Do you find yourself worrying about what your parents, your partner, your colleagues, your friends, or your extended family might be saying or thinking about you?
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night paralysed by a fear that someone may have talked about you behind your back, or that your boss is thinking of giving you the sack? If so, then you are worrying about other people’s opinions, and you are one of many people who do so.
Opinions can be found and heard wherever we turn, and there is little we can do to get away from them. Our family talk about their troubles, our friends bitch about someone behind their backs, our colleagues complain about their poor marriages, and our parents still think we should have been a doctor. We are even subject to opinions from those we don’t know, such as newspapers and media advertising, and the millions of people on the internet. Opinions are everywhere.
But despite this bombardment, I believe we can live a life without worrying about the opinions of others. I believe we can do what we choose without experiencing the fear of what other people may say about us. But this isn’t easy to come by.
I still worry about other people say. I still look up to people for approval that what I’m doing is right. But I’m getting better at not doing this. Each time I try, I’m able to detach myself a little more from what others may say or think about me. I’m learning not to live in fear of the opinions of others, and I believe that you can learn this too.
Here are four pieces of advice to help you lose the fear of opinions. They are working for me, and I hope they work for you.
You Can’t Stop People Having Opinions
The sheer volume of opinions in the world is immense. There is no way to stop the tide of opinions, no matter what. But there’s a solution – don’t bother trying.
Instead of trying to prevent people from having opinions, let them express them. Stop yourself from resisting the other person and their thoughts, and just let them express what they need to express. When we try to resist someone or something, we struggle. We prevent the other force from moving in the way it wants to, because we fear that it will affect us. In the case of opinions, we may try to stop them reaching us because we’re afraid that they will negatively affect us. But opinions will only affect us if we let them.
I used to try to stop people from saying what they wanted to say in an attempt to keep myself ‘pure’. I didn’t want any bad words to enter my mind, so I criticised people when they gossiped, and I tried to impose my positive mindset onto others. But instead of generating positivity, I created more negativity. Because I prevented people from getting their opinions out, I restricted them. I stopped them from being themselves, so they began to distrust me, and not want to talk to me. By wanting to create positive vibes, I created the opposite effect.
People will always have opinions. Let them say what they feel they need to say, and don’t try to stop them.
Avoid Becoming Attached To Opinions
In order to prevent ourselves being affected from opinions and noise, we need to ensure we aren’t ‘attached’ to opinions and noise.
‘Attachment’ to something means that we identify ourselves with that ‘something’ – a material object, a state of mind, an emotion, or another person. That ‘something’ is external to ourselves, but when we identify ourselves with it, we assume that we can govern and control that something, and/or we are governed and controlled. We believe our identities are entwined, and we can’t imagine ourselves living without that ‘something’ in our lives.
For example, we may not be able to imagine money, or our partner, or a particular emotion such as anger or sorrow in our lives, so we identify with these things to ensure we don’t have to lose them.
With opinions, we can ‘detach’ ourselves from them. This means that we don’t have to identify with the opinions that we hear, and we can continue to live our lives completely unaffected by them. How? Because we don’t need them in our lives.
If you become affected by what your parents say about your future, then you are attaching yourself to their opinions. You ‘become’ their opinions. But if you detach yourself from these opinions, then you realise that you don’t need them in your life – you can live a normal life without them. We can detach ourselves from every opinion in order to prevent our suffering from them.
For further reading on attachment to opinions, I suggest “The Four Agreements” by don Miguel Ruiz. He goes into the power of words and explains how they affect us.
Cut Out As Much Negativity As Possible
Although I have said that detaching yourself from opinions is crucial to stop worrying about them, it’s hard to do so. If you haven’t practiced detachment before, then it may even seem impossible. To help you with this, I suggest that you focus on your external environment and actively try to cut out negativity.
How can we cut out negativity? I don’t suggest you take the same approach I did and prevent people from expressing themselves, but it’s possible to ‘limit’ how much negativity enters your life. We can exercise some control on our environment and reduce our worry by replacing the negative with the positive.
Here are a few tips for doing so:
- Cut down on TV time – Most of the programmes on TV are full of negative opinions which don’t help to ease your worries.
- Manage your food intake – Some simple choices, such as replacing a snack bar with some fruit, can help to keep your energy levels up and avoid feeling drained and prone to worry.
- Cut down on newspapers – Newspapers serve their own end. They do this by installing ‘trust through fear’ in its readers. Avoid them, or keep the newspaper reading to a minimum.
- Exercise occasionally – We all wish to be healthy, but few actually take the time to condition our bodies. Even a little exercise a day will help to release ‘feel-good’ sensations in your body and mind.
By doing what you can to manage your environment, you can cut down on the negative input and reduce some of the worry.
Learn To Trust Your Inner Voice
There are many opinions that scream to be heard. But underneath all those is one voice which is calm, peaceful, and quiet. It may be so quiet that you may not be able to hear it all. This voice is your inner voice.
We all have an inner voice inside of us, whether we listen to it or not. It’s been called the ‘soul’, the ‘subconscious’, and the ‘heart’, but these are different labels for the same thing. Your inner voice is that which guides you through life and provides wisdom. It will stay with you throughout the rest of your life, and will do its best to help you achieve a full and happy life. But only if you let it.
In order to harness the power of your inner voice, you have to trust it. Your inner voice is different from the opinions of others because it doesn’t seek to hurt or to degrade anyone – it only seeks to help and to love. It is the only voice that is worth listening to, but if you have never listened to it before, then it may be hard to hear it.
Your inner voice may be so quiet that you can’t hear it amongst the noises of everyday life. In order to listen to your inner voice, you must be quiet. You must empty yourself of the opinions of others and listen to what your inner voice is saying. It will be hard at first, but it can be done. The inner voice never leaves you, and will always wish to help you.
It is your inner voice that can help you to end your worrying.
In Part 2 of this series about opinions, I’ll talk about our own opinions and how they can be distorted, and the differences between listening to your opinions and listening to your inner voice. I’ll also provide advice on how to listen to your inner voice.