“People out for posthumous fame forget that generations to come will be the same annoying people they know now. And just as mortal. What does it matter to you if they say x about you, or think y?” Marcus Aurelius
We all know we shouldn't worry about what people think of us, and yet we still do. Constantly. Until it literally make us ill. We let it influence how we feel about ourselves, we let it affect the decisions in our day-to-day life, we even allow it to dictate the types of dreams we pursue (or don't). Looking at it in this way, it seems mad that we would relinquish that much control over our existence to another person - and yet we do it every day, often to strangers and people we don't even like!
But the truth is that worrying about what other people think is a mental health issue that's spanned the entire course of human existence, existing in works spanning back thousands of years. Nowhere is this more true than in Stoic philosophy, which originated in ancient Greece and Rome around the year 300 BC. Stoic philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca The Younger, and Epictetus wrote at length about the topic, offering useful, practical wisdom to combat what they saw as one of a number of mental health issues that needed to be conquered and defeated.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some core Stoic beliefs and how we can apply them into our daily life so we can stop worrying about what others think of us.
Stoic ways to stop caring what people think
Focus only on what you can control.
If there was one key maxim that encompassed everything Stoicism stood for, it would undoubtedly be to focus only on what you can yourself control.
And as we all know from unfortunate, repeated experiences, there is nothing less in our control than other people's opinion of us. Fortunately, the Stoics believed that these opinions only possess power if we allow them to. As former slave turned transcendent philosopher Epictetus wrote: "we are disturbed not by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens."
According to Stoicism, since our reputation with each individual person is mostly out of our control (though we can certainly do our part to influence it by being a kind, caring person), Stoic philosophy dictates that we work to break free from its hold and instead focus on the only two things that are deeply within our control: our own thoughts and actions.
Remember that other people's opinions are none of your business.
In other words, other's opinions of us should not even be a part of the equation. Whether they think we're amazing human beings or a total abomination is simply not relevant to our existence. When we let others opinions become our business, we open ourselves up to all sorts of unnecessary anger, stress, sadness, and anxiety. In the same way that others shouldn't get to dictate what or how we think, we have to release the desire to control what or how they think. It's simply none of our business what goes on in the minds of others.
As Marcus Aurelius said: "other people's mistakes are not your concern. People's opinions are their own affair."
Remind yourself that other people won't be the ones affected by your inaction.
We're often concerned about other's opinions of us because we think that they'll be the ones who are affected if we don't act or behave in a particular way. We worry other people will laugh at us, judge us, ostracize us, mistreat us. But the reality of the matter is that in the vast majority of cases, the people we're worried about won't even be there to find out how it all played out. When we allow other people - particularly strangers (such as on social media, for example) - to influence our decisions, we end up being the only ones who suffer the consequences and it directly impacts our mental health. The same people we believe are so wrapped up in their opinions about us will go on about living life and continue with their own issues and busy thinking, completely oblivious to what we are, and are not, doing. So if they won't be there to cheer us on when we succeed, and won't support us when we fail, why exactly do we care what they think?
Be true to yourself.
It's a common belief that people's thoughts about us matter because there are specific expectations we need to be following - whether it be going along with mundane social norms, conforming to others' ideal about what is "right," or living our lives based on someone else's expectations, such as a good friend or family member. However, the Stoics understood that other people's opinions should hold no weight over us as they aren't the ones in control over what type of person we are at our core and how much goodness we put out in the world.
As Epictetus wrote: "other people's views and other people's mistakes are irrelevant to morality."
So as long as we remain true to ourselves, to our own experiences, and to our own inner-compass, views from the outside should bear no impact on our human journey.
Define your values to raise your self esteem.
Perhaps the most senseless part of tying our self esteem to the thoughts and opinions of others is that we do so even though we likely hold a completely different set values than they do. How could another person possibly judge us if they don't even know what truly makes us us? And how can we put any weight in the opinion of someone whose values we haven't - and likely can't - audit?
The reality is that by taking the time to ask ourselves "what values are most important to me?" and find and answer we feel confident in, no opinion can ever truly hurt us as long as we stay true to ourselves and remain on our chose path. As for everything else, as Seneca said: "the opinion of the public means nothing to me."
Build a support network made of kind and accepting people
The Stoics believed that our personal relationships are some of the most important resources we have, but that not every relationship was created equal. The Stoics encouraged filling our life with the right few people - those who are accepting, kind, forgiving, encouraging, and empowering. These are the types of people who will push us to do better, be better, and live a better life. As Marcus Aurelius wrote: "all our other relationships exist for the sake of one, that with reason."
