What People Think of Me is None of my Business
“What people think of me is none of my business”
That either sounds like a truly noble statement made by a really emotionally healthy person or else it’s a prevaricating statement made by someone who wants you to think they are an emotionally healthy person. I want to show, in tandem with episodes from my real life, how this philosophy gets reconciled with truth, peace, spiritual growth, and integrity. And furthermore, how anyone can achieve this.
One caveat: Some people want to make it their business
There do exist people who believe that what I think about them is their business. I know for a fact they exist because it turns out I know some of these types. They exist from the low self-esteemer who thinks of herself as a burden on the world, to the egomaniac who considers everyone else the burden. Here’s how both types might supposedly crawl into the minds of others.
- Pride in Reverse: I know that they all think I’m stupid. I have no business going to that party. I know that woman hates me and is inviting me just to make fun of me once I’m there. One time she said, “What a nice dress.” But I SAW her roll her eyes! So what I had to get it from the Salvation Army. She thinks I’m a loser.
- Excessive Pride: I know they are all envious of my job position. After all I am still so young and good looking they probably think I slept my way to the top. They want me at this party just to network with me so I’ll put in a good word for them. God these people are piranhas. Have they no shame?
For people who want to make it their business what others think of them
Whether it is so you can “correct” my perception of you or you can decide how to avenge my thoughts of you, a person’s thoughts are their thoughts. They are entitled to them. Whether the thought is generous toward you or the thought is a miserly one, every person on this planet has the divine right to her own thoughts – and feelings for that matter – without intrusion and without exception. If you disagree and can’t rest unless you know everything going through someone’s mind about you, but yet you desire happiness, peace, and an integrity based life, I think you may really enjoy the Codependent Recovery journey! Because I think most people inadvertently get sucked into the dream of what others think or feel about them, understanding and practicing the suggestions in this article will prove sufficient.
The Following is How it Worked for Me
The Books I Mention Were Pivotal
Guidelines for Avoiding Thoughts not your Business
First of all, don’t ask!
No good can come from it and your ego is the one who wants to know anyway. Has someone ever asked you, “Do you think I’m an idiot?” Do you think they really wanted to know, at that point in time what you thought about them?
Has someone ever asked you, “What do your parents think about me?” If your parents did not think too highly of the person asking, did that make you feel quite awkward? Did you feel like you were between a rock and a hard place? Well, the person was essentially asking you to divulge information that was not your business to divulge; aka Gossip.
In the future, if you feel compelled to ask someone what someone else thinks about you, a nice way to practice learning not to care what people think, would be to avoid learning what they think. Everyone will have an opinion of you that will not be what you want to hear; Therefore how is it beneficial for you to have this information? So that you can change your behavior? So that you can throw a zinger down on them? If this sounds reasonable to you, please run, do not walk, to the Codependency section. Like my Codie Recovery page on Facebook. Browse the codependent recovery books. AND do not be ashamed. Please begin healing yourself. If you still need help, please contact me.
Secondly, Do NOT Look!
Even if I feel like I need to. What is it about me that makes me want to look into the eyes of someone I either know dislikes me or who I think dislikes me? [Is it just an HSP thing or do you normal people do it too? Does anyone "normal" even read these articles?] I do quite a lot of ‘public’ speaking and I hate it! So what I do is, when I am feeling particularly insecure is avoid eye contact with members of the audience. I do this with much intention because invariably, when I am feeling insecure and make the mistake of making eye contact I will *read the person’s mind* and then, knowing that they hate me, I will start to stutter.
To not look also means to not go looking for trouble. This means that if I have a feeling someone is going to talk to someone about me, I don’t need to go *looking* and *poking* around trying to find out what’s going on. It’s just not my business! And be careful of what you go looking for, you may just find it.
I learned this one a long time ago based on a friend I had who could not, to save his life, allow anyone a private conversation. After the conversation he would ask, “Were you guys talking about me? What did so and so say? Does he think I’m being ______?” A certain amount of this could be curiosity but it passes a point and lands in obsession and controlling land which is a characteristic of codependency. Once again. Even if we had been talking about him, it was still none of his business.
Why was it none of his business if you were talking about him? Because they’re my words; my thoughts; my opinions; my statements that I have released into the universe. Who I choose to send them to concerns only me and the person to whom I am sending them. I did not send them to the subject of the conversation therefore they do not concern him. In 500 million years the words I spoke to a third party about my friend will NEVER affect him. [Now. If the person to whom I speak these words does something with them or I decide to do something else with them, it could affect him. But alone, those words in those moments will never affect him and they are my thoughts, opinions, words, and statements. This is why it's not his business.]
