Healing Difficult Emotions, Overcoming Self-loathing and Anxiety, Relationships and Love, Self-Love and Self-Directed Kindness

What To Do When People Think Badly of Us

It can be really painful when people thinking badly of us. I have struggled with this in the past. And so I wrote this post to help people who find themselves in this situation.

Controlled by The Good Girl and Boy Rule

I believe that one of the reasons we worry so much about what people think is because of something I call The Good Girl and Boy Rule.

Many of us growing up are taught that if we are good girls and good boys and do the right thing, everyone will be pleased with our good behavior, and the world will love us and we will be happy.

This is a rule that is commonly taught young children, purposefully or inadvertently, by some parents, churches, teachers, and other authority figures.

The more we accept and believe in The Good Girl and Boy Rule, the more likely we are to try to do everything right and to spend a lot of time worrying if other people think we are doing things right.

After all, if we believe in The Good Girl and Boy Rule, we are likely to believe that if people are displeased with us, it is automatically our fault, and we don’t deserve to be loved or happy.

Everyone wants to be loved and to feel happy, and so putting a lot of stock in The Good Girl and Boy Rule can cause us to become obsessed with other people’s opinions because we are afraid of losing love and happiness.

Night walking picture

All photos in this post (unless otherwise indicated) are courtesy of Unsplash.

You may be strongly influenced by the Good Girl and Boy Rule if several of the following are consistently true about you: 

You regularly struggle with perfectionism.  

Or you try really hard to do everything right all the time.

You are worried about making mistakes—often any kind of mistake.

Or you apologize all the time.

When you make a mistake and people are angry with you (or even if they aren’t angry), you worry about it for days.

You constantly feel worried, anxious, and depressed.

Worried Girl

If you struggle with these things, I deeply sympathize with you. I struggled with these same things for a large part of my life, too. For years, I absolutely believed The Good Girl and Boy Rule until one year, that drastically changed.

That Time I Made Everyone Mad

One year, I made a series of decisions that made some of my friends really, really angry with me. Some of them were so angry that they stopped being my friend altogether. And some of them started spreading rumors about me. Some of them were still my friends but were disappointed with me. And they let me know it regularly both directly and indirectly.

What was especially upsetting and confusing to me was that when I reflected on the decisions I had made, I knew I was honestly trying to do my best and to do what I thought was right.

I was following The Good Girl and Boy Rule. But it was no longer working. I didn’t know what to do.

I felt devastated. And depressed.

Foggy Window

But the more I thought about decisions, I realized two things:

First, I realized that a few of my decisions were indeed mistakes. But given the information I had at the time, there was no way I could have avoided making these mistakes. And I suddenly realized, more clearly than I had ever realized before, that some mistakes are an inevitable part of life.

No one knows everything, and often the only way can learn is by doing. That means that frequently we enter a given situation with significant blinders on. And we just have to do our best: sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong.

Second, I realized that many of my decisions were good and even excellent decisions. And I realized that if I had to do it all over again, I would still make those same decisions.

When I realized this, it was at this moment that I stopped believing in The Good Girl and Boy Rule.

I realized that it was not true that if I did everything right, people would be happy with me.

And I realized that it was possible to do everything right and for people to still be angry with me.

I realized that in these situations people’s anger towards me was not about me at all. It had to do with characteristics about them such as…

Their unwillingness to change.

Or their unwillingness to trust opinions different from their own.

Their unwillingness to let people learn and make mistakes.

Or their unwillingness to trust other people.

Their unwillingness to listen to another perspective.

Or their unwillingness to tolerate ambiguity.

Their conscious or unconscious belief that their ideas were always right and other people’s were wrong.

The Place of Low Compassion

I realized that all of these characteristics represented The Place of Low Compassion. When we are stuck in The Place of Low Compassion, we have little ability to trust other people. And we have little ability to allow them to make mistakes and grow or to feel their pain and see things from their perspective.

Lighthouse

When we are stuck in The Place of Low Compassion, we assume that our feeling and thoughts about the world are the right ones. And we also usually assume our thoughts and feelings are the ones that everyone should have. We want people “To Get With the Program”, and getting with the program usually means “Getting With Our Program”.

I suddenly realized that when people are stuck in The Place of Low Compassion, they will only be supportive of me if I agree with them and do and think things they approve of. And I also realized that if I adopted beliefs or actions that they disagreed with, people in The Place of Low Compassion would not approve of me, even if what I did or believed was 100% reasonable or right.

Once I realized this, I developed a new rule to live by: The Reason and Respect Principle

Here is the basic gist of this principle: For any decision you are considering making, ask yourself, “Is this a decision that the average reasonable and respectful adult would make? Are the reasons motivating my decision generally reasonable and respectful of myself and others?”

Here is a checklist I use to make sure I am intending to make reasonable decisions:

Do I have reasons for my actions that resonate with both my intellect and my emotions? (We are minds,  bodies, and spirits, and so reasonable decision should harmonize with these different aspects of us.)

Have I consulted at least a few opinions outside of my own to develop my reasons? (All of our perspective are necessarily limited. So consulting opinions outside of our own help us to have a more comprehensive perspective on issues).

Have I considered the opinions of people who think differently from I do on this issue? (All of us have blind spots and biases and prejudices. Considering the opinions of people who think differently than we do can make us aware of these blind spots.)

