Dear Ms. Starr: I Worry About What Others Think

Dear Ms. Starr,

How can I stop worrying that people are thinking the worst of me?

Even when I am around my family I sometimes become extremely unsure about what to do or say. I’m so insecure because I always assume that people will think what I’m doing or saying is silly, weird, irritating, or boring. So when I’m in a conversation, I usually end up saying, “oh” or “that’s nice” because I mentally discard everything else. I’m CONSTANTLY preoccupied with 1) saying the right thing when I’m in front of people, 2) worrying about what I could’ve done to make the conversation easier for the other person, and 3) worrying what I will say the next time I see that person. It’s also hard to make decisions because my mind is so full of these worries.

Also, my 10-year-old brother is starting to take after me. I’ve noticed that he’s much more hesitant to say, do, or ask for things than he used to be. Help!

~Worry Girl

Dear Worry Girl,

It sounds like all your worrying is wearing you down and driving you crazy. Before you read any further, I want you to wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a big ol’ hug. You deserve it.

It is common to be concerned about what other people think of us. In fact, most of us are so worried about being judged by others that we don’t actually express our true personality. In my recent “Advice To Myself” column, I wrote that if I could go back in time and give my teen and young adult self some advice, it would be to not care as much about what other people think. Trust me when I say that this is easier said than done. I too have struggled (and still struggle!) with holding back what I think and feel to gain approval from others.

Worrying all the time is exhausting. Take a moment right now to imagine what it would feel like to not worry all the time. Let’s pretend that last night, as you lay sound asleep in your bed, your personal fairy godmother paid you a visit. Without knowing it, she waved her magic wand over your head and “poof!,” all  your worries magically disappeared. Can you feel the change? Do you feel happier, more confident, and free to think about other things? If you didn’t worry as much, what would you think about? Who would you be? Would you focus more on your passions, hobbies, or your dreams for the future? Would you boldly change your wardrobe or share your opinions on the state of our world? Would you have more spontaneous dance parties with your friends or sing in the shower? Think about all that worry as a garage so cluttered up with stuff that you can’t even reach the treasures that you need and want.

Additionally, worrying about what other people think can drive a person bananas. Because guess what? We actually don’t know what other people are thinking until they tell us. Although we like to think differently, none of us are mind readers. So, until your friends and family tell you that they think you are irritating, boring, or weird – which if they are indeed your family and true friends then I am sure they do not – then you have zero proof that they think that.

All this worry is shrinking you into a smaller and quieter version of yourself. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with being shy, when we believe that others do not like us we stop taking up space, stop using our voices, and lose connection to the power that lives inside of each and every one of us. We gather up our strengths, unique qualities, and fabulousness and lock them in a castle heavily guarded by dragons, cannons, an electric shock fence, and a moat filled with piranhas, sharks, and alligators. By not giving others the opportunity to cross the drawbridge and hang out with the real us, we forgo the chance to be loved, respected, and celebrated for who we are. The best relationships you will ever have are with those who accept you for what you really think and feel, not because you say what you think they want to hear. Plus, the more you take the courage to be yourself, the more you will become a shining model for others, like your brother, to do the same.

Every day I want you to challenge yourself to say something you really think to someone in your life. Start with someone you feel safe with, like a family member or best bud. Go slow and be easy on yourself. Those pesky worrisome thoughts will still be there but there is good news! In addition to what we at GLI call the “Gremlin” voice (you know, the one that says mean things about you), there is another wiser, mightier voice called the “BFF Voice” or your “Best Friend Forever Voice.” Say your real-life BFF was telling you that they felt insecure, strange, or stupid. How would you support them? Since you are a pretty awesome friend, you would probably tell them that they are great and that they can do anything they put their mind to. So, the next time your worry voice says that you are less than amazing, listen to your BFF voice and listen closely.

Let the words fall out,

Ms. Starr

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