Note to readers: Healing Space is a weekly series that helps you dive into your mental health and take charge of your wellbeing through practical DIY self-care methods.
We are all to some extent concerned about how we come across to others. But we hit a point at which we can no longer allow what people think of us to direct the course of our actions. The journey from overly concerned to not concerned at all can be liberating but it’s also difficult to make.
Should you Ranveer Singh it, and take all your clothes off for a photo shoot and just not care? Like Elon Musk, should you get on Twitter to contradict every hit job on your alleged affairs? Or like Ashneer Grover, should you in fact be using the feedback loop to help you course-correct when you are going over the top? Fact is, we should probably use a bit of each strategy at different times, instead of one blanket policy, but how do we know which to use when?
How we form impressions of others comes under social categorization that follows social perception. When you get on a bus or train, you rapidly decide whom to sit next to, this is your social perception in action. It can be based on physical characteristics, or values you hold dear, or views that you have been taught are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
You may not choose to sit next to Ranveer because you find him ‘loud’ (even when he is wearing clothes) and you have grown up believing that is not an impression you admire. You associate class and status with the people you have admired, such as a reticent Mukesh Ambani, so you immediately dissociate. However, to someone who doesn’t have the confidence to be themselves in public spaces, they may greatly admire Ranveer’s ability to not care, and take risks, so they may choose to sit next to him in the hope that his chutzpah carries them along.
You might sit next to Elon because you find his success admirable, and maybe you can gain from his influence, or some tips on wealth building. But you may not because you find his behaviours and scandals immature, and you are looking for more of a Warren Buffet kind of figure. To someone else, the ability to discard rules feels like a worthy measure of success. However, if you’re constantly playing to the gallery for applause, you’re also likely not making wise decisions for your life out of too much externalization.
Social perception is often imperfect because it is based on a combination of influences, from physical looks, what we perceive as ‘strong’ ‘successful’, to ingrained value systems, our need for social approval, our sense of belonging. It becomes therefore a very personalized lens, based on our experience of life, value systems, mentors, upbringing, and ways in the world. We can mistake characteristics we see on the surface as cardinal traits. Like we follow Elon’s social media and find him frivolous, so we assume that is ingrained rather than a front. After all, he has built several successful businesses, so perhaps, his tomfoolery is just done in his leisure? We won’t know until we know him personally. Ranveer has previously admitted to going through depression and a lot of his lightheartedness is often carried out for a media-sustained image. So, you can see how we are easily misled by surface perceptions.
If this is true of how we perceive others, it is also true of how others perceive us. We are constantly over or underestimating others. Research shows that we operate from ‘other centredness’ because we care about relationships, and good ones greatly improve the quality of our life, but what’s the point at which you switch off the worry?
Some principles that help are to turn it around: instead of worrying about how others perceive you, worry simply about others. This results in increased kindness and compassion, which leave you better thought of overall. Focus on intentions, as long as you meant well and acted in the best interests in the situation, let the rest go. Examine the belief that everyone needs to always think well of you, some people won’t, some people will moderate their view and think that you’re just okay. Remember that each one brings their lens to the perspective, so all of it is not about you. Examine if the feedback loop is bringing you valid information about a short coming. Take what you find useful and leave the rest. You don’t need to convince others about your point of view, become okay with their perspective not being the same as yours. And the best antidote to constant otherization of ourselves is still a strong sense of self. If you’re right by the strength of your personal value systems, that of others won’t matter so much.
How to temper your other-centredness
1. Turn the focus to concern for others, instead of how they see you. Use kindness.
2. Focus on intentions, not outcomes, which are beyond individual control.
3. Consider that others have their lens and view that may not match yours.
4. Don’t need others to like you. Practically, everyone can’t and won’t all the time.5. You can still be and do what you want to, as long as you don’t mind what others think of you.