Are my reasons sensitive to both general rules and my particular situation? (It wise to follow general rules in our decision-making, like rules of fairness or reciprocity or compassion. But we also need to interpret those rules with sensitivity to our particular situation.)

Could I explain my reasons to several wise people in a way that they would recognize as making general, coherent sense? (Generally speaking, if our reasons don’t make sense to anyone else, they may be poor reasons for acting.)

Here is a checklist I use to make sure I am intending to act in a respectful way to myself and others:

Do my decisions respect the dignity of myself and others, including people I disagree with?

Have I listened to other people’s concerns on big decisions, even people I don’t agree with?

Do I honor my emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual well-being in my decision-making?

Do I honor other people’s emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual well-being in my decision-making?

Am I honoring other people’s right to make their own decisions?[1]

Coffee with Jack

This picture is mine and represents a great conversation I had with a friend last week who lovingly helped me understand the limitations of my own current thinking.

Why The Reason and Respect Principle is Much Better Than The Good Girl and Boy Rule

Living by the Reason and Respect Principle has helped me in three main ways.

One: It gives me courage and confidence. I know that when I follow my general principles for decision-making, I am making a mature and thoughtful decision, given the circumstances I am in and the knowledge that I have at the time.

That doesn’t mean that my decisions are automatically perfect if I follow The Reason and Respect Rule. It just means that I don’t need to worry myself to death about whether I am making mistakes or about what people think of me. And it also means that I don’t have to be ashamed of myself for the decisions I made.

All we can ask of people is that they make mature and thoughtful decisions based on the information they have. If I have done that, I know I have done enough.

Two: It gives me the ability to take the next wise, mature step if I make a mistake in my decisions. No matter how wise and mature we are, sometimes we will make mistakes in our decisions because we don’t have all the right facts or we have not had enough experience in applying those facts to particular situations.

This is what it means to be human. And we don’t have to be ashamed for being human. If I make a mature and thoughtful decision, and I make a mistake, I am already in a mature and thoughtful place. And this is the perfect place to know how to readjust and try again.

Three: It lets me know who the helpful and reasonable people in my life are. As I mentioned above, all that anyone can expect from us is that we make a mature and thoughtful decision based on the information we have.

If I make a decision in a mature and thoughtful way and people get mad at me for it, this shows me one of several things about them.

It may mean that they are expecting me to be perfect, which is unreasonable on their part.

Or it may mean that they expect me to make decisions that always agree with their view of the world or that make them happy. This is also unreasonable on their part.

It may mean that they are thoughtful and reasonable but that they just happen to disagree with me, and they are willing to agree to disagree.

Acting According to What People Show About Themselves

If people are angry with me for the first two reasons, this tells me that while I still need to respect their dignity as person, I do not need to put a lot of stock in their emotional reaction to me. That is because it is a problem with them, rather than with me.

If it is the third problem, I realized that even though it is uncomfortable for people to disagree with me and be angry with my decisions sometimes, this is a normal part of life. (After all, there are people I disagree with, too.) I can use the opportunity to develop courage and also tolerance for other people’s views. Both of these are very good virtues to develop.

Guy Standing

Are You Excessively Afraid of Other People’s Opinions of You?

Are you afraid of other people’s opinions of you? If you are, consider this: This fear is holding you back. It is making it really hard for you to express your talents and opinions and be yourself in the world. But this is your purpose in life: to be you in a reasonable and respectful way.

We need more of this kind of you, not less of you.

So, if you find yourself worrying all the time about people’s opinions and them being angry at you, I encourage you to get rid of The Good Girl and Boy Rule. It is a not serving you (because it doesn’t really serve anyone).

I also encourage you to remember that if people automatically get angry with you for making mistakes or making decisions they don’t like when you are trying to be reasonable and respectful, those people are operating from The Place of Low Compassion. It is their problem.

Lastly, I encourage you to adopt The Reason and Respect Rule. Making reasonable and respectful decisions with the information you have is all anyone can expect of you.

*****

If you found this post helpful, consider sharing it on social media.

This is a related book by Brene Brown you might enjoy:

Braving the Wilderness

You might also like these posts:

Four Things You Can Do When People Treat You Unfairly

Sticking Up For Yourself and Resisting Bullies and Boundary Crashers

You might also like this post:
The Do Enough Myth, Our Anxiety, and Healing Our Feelings of Shame and Unworthiness

[1] Note: I use these principles as a guide, rather than a rigid system to follow. Some of the items on the checklist are more relevant in certain situations than in others.

 

4 thoughts on “What To Do When People Think Badly of Us”

  1. This is so timely and relevant to my struggle. Thank you. I’ve tried to be a “good girl”for forty years and only in the last few have I come to see how suffocating it is and how it’s been a negative impact on following my dreams. Now I am unconsciously passing this down to my daughter and that too feels terrible. She is strong-spirited and free and I feel like I’m “breaking” or “domesticating” her. My suffering is going to cause hers unless I can change my behavior.

  2. Angel of Grace: Thank you for this beautiful message, and you are so welcome. I really understand this struggle. I still struggle sometimes with trying to be “a good girl”, too. My post is a reminder to me as well as hopefully a helpful message to others. Thank you for your kind words!

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