I love it when my day starts with a good bumper sticker. I see a lot of them; I live in Ann Arbor. A college town full of educated, informed residents with strong beliefs on matters of importance, a well-considered bumper sticker is almost de rigueur. But one I saw recently got my attention. White letters on a black background, it jumped out from the back window of a brand new Prius (of course). Credited to Deepak Chopra, it said: “What someone else thinks of you is none of your business.”
What fresh nonsense is this? We spend most of our waking lives worried about what everyone else thinks about us! Surely, it is time well spent, right? There is no better way to have closeness with others!
A bit tongue in cheek here, but truly, what is the price tag we pay for our level of worry about another’s perceptions? Perceptions of our beliefs, our intelligence, our body, our hopes and dreams, our job, our words? How much should we weigh the perceptions of another person in our decision-making? Of course, we are social animals; to varying degrees for each of us, it is imperative for humans to be in relationship with others for our psychological health. But for many, the lesson about finding successful loving connection to another person has been predicated on finding (and keeping) their approval, not their love. In fact, according to a number of surveys over time, the top three reasons for not taking a risk to try something new are:
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of shame
- Fear of being alone/abandoned
Indeed, what scares us most in trying something new is loss of acceptance and love, rather than any inherent risk in the trying. And while protecting our relationships is of course a most important goal, when is the price too high?
As a psychotherapist, I know that being truly seen by another person is the most loved we are able to feel. When we show up as who we really are, with our emotions, thoughts, fears, hopes, and scars, and another person honors all they see, we feel true connection. That person may not like something they see in us in a given moment, or agree with something we say, but they stay with us, honoring simply where we are on our own journey. They do not judge us by their path. I find these are the people around whom we feel safest taking risks. We know their love is not dependent on our path being a validation of their own. If our relationships feel contingent on acceptance, we cannot feel loved.
So consider something you would like to try in your life, something you think others may find silly, “unrealistic”, unacceptable. Who in your life will be there for you, regardless of what they may think or feel about your choice? Who sees you well? Let them love you, and take the risk. Remember, what they think about it is none of your business.