“Of course I care what others think,” you may say to yourself. “Doesn’t everybody?” Considering others’ feelings is important, but this is something different; an inordinate concern about what others think of you is a sign of dependency. Remember, dependency is needing someone else to do something (thinking well of you, in this case), so that you can feel good about yourself.
In HBO’s “The Newsroom,” news anchor Will McAvoy is devastated because New York magazine published a very unflattering cover story about him. He has even memorized some of the more damning quotes. Will can’t feel good about himself because the writer doesn’t take him as seriously as Will takes himself. A couple of mature, autonomous reactions would be, “Okay, this guy has a poor opinion of me, but I stand behind my work and how I’ve handled myself” or “He’s got a point about my bluster, and I need to rein it in because it’s not a great quality for an anchor. But I feel good about the effort I’ve put in and the fact that I can hear criticism without getting defensive.” Collapsing in humiliation is a very immature, dependent response to criticism, whether constructive or not.
Former mayor of NYC Ed Koch was famous for walking around the city and calling out to his fellow citizens, “How’m I doing?” He had a genuine reason to care what the citizens he represented thought of the job he was doing on their behalf. Many people who don’t hold elected office behave in a similar fashion, being overly concerned with what others think of what they are doing, how they are dressed, how they sound, where they live, etc., and that’s counterproductive and ultimately unsatisfying.
Where do you fall on the caring-what-others-think spectrum? Are you an Ed Koch, but with no legitimate need to know what others think, or are you comfortable enough in your own skin to hear criticism, see what fits, and leave the rest? Twelve-step programs have a great quote that addresses this over-concern with what others think: “It’s none of my business what you think of me.”
If you find yourself preoccupied with what others think of you, therapy can be very helpful in developing the ability to step out of the dependent position and into autonomy.