and not focused on you and your life,” Frederick says.
To bring the focus back to you and your thoughts, try journaling. Write about your experience, fears, and why you value what you do. Meditation can also help you look inward.
In a sense, your survival depends on what other people think of you. Sound dramatic? Just imagine you lived thousands of years ago with a small group of humans, and you all worked together to get food, escape predators, and care for each other. Being rejected by your social group would likely result in death.
OK, so the number of likes on your latest Instagram post is not a life-or-death situation, but your anxiety about it is driven by the same need for acceptance.
“We live in an age where social media is so prevalent, and ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ online can significantly affect many people’s sense of self-worth. So much so, that the definition of ‘other people’ in our lives has vastly expanded and can mean not only close personal relationships, but people who only know us through our social media profiles,” Kaplan says.
As a result, we see our social media personas as an extension of ourselves, making us vulnerable to the opinions of people we don’t really know.
Graham notes that overdrive to gain others’ approval can also come from childhood trauma, neglect, or low self-confidence.
If you cut back on caring about the opinions of other people, you might find yourself achieving new levels of success and happiness. Here are some of the benefits of not caring:
- Find your authentic self. Fear of judgment may hold you back from doing what you really want.
- Be less vulnerable to peer pressure. Sticking to your values can prevent you from doing things that you feel are dangerous or morally wrong.
- Spread kindness. You’re more likely to step in and help someone in need if you don’t care whether others will judge you for it.
- Be confident! You’ll feel more secure and confident if you have identified your personal values, acknowledged which people around you support your personal values, and let those positive relationships fuel your self-esteem.
“If we focus on the fear of judgment we are not being our authentic selves. We might dress differently than we would like, style our hair to please others, alter our personality, and manner of speech, or hesitate to take on a new project like writing a book because we fear that we will be judged negatively,” Frederick says. “You can get stuck in a trap of not moving forward without the validation of others.”
Kaplan says it might be a good time to talk with a therapist about your feelings if:
- You feel overwhelmed with concern about what other people think of you.
- These feelings are causing your anxiety or depression.
- Your relationships and ability to function have been impacted.
“Therapy, in-person or online, can help you to identify the root causes of your worry and help you to manage these feelings when they come up,” Kaplan says. “By providing coping skills and support in a non-judgmental way, a therapist is often very helpful in alleviating the distress you may feel about what others think about you.”
Other signs you may need to see a therapist about your desire for social approval:
- You’re denying your own ambitions out of fear someone won’t approve.
- You overspend to impress people.
- You have trouble socializing or appearing in public.
- You’re anxious about how you’re perceived on social media.
Your need for approval could also be a sign of social anxiety disorder, an intense fear of being watched and judged that disrupts your life. Social anxiety disorder can be treated with therapy, medication, and support groups. Look for these signs:
- blushing, sweating, or trembling around people
- rapid heart rate
- your mind “going blank”
- rigid posture
- using a quiet voice
- difficulty making eye contact
- avoiding people
It’s natural (even healthy) to care what other people think of you. Unfortunately, our wider modern social exposure can leave us caring too much, especially about what people online think of us.
But it’s possible to reconnect with your own values and self-worth and care less what random people think. Talking with a therapist may also help you manage these feelings.