The most important thing we can do for our self esteem then is to surround ourselves with people who are like us in spirit - who encourage our growth and believe in the good of what we're doing. Being connected to others who can pick us up when we're down, support us when we fall, and celebrate with us the good things that happen in our life is one of the greatest resources available to us and it's high time we take advantage of it by riding our mind of all the things keeping it from the present moment.
Prepare for the worst case scenario
The Stoics stressed the importance of preparing for worst case scenarios - going so far as to recommend we visualize our own death. As Marcus Aurelius wrote "daily you should practice dying." Therefore, by imagining other people's disapproval of us, their criticisms, and all other possible consequences resulting from our choices in life ahead of time, we are more likely to remain unfazed when they actually occur. Preparing for the consequences of other people's disapproval ahead of time also empowers us to remain true to our deepest values.
Ask yourself does any of it actually matter?
When you really think about it it's easy to see that it's literally impossible to please everyone, even the Dalai Lama has haters! And yet, when speaking of a figure like the Dalai Lama, all the amount of hate and judgement in the world wouldn't erase the work he's dedicated his life to, nor influence his opinion of himself. Marcus Aurelius once wrote: "other people's errors are not for us to judge, because only they are qualified to do that," and much in the same way, even our errors are ours alone. How could anybody accurately judge us if they are not "qualified" in what makes us who we are?
So the next time you find yourself obsessing about something that's made you feel self-conscious, ask yourself, how does this affect the way I've chosen to live life? And if it doesn't, recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, it truly does not matter and that the only thing it accomplishes is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy filled with worry, fear, and doubt.
Recognize that nobody actually cares
After all the worrying, all the stressing, all the moments lost worrying about what a seemingly-infinite number of people think about us, the sad but simple truth is that, in life most people simply aren't doing it nearly as much as we think. The average person filters their experience primarily through the lense of their own lives - and the problems they themselves are dealing with deep in their own mind - to spend time thinking about other people. If you doubt the accuracy of that statement simply ask yourself how much time YOU spend each day thinking negatively about other people. Either the answer is the most common one of "not very much at all," or it reveals a larger problem (your own negative thinking!), which is likely being manifested as the low self-esteem you're now trying to solve.
Perhaps the most powerful tool to overcome other people's perceptions is deep and honest empathy. By imagining what other people have or are experiencing that has led them to think the way they do - which no doubt requires practice - we have a greater chance of understanding their perspective without becoming emotionally attached to its most negative aspects. When we're able to see other people as humans simply struggling with their own problems just like us (and often with much less self-awareness), it allows us to replace our self-consciousness with a sense of kindness and humility.
"Kindness is king of all virtues and can make a person invincible." - Seneca
Your life, your rules
Keep your attention focused entirely on what is your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours. - Epictetus
As Epictetus explains in the quote above, another person's opinion truly has nothing to do with our thoughts about ourselves. Our need to be liked by other people directly affects our ability to enjoy life and the world around us, and the only way to overcome the anxiety and worry that comes along with it is to realize that, as with most things, no amount of worrying, thinking, or even adapting our behavior can turn enemies into friends.
So the next time other people's judgements rear their ugly head and threaten to overpower your self-worth, remind yourself nobody knows your struggles, nobody can see into your mind or intention, and most importantly nobody should have the power to dictate the path any of us have chosen.
My life, my rules.
Reflect and release
In his most famous work Meditations, Marcus Aurelius instructed himself: "every night when you go to bed, reflect on the events of the day. What did you do wrong? What could you have done better? Are you satisfied with the way things turned out? It is in your power to avoid certain issues; where can you improve?"
There's no better way to overcome other people's judgements than to take the time you would have wasted worrying about them and reflect on your own actions. The ability to learn from our mistakes is truly one of the most rewarding human experiences and one which we should put to use daily. By reflecting on our thoughts and actions in this way, not only will we enable ourselves to build the best path forward towards whatever it is we want to accomplish with our time in this life, but it will allow us to stand resolute in the face of even extreme adversity, regardless of anyone's opinion.
As Marcus Aurelius so wisely wrote: "all you have to do is to be attentive to the power inside you and worship it sincerely."
Perhaps if he were living today he might add: Haters be damned!