Thirdly, Hear no Evil.
That’s right. See the pattern? Don’t speak by asking, soliciting, or inquiring and don’t go looking, snooping or eavesdropping for the pain. And now, don’t hear the pain. So when someone approaches you and begins with, “Oh my God, you won’t believe what so and so said about you!” My stand by to all sentences of this flavor is, “I don’t need to know. It is not my business.” Mouth drops agape style. “But…” Right. Your friend is not only spreading gossip [about you that is not your business] but if you continue on listening, you’ll be contributing to it. How so? Well now it’s time for one of my true life stories!
Two weeks ago I got an email from a familiar acquaintance. Since the Subject read: “Lottery Tickets” I thought it was some forwarded joke because he is a “forwarder”. For three days I ignored it; Didn’t open it. Then I saw him one night but was unable to speak with him. Feeling badly about that, I came home, opened his email with the intention of quickly hitting the reply button to tell him it was good to see him.
If you are familiar with The Four Agreements, can you see from the following real life example why these agreements are not only beneficial but practical as well? So I opened the email and, quickly skimming and noticing certain words and phrases, was floored to see a five paragraph email from this person I barely know asking basically why had I asked the clerk of some store his lottery purchasing habits? Then he goes on to explain why he purchased so many lottery tickets. Yeah. I felt like I’d left my body and entered some weird strange and unfamiliar place.
It turns out that my acquaintance’s name had been brought up by a third party to a clerk in a store. The clerk, after being questioned about my acquaintances gambling habits, made sure to convey this to her co-worker. Original clerk and now co-worker pounced upon my acquaintance upon his next entrance into said store and conveyed with much satisfaction and vigor, the scandal that he apparently was!
My acquaintance, therefore, having not much truth to go on - as is the nature of gossip – felt violated and betrayed. And in his being human, made not only an assumption that turned out to be inaccurate, but conveyed the assumption as truth to the person none of this had anything to do with – me. He erroneously assumed it was I and therefore brought me into this drama I had nothing to do with.
When we give people air time to gossip, we then lose much of our personal power. Haven’t you ever been trapped into listening to gossip only to have it come back in such a way like, “Amy said she told you that I said you were a cow and that you said I was ridiculous. I want to know, DID you say I was ridiculous?” The truth could be more like I said that her *calling* me a cow was ridiculous but Amy is a crazy-maker; a chaos junkie; a provocateur of drama, and Amy will take anything and twist it. Therefore. I don’t listen to gossip if I catch myself in the middle of it.
#4 Practice! Practice! Practice the Above!
Practice Speaking No Evil, Seeing no Evil, and Hearing No Evil
One serious aspect of my freedom comprises being released from the opinions of other people but it took practice.
- (1) First I quit asking.
- (2) Then I quit looking.
- (3) And then I quit listening.
With these small three tweaks, it seemed the rest came easily. Now, knowing I would not DIE if I didn’t know someone’s opinion of me – even if I wanted to know it - it was as if invisible shackles began melting away. It’s amazing how my perceptions shifted! And metaphysically speaking, when my perceptions are amenable to myself, I am more likely to be in a state to manifest greatness! All of a sudden…Being transformed from a low self-esteemer who was chronically – and to my own detriment – worried about what others thought of me, to sitting in a room full of people saying, “On any average day, I do not care what anyone thinks of me.” And this is true. But what about on those days I do feel insecure; Less than up to par?
On these days I surround myself with people who I know think lovingly of me. On these days I spend time with people who have compassion and who are on similar paths. On these days, I do not venture out into the world in order to tackle some stupid gossip-mongering. On these days, I need the positive energy of someone who believes as I do and not those people who still feel comfortable living in the world where gossip and talking about other people is the mainstay of their existence.
#5 Get Back to Me
In tandem with practicing the above, I put my Spirit Ahead of my Ego
One reason I was so caught up with others opinions and perceptions of me is because I hadn’t yet discovered my own spirit; my own spiritual truth; my own voice; my own path. So, with compassion, I can see how some people are still caught up.
But this does not mean I let them reel me in. I come first; I am the most important person and I have to take care of myself because no one is going to do it for me! I am not going to let someone “just tell me one quick thing” because they have not recovered from dis-eased thinking if I feel that that “one quick thing” may hurt me.
