Is it really possible to not care what others think of you? Many people claim they are free from caring what others think and approval-seeking but are they really?
First of all, there’s a very important point that I want to draw your attention to. As a general rule, we only think and talk about things that matter to us in some way or the other.
So if a person repeatedly and emphatically says that he doesn’t care what others think of him, there’s a very strong possibility that he actually does. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been any need to convince others, or himself.
I care too much to not care
A lot of people engage in this type of self-deception. They’re bothered so much by someone or something that, unable to handle the degree to which they’ve been affected, they declare that they don’t even care what those others think. It is clearly a psychological defense mechanism.
No one likes to be bothered by anyone to the point that causes mental disturbance in them.
Instead of admitting that their psychological balance has been disturbed, they muster up their defenses and try to convince others (and themselves) that they don’t really care. In most cases, this is far from the truth.
Those who say they don’t care what others think want others to think that they don’t care what others think. So, in a way, they do care what others think.
Caring what others think = survival mechanism
The one thing that differentiates humans from other primates (except chimpanzees) is that we form alliances and friendships with other humans who are not genetically related to us. This was necessary for our survival for thousands of years in our evolutionary history.
Our ancestors who earned the respect and friendship of their own tribe increased the odds of their and their offspring’s survival.
Therefore, our ancestors had no choice but to be in the good books of the members of their own tribe. If they failed to do so they were less likely to obtain food during tough times and more likely to get killed by predators or members of another hostile human tribe.
This is why it is very hard to shake off, if not impossible, the evolutionary propensity of caring what other human beings, especially high-status and influential members of your own tribe or community, think about you.
I say human beings because no one really cares what an elephant or a parakeet thinks about them. No one dresses to impress the giraffe or worries about how a cow gave them a disapproving look.
It is a species-specific thing.
…and then there’s societal conditioning
As if evolutionary proclivity for approval seeking wasn’t enough, society jumps in as soon as we pop out in this world and begins to feed its crap to us.
Parents, teachers, religious and other authorities transfer their ways of thinking to the clueless child.
Obedience to elders and authority is encouraged in schools and homes and the child who fails to fit in is labelled ‘bad’ or ‘antisocial’- a misfit who needs to be punished because he refuses to conform.
And if he doesn’t conform, he’s likely to lose the approval of others.
In this way, society reinforces approval-seeking behaviour as it feeds on the deep-seated human need to belong, to be liked and to be respected by fellow human beings.
You can reason yourself out of approval-seeking behaviour
For most human behaviour, awareness precedes change. If you don’t know why you have a tendency to care what others think of you, you don’t get the power to control, regulate or even override that behaviour.
So what is the strategy that you can employ to get rid of approval-seeking behaviour?
First of all, you need to realize that fighting approval-seeking behaviour is not easy. After all, you’re up against a lifetime of conditioning and thousands of years of evolutionary conditioning.
Even if you play intricate mind games and convince yourself to be apathetic to what a random stranger on the street thinks of you, it may still be hard to take disapproval from your family members, friends and the people you like.
This is because, in a way, your family and friends do contribute to your well-being, if not necessarily survival. The more a person has a bearing on your well-being and survival, the more you’ll tend to care what they think of you.
We no longer live in caves or among primitive tribes but we still depend on others to some extent for some things.
The more you depend on someone for something, the more you’ll care how they perceive you.
So I think it’s almost impossible to completely stop caring what others think of you because we humans will always need the company of other humans, even if it’s just to feel temporarily warm inside.
We’ve counted on fellow human beings for thousands of years so we can’t just sit and decide one day that we no longer care.
What you can do, however, is be selective as to whose opinion should matter to you. There’s no point in losing sleep if a stranger flames you on the internet but if your sibling disapproves of something that you’re doing, you may want to consider it and sort it out with them- if you want peace of mind.
Sometimes, you may even have to risk disapproval from those closest to you because of your own conviction or trust in something. It will be hard, yes, but ultimately, what matters is what you think of you.
And when you trust yourself enough that you seek no one else’s approval, you don’t go around convincing others that you don’t care about their approval. You simply don’t, tacitly.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve written 280+ articles and published one book about human behavior on this blog that has garnered over 3 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.