An image of a woman in a richly embroidered kimono gown sparks a longing in me – I want to wear that. The response doesn’t miss a beat.

What will people think?

The question that reins you in as quickly as if someone is disapproving already. The question that kills exploration, self development, dreams, joy, fun.

What will people think?

The dread of it. You know what I mean, right? That unease in the pit of your stomach just for thinking about something you desire.

Why is it so strong?

Of course, nobody wants to be rejected from the flock, which was a real possibility for thousands of years.

For a quiet person, this can feel even more unbearable though. Pure attention – never mind the wrong kind of attention – can trigger you.

We also care about others and hurting someone with our actions can feel impossible.

What will people think?

Well, what will they think?

Writing it out

Did you ever look at it? What do you fear people will think?

All the things you picture goes through others’ minds. Write it out. It might have some of these on it:

  • Well, she clearly thinks she’s special

  • How hurtful!

  • Oh dear, she didn’t think that through

  • How self absorbed, think of others for a change

  • How vain. She obviously thinks that suits her

  • Some think they’re better than others

  • Doesn’t she care about me at all?

Did any of those unsettle you? Fluttery or tight feelings in your chest or abdomen, closed throat, blank mind? Good, you’re on the right track! Keep going.

The fight or flight response gets triggered just by touching on these. Your Inner Critic detects potential risks in what you consider and acts, instantly.

What is she protecting you from, exactly? What’s the worst case scenario?

You may appear…

  • Selfish

  • Superficial

  • Deluded

  • Incompetent

  • Cruel

OK, so the worst case scenario is not inspiring. The threats the Inner Critic makes to your self image are severe. She feels she needs to stop you in your tracks when you approach these risks.

Going beyond

So how can we move beyond this knee jerk response?

Working on this dynamic we need to accept all sides of the issue.

Begin by looking at the value of having these lines drawn. Naturally, we don’t want to be incompetent, vain and uncaring. We aspire to live according to our values. The beautiful thing is that the Inner Critic works hard to achieve this for you. It’s just that she’s a bit over ambitious.

Acknowledging that drive and feeling grateful for it is a first step. This mechanism alerts you when you’re veering off course, showing the way back to your values. It could be a trusted ally once the alert is at a level you’re happy with.

Changing the pattern

1. Allow and accept all aspects of the experience
~ When you notice yourself worrying about what others think
~ If you become self critical about worrying
~ If you feel resentment towards others

2. Receive the message
Remind yourself of the mechanism and the value of it. What information is it giving you about the situation? In what way are you in danger of going against your values? Is it a valid risk? If it is, what could you change in order to still do what you intended?

3. Notice the consequences
If things went well, you didn’t feel disapproved of, notice that. Every time you risk what people will think, collect more and more evidence that things can go well.

The good and the bad news, as you’ve most likely heard before, is that people think about us far less than we imagine. They’re preoccupied with their own lives and very likely worrying about what we think about them.

This frees us up to feel less scrutinised by others. Free to experiment and to accept ourselves.