Unlike some other people I imagine, I know I am capable of being hurt by words. I am very sensitive to unseen energy, paranormal or metaphysical happenings as well as sensitive to words. So if I already “feel” a negative energy from you, trust and know that I [as well as other Highly Sensitive People / HSP's or psychics or energy readers or whatever] already know how you feel about me. I really do not need for your words to try to send me any “subtle” message.
“What if people make it my business what they think about me?”
Sometimes all of our great efforts in keeping away from things not our business – and particularly those thoughts that others have of us – fail. Sometimes, in real life [unlike on the internet], arguments ensue and sarcasm, name-calling, or other harsh words prevail. Still, other times, Kings and Queens of confrontation – in my experience, often people addicted to prescribed drugs and/or control freaks - will address you and try to “correct” you. Or, like I did (above), you may find yourself in the middle of an assumption – or gossip – that someone wants to confront you with as truth. No matter which category “your person” or “your situation” falls in, there is a solution.
#1 Walk away and Say Nothing
[Before they start, during, or even after they have finished, it's never too late. As soon as you remember that you have the option to walk away, you have given yourself option to not be held captive.] You can respond with your feet doing the voting. You might kick yourself later for saying nothing and this will be one of the classic times you’ll massage in your head: “I wish I would have said _____!” But take heart. In walking away you really have accomplished some creative and worthy things.
- The other person is left to reflect, all by herself, on what she did or said. [No need for her to necessarily reflect on what she thinks because, as I've already stated, we're all entitled to our thoughts or feelings; However, if my feelings or thoughts continue to hurt me I would want to change them but that's a different topic for a different day.] Because you gave her/him no ammunition, her ego can’t then justify why it was, therefore, okay for her to address you in the way she did in the first place.
- You would not have said anything you may regret later. Every single person in this world is capable of a gut reaction in the midst of feeling attacked. Some people are inclined to speak these gut reactions or inclined to defend themselves. But why? In defending yourself or giving a response you’ve just told the person doing the “attacking” that their unsolicited opinion was acceptable to you. In walking away, therefore, you have given yourself permission to think things through if you need to, without being forced to make some statements you may really not want to make.
- You’ve just set a boundary or at least a precedent. By walking away, you have just shown someone that you will not waste the precious moments of your life engaged in “their opinion of you.”
#2 Neutralize Them with Blank Face & “Okay”
If you feel yourself unable to walk away for whatever reason, respond with “okay” or some other benign phrase while staying neutral looking and neutral sounding. This one really works. I suggest this method when dealing with the sickest of the lot and when walking away doesn’t seem to be the best option. Either due to fear, safety, physical restraint [you're in a car] or when it may not be in your best interest to walk away such as dealing with your supervisor, you can still passively assert yourself.
A really emotionally and mentally disturbed woman took time out of her life to, unsolicitedly and without provocation, tell me all the things I did wrong in a meeting. She had a reputation for being a controlling woman as the tears of other women after being spoken to by her would testify. She also had a pill problem as her different arrests would appear on the internet and in the paper. I looked at her right in the eyes as she spoke and kept a neutral face and stance. [I did not nod or say, "Uh huh." I did not give her verbal affirmations to continue.] The more she spoke, the longer I kept eye contact. The longer I kept eye contact, the more uncomfortable she became. When it was wrapping up she began back-peddling. She walked away after offering some weak excuse for sharing her thoughts with me. Within two hours that sick twist of a controlling bitch had called my house and apologized into my answering machine.
By saying, “Okay” to this woman when she finished, I gave her implicit permission to leave; to finish; to stop. But by not giving her verbal clues to continue, I let her know I was not welcoming what she was saying. This is unique because we’re taught as a people to chronically be polite even in the face of our own detriment. Well. Politeness kept me drunk, emotionally dis-eased and self-loathing. But because I could not walk away [ I had responsibilities that prohibited my leaving ] I still took the position of putting up an invisible shield, which not only rendered essentially the same effects as the first suggestion, but also included the added benefit of facing, head on, my “zen master.”
- The other person is left to reflect, all by herself, on what she did or said. Because you did not give their ego ammunition, when they finally walk away or hush up or finish, at most they will have a mirror. If they have any sort of wellness or kernel of conscience about themselves, they will at least half-heartedly view this mirror and may perhaps learn from it. [If they don't, they are probably either sociopathic, narcissistic, on psychotropics or they were drunk and simply don't remember.]
