A close friend recently said to me that it really bothered her how much she cared about what I thought of her. I was shocked. Of course she cares, we are dear close friends. We have shared such intimate thoughts, feelings and experiences. Not to mention, we love each other.
How much someone cares about what others think should depend on their relationship.
First of all, let me say what all mental health experts know: the way people feel about themselves is formed during the time of growing up by the way their caregivers and other close family members and how they felt about them and treated them during that time. Those who grow up with low self esteem do so because they were belittled as children and they continue to hold that opinion of themselves. What we learn during these early and formative years effects us the rest of life. Ideally, those who grow up thinking well of themselves (because that is what their caregivers thought) will become resistant to the opinions of others. That is the ideal state that my friend was referring to. Someone who is very self-confidant can shrug off unreasonable criticism. However in reality, no one is that perfectly sure of him or herself.
In general, the opinion of strangers should not matter very much. What follows is a hierarchy of whose opinions should matter:
- a spouse, a partner, children, and parents (the people you love most)
2. close friends
3. a boss, colleagues
The opinion of acquaintances should not matter very much.
The opinion of people you encounter in the street or casually at a party should not matter at all.
This is the way this works: I would feel distressed if my partner thought I had behaved disrespectfully to him—or to anyone else, for that matter.
I would feel concerned if a close friend thought I had behaved in such a way. If an acquaintance said something similar to me, I might stop briefly to think about it. If it was a stranger, I would not pay any attention, and I would have forgotten about the incident a few minutes later. But when my dear and close friend thinks I have done or said something bad, I care, and I care deeply.
Don’t pathologize the beautiful consequences of love. When you love someone, you deeply care about what they think and that is a good thing!