3 Ways To Stop Obsessing Over What People Think Of You

Photo: santypan / 
young Black woman with natural hair looks at camera in orange sweater

You do it. I definitely do it. You hang out in other people’s heads, trying to figure out what they’re thinking about you, and end up obsessed with what people think of you.

You're trying to create safety for yourself but you're actually doing just the opposite.

On a first date, you probably spend more time wondering what the other person thinks about you than what you think about them.

With a good friend, you wonder if they think you're being self-centered because you've been talking about your exciting new job for 15 minutes.

Checking out at the grocery store, you spend the whole time wondering whether the cashier is judging your dessert-to-vegetable ratio.

RELATED: 7 Seriously Disturbing Thoughts Even 'Normal' People Have

Why do you spend so much time being obsessed with what people think of you?

The short answer: It makes you feel more in control.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to approve of me — that makes life feel safe. According to my brain, if I know what others are thinking about me, I’ll be able to adjust myself to be more appealing to them.

I spent a lot of time in other people’s heads trying to figure out what they think is "good" and what they think is "bad."

This information allowed me to show them only the parts of me they would approve of and hide the parts they wouldn’t (or at least be clear that I don’t approve of those parts either).

If I knew what they were thinking, I felt like I had more control over whether they accepted or rejected me.

At some point in early adulthood, I realized that this was not working as well as I thought it was. I felt safer, in the moment, but in the big picture, I had no solid ground under my feet.

My acceptability was always in someone else’s hands. Or heads, as it were.

There's considerable danger in spending too much time in other people’s heads. You start to care more about what others think about you than what they think about you. That’s how you lose yourself.

By putting so much weight on what someone else thinks of you, you're telling yourself that their opinion matters most.

Their opinion is the "right" one and your opinions of yourself take a back seat.

The more time you spend in other people’s heads, the further back your own opinions go, getting quieter and quieter. This erodes your sense of self and true safety. It gives away your power.

Your power comes from owning who you are. Your power comes from not needing anyone else to tell you who you are or what you're worth. That’s safe, solid ground.

But how do you get there? You go to your own head and set up camp.

If someone had told me back then, "Spend time in your head," I wouldn’t really have known what to do. I started with the obvious move: therapy (and tried to get into the therapist’s head, of course).

I journalled. Sometimes, I was into it. Sometimes, not. I was definitely in my head when I ran.

Gardening turned out to be helpful. Talking to friends about what was in my head helped. Regular meditation was enormously helpful once I added it.

Spending time with myself in all these different ways started to pay off. I felt like I had some solid ground. I was building sovereign space. I was building a sense of who I was that could stand up to other people’s perceptions of me. I’m still working on it.

Like most of life, it’s an ongoing practice. I still have to remind myself to work with these steps. There are only three of them, but they’re more challenging than they appear.

RELATED: 11 Honest Signs Your Parents Don't Love You Like They Should

Here are 3 ways to stop obsessing over what people think of you.

1. Stay out of other people’s heads.

This simple-sounding step takes intentional focus and practice. Start by noticing how often you hang out in other people’s heads.

Notice when you’re wondering what someone else is thinking. Notice when you’re worried about what they think of you.

Once you catch yourself in someone else’s head, bring your attention back to your side of the fence — that’s where the actual helpful information is.

Remind yourself that what they think is not relevant to who you are. Be ready — you will have to do this step over and over and over.

2.  Spend more time in your own head.

Don’t skimp on this. Regularly spend some time alone, without anything hijacking your attention (e.g., no TV, social media, or podcasts).

There are a million ways to do it. You could meditate, sit and look out the window, go for a walk, doodle, stretch, do some light housework, or journal, as a start.

Spending time with yourself and observing your own thoughts, feelings, and patterns helps you get familiar with yourself. When you know yourself well, you don’t feel compelled to look to anyone else to tell you who you are.

3. Prepare for The Show.

Before spending time with someone else (whether via text, phone call, video chat, social media, or in-person), prepare to stay in your own head.

Practice knowing that you are the authority on yourself. Remind yourself that nothing about you is up for question or opinion. Remind yourself that your power comes from staying on your side of the fence.

When you’re with others, look at them through your eyes. Don’t look at yourself through their eyes. Ask yourself what you want to get out of this interaction and what you can do to impact it.

Keep asking yourself what you think of what the other person is saying or doing. Stay grounded in yourself, not the other person.

Just three steps to staying out of other people’s heads

It’s a hard habit to break, but the benefits are well worth the effort. Staying in your own head gives you the safety and power you've been looking for.

RELATED: 4 Teeny-Tiny Things That Say A Lot About You

Suzanne Manser, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Portland, OR. To read more of her thoughts on living with self-acceptance, meaning, and ease, visit her blog and join her on Instagram: @drsuzannemanser.