- You would not have said anything you may regret later. By not defending yourself or attacking the person back or engaging them or even “politely” agreeing with what they think of you, you have no need to regret selling yourself out. Remember. No matter what a person’s opinion of you to you is, your truth – or lack of – is no one’s business unless you choose to involve someone [friends, counselors, advisers, etc.]
- You’ve just set a boundary or at least a precedent. By acting neutral, facially dissembling, short words, no conversational tone, not walking away but facing them, you are giving off clear clues you do not welcome their unsolicited opinion.
- No need to regret “running away” because you went face to face with it. And yet some people are on such a path that they need to face their fears and go face to face with these confrontational sorts and hence, why going toe to toe for some people is the best option.
If you have great fear about going toe to toe with a person like this, and you seek to continue enlarging spiritually and evolving emotionally then inevitably you will need to “not walk away” at some point. And hopefully these suggestions will prove valuable when this day happens.
#3 Say Something
If you have softer boundaries with the person engaging you and/or are acquaintances to friends, just sometimes making a statement or even having a conversation might be helpful. Now, if it’s a friend who is addressing us, we may not want to be so cold as to walk away or to give them the *stink eye* so this is probably the most challenging: We’re going to have to enforce our beliefs and maintain our integrity with a friend! [Eeek? Oh yes. Eeek. After all. Quite easy to "stink eye" someone who we perceive as *trying* to be mean right?]
Boundaries. We all have boundaries whether we know it or not. Even if we don’t know what they really are offhand. Even if some of us lack the courage to enforce them, we still have them. Note the following circumstances and how you would FEEL were they to happen to you. Just take a moment and even if you cannot identify the feeling precisely, can you gauge whether it feels good, feels okay, or feels bad?
- A person you do not know stands 3 inches behind you in line.
- You and your mother touch elbows as you’re standing in line.
- Your best friend wants to hug you after not seeing you for 6 months.
- A man you have never seen asks if he can see your belly button.
- Your professor tells you, you can do better with your writing.
- Your pen pal critiques your sentence structure.
- Your weight loss buddy criticizes your diet progress.
- Your spouse criticizes your diet progress.
- Your string bean sister criticizes your diet progress.
- At a reunion, a former classmate tells you you have gained weight.
Boundaries are a healthy and natural part of our existence in this world and they are supposed to vary according to our relationships. It’s been my experience that people suffering from the most dis-ease often either lack the courage to define their boundaries – usually because they are surrounded by control freaks who feel entitled to have every single piece of them and they have never learned better – or else they do not think they are entitled to boundaries. I am giving you permission to begin establishing boundaries right now. God allows U-Turns and this means that starting with the end of this sentence you can make a decision to begin acknowledging that you have either a right to boundaries and you have the right AND responsibility to enforce them.
We owe it to our valued relationship to set our limits. So when people we have softer boundaries with don’t know that we don’t appreciate gossip, for example, we either share it with them or we grow resentful and angry in the relationship as it continues, or we begin the process [sabotage] of ending or ”running away” from the relationship.
This was how I operated. If a friend began crossing boundaries, I started plans of sabatoge because I lacked tools in knowing how to take care of myself within the context of my friendships. Pretty soon it got to be that I preferred to be alone because I lacked courage and people seemed to lack the ability to read my mind or lacked knowing enough about me to *not* engage in violations of my integrity.
After years of staying drunk or reaching for alcohol, anorexia, self-mutilation or whatever method I could find in order to deal with the feelings of violations – again, because I lacked courage and tools at the same time – I reached my bottom when I feared going out into the world at all. So when I began my process of sobering up I quickly had to first contend with my fear of people because they certainly were not going to disappear and “leave me alone until I got better” were they?
The book I first read, When I say No I Feel Guilty, is what began my process of setting boundaries. I recommend it to you, as a friend recommended it for me, if you have deeply rooted and similar issues. The second book was Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin. I highly suggest these two books. Enough about me. Let’s get back to some examples of statements you could say [and that I have used] to friends who want to come at me with gossip or their thoughts that I do not want to be my business.
Boundarizing Phrases for Acquaintances and Friends
You know you want to say something but you’re not great with words?
Just because we have softer boundaries with our friends does not mean we have no boundaries with our friends. Here are some ideas and phrasings on how to address strangers, enemies, acquaintances or close friends who feel as if they need to share with you their thoughts, their opinions or knowledge, or gossip about you that you would prefer they keep to themselves… Choose appropriate tone and phrases for each boundary circle that feels appropriate.
