Sticks and stones: How to be unaffected by what others say

Carlo Atienza-Sui Generis

I USED to be a people-pleaser. Every little comment about how I looked, dressed, or acted, I corrected right away for fear of being singled out or, worse, being expelled from the group. But there came a point when I decided to just stop and do what I felt was the best for me.

Dwelling too much on your insecurities or what others would say about you can become a source of stress and anxiety. Social media has made it easier for people to build a whole persona far from who they really are, and they place their personal value on how many likes they have or how many have commented on their posts. This is unhealthy and possibly dangerous if the persona is totally removed from who they are in reality.

But not all perceptions are wrong in themselves. Other people’s observations can validate how we see ourselves and strengthen our self-image. It can also make us understand ourselves more and help us adjust our behavior as needed. I have read somewhere that when people challenge our boundaries, we move the person, not the boundary.

To remain unaffected by what others say about you, you first need to ask yourself why you reacted the way you did. Sometimes, other people’s comments are not actually directed against you but because of your insecurities, you react negatively. Sometimes, we place too much premium on what others say when they may not even be talking about us. Often, other people’s words reflect what they are actually feeling. So, before you take anything personally, think about why you reacted the way you did and differentiate your insecurities from other people’s words.

You also need to understand who you really are at your core. Sure, we wear many hats when we do our work, talk to friends, or even when we are with different family members. But having a good understanding of who you are and what you believe in will make it easier for you to brush off comments that do not reflect who you really are.

You also need to remember that people’s opinions are not facts. People seem to think that just because they are entitled to an opinion or free speech means that they can say whatever they want to. This might be true but understand that one’s opinion does not represent a whole group, much less what is true about you. They are merely saying something from their perspective, but it might not necessarily be true for you. You should expect that people will always have different opinions about you no matter what you do. So, be true to yourself and do what makes you happy.

The only opinion that should matter is your opinion. Taking responsibility for your actions also means being accountable to what you do with your own opinion. If you do take somebody else’s opinion, carefully consider the source. If the opinion comes from trusted friends or family members, they might see something which you do not see about yourself. But when it comes from people you barely know, take it with a grain of salt. Not everyone will have your best interest at heart so be careful who you ask.

I once saw a pin that read: “Whoever said nobody is perfect is so unfair; he has not even met me.” While amusing, the pin actually teaches us to think of ourselves as being enough. True, nobody is perfect, but we can always learn to love ourselves first. And as the song goes, it is the greatest gift of all. Letting go of the notion that we can be perfect or that we need to maintain perfection is liberating and uplifting. I am not saying you should not strive to do your best, but you must come to accept that what you have done is enough and you have given your best effort.

Not everyone will like you (read that again), and that is okay. This is one of the most liberating things I have learned as an adult. Just because someone does not like you does not mean you are a bad person, or they are a bad person. Sometimes, it is just a difference in personalities and preferences. Learn to work with people you do not like by clarifying roles and expectations. This helps both of you establish a professional relationship of mutual respect. You just need to know what you need to deliver and maybe throw in an extra effort or two to possibly win them over. If it works, good for you. If not, then you can take comfort in the fact that you tried.

You also need to work on your insecurities. Most of your insecurities come from the way you look or from how your immediate family members have treated you. Their insecurities can scar you for life and the only way to minimize their power over you is to acknowledge them and then focus on what you can do. This is easier said than done but you have to start somewhere. If you can do something with your insecurities, do so at your own comfort and pace.

To help you have a support network, look for your own group. It always helps to be surrounded by people with tastes and values similar to your own. They can keep you in check when you go against your own values, as well as provide the necessary encouragement when you are down.

And when it becomes unbearable, seek professional help. If you notice that you keep falling into the same cycle of anxiety and stress from people’s comments against you, it might be best to seek a specialist who can help you break through the cycle.

Words have the power to bring a person down or lift him/her up. You will not always be given encouraging words, but you have the choice if you will let them affect you. I say, take whatever you can to make yourself a better person and throw away those that stop you from growing.

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