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Others will think ill of me

I often find myself saying to clients that the most common concern that people who come to see me have is this – “Others will think ill of me”. It is amazing how often people are troubled by this underlying anxiety. It gets in the way of all sorts of relationships functioning better and creates a whole lot of unnecessary stress. I think it’s an appropriate initial comment to make here as well because it is probably one of the major impediments to someone taking the step of consulting with a psychologist – “others will think there’s something wrong with me…I’ll be embarrassed…so-and-so will think I’m weak” etc.

However that anxiety gets in the way of all sorts of other behaviours as well. For example, it’s a major reason for people not behaving assertively, for not telling someone else that their behaviour is a problem, for avoiding conflict, for not speaking in a group, for not making a telephone call, or for not taking any initiative that they would like but are afraid someone else won’t like.

There are several problems with thinking like this:

  • We don’t know what others are thinking; 
  • They most likely are not thinking what we think they are;
  • Even if they are thinking negatively, so what? If their behaviour doesn’t reflect that it needn’t affect us;
  • Even if they do think negatively and do react negatively it’s not our responsibility. As long as we’ve behaved appropriately, they are responsible for how they think, feel and behave.  

Helping clients to change the way they think, to adopt some of these new ideas, is a focus of counselling. It can be very liberating and help clients to change life-long patterns of thinking and behaving that have caused all sorts of distress.

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