- “Your opinion about me is none of my business.”
- “I don’t appreciate hearing gossip about myself.”
- “I don’t allow my female friends to address me as ‘Hey bitch!’”
- “Please do not share gossip with me. It makes me uncomfortable.”
- “Do you think that was impeccable telling me that my ass looks skinny? I don’t.”
- “I would say, ‘Thank you for your unsolicited opinion’ but I didn’t want it.”
- “I value our relationship. This is why I need to tell you that I don’t like _____.”
- “Someone told you something about me? It’s not my business.”
- “If Sarah had wanted me to know I was a cheap slut, she would have told me. As it is, I would like it if, in the future, you refrain from sharing gossip with me.”
- For other situational responses please see “Words can Harm. Words can Heal.” series.
Of course we will have our feelings hurt when people share with us negative or less than honoring sentiments, ideas, gossip, rumors, labels, or opinions! This is completely normal and natural! Do NOT fall for the veracity of the “Sticks and Stones” nursery lie if you’re like me and are sensitive to verbal thrashings or subtle zingers. But once the horse has left the gate the only thing to do is to draw a boundary with your friend for later observation.
If you need to talk about your hurt feelings, discuss your feelings with an understanding friend; a friend who is your advocate; a friend who will understand and empathize and sympathize with you. Then put it in perspective and abide Agreement #2 by Not Taking Anything Personally. How to do that? Well, read ”Release from Opinions” that goes in-depth, buy The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom Book and it will go in-depth, or you can absorb the next paragraph.
No matter what anyone says to us or about us, they are coming from their own mitote; their own reality or version of the world. No matter what it is. If someone want to let me know they think I am irresponsible, that’s coming from their idea of responsibility. If someone tells me I am beautiful, even that is coming from their perception of beauty. But we seem to want to take the positive views and hold them close don’t we? It’s the negative ones we want to discard and now you can! Once you realize that what I say about you actually has not one thing to do with you, but has everything to do with me and MY view of the world, you will be free. Go in depth on how to not have feelings hurt with the article, “Release from the Opinions of Other People.”
And that is the crux of the matter as to why it’s not my business what a person thinks about me. Because once I understand that their opinions, viewpoints, thoughts, and words are simply a manifestation of their perception of this world, then I will understand they have nothing to do with me. Therefore, why do I need to risk having hurt feelings or insecurities exploited by allowing someone to hold me hostage so they can tell me what they think about me?
I’ve always felt that a person who gossips about someone reveals more about themselves than they could ever reveal about the person they are gossiping about. Maybe this is why I have never jumped on the gossip wagon; You know those people who sit around ooh-ing and aah-ing and believing wholesale what anyone is saying? I have never been one and have quite frankly never understood the mindset.
Hopefully now, though, you maybe understand a little more why it is you feel uncomfortable when someone decides they want to share with you their less than flattering and less than loving thoughts about you; or share with you someone else’s thoughts about you.
It is because it’s just not your business. It has nothing to do with you. But if you are of the mind that it is your business then I would suggest you have control issues because think about this: If what everyone says about you – if every time your name is invoked – it is your business then not only is your entire life going to be spent keeping up with what people say and think about you, but then, by extension, you have just given everybody else the right to follow up on you with what you say, gossip, and think about them. What a life of drama, chaos and non-peace that would be!
So if you’re seeking peace, drama-free healthy relationships, the sunlight of the spirit and a life guided by integrity I would suggest working on not letting people bring less than honorable situations into your world. If they accidentally do enter, however, because we cannot control peoples’ tongues, [no more than anyone can control ours] I would then suggest working on learning how to take care of yourself when these things happen. It was not easy for me to practice and I can still run into a snag today. But the freedom I have gained in just knowing that no, I do not have to listen to you tell me what someone said about me. Yes, I can walk away. Yes, I can stand right there and make eye contact without saying a word. The main idea is that I have choices; you have choices.
I am no longer a victim of anyone’s words, thoughts, or opinions of me. Crazy-makers, chaos junkies, provocateurs of drama, and gossip-mongerers no longer have power over my life. You don’t have to be a victim, either. Resources are available right here and you just have to be mindful and practice. Because if I can heal, anyone can. So next time, just remember: “I don’t want to know what you think about me. It’s just not my business.”
Until next time, friends. Namaste.