Yup. Someone might be talking about you. In fact, someone almost surely is talking about you.
They might be saying unkind things about you. They might think and feel negative things about you. And they might be sharing those unkind things with other people.
I’d love to tell you none of that’s true. I’d love to tell you that people are only thinking, feeing, and saying nice things about you. But how the hell would I know?
Realistically, we’re going to run into people who feel positively AND negatively about us.
The thing is: a lot of that’s not going to actually be about us.
Much of that stuff is going to be about them: their expectations, their preferences, people in their lives or pasts, their mood, their personalities.
The truth is, we couldn’t leave everyone we meet with a positive impression if we tried.
Think of the most likable person you know. I guarantee, that person has made a negative impression on SOMEBODY.
When we’re depressed or anxious, we often get up in our head about what other people are thinking, feeling, and saying about us.
Depression and anxiety REALLY love to speculate about ALL the negative things other people MIGHT be thinking, feeling, and saying about us— and depression and anxiety ESPECIALLY love to tell us that what other people think, feel, and say about us is REALLY important.
Don’t get me wrong: I prefer when people think, feel, and say positive things about me. It’s a bummer when someone doesn’t like you.
It’s also GOING To happen.
And the fact that SOMEONE is going to think, feel, or speak negatively about us isn’t NEARLY as important as our depression and anxiety want us to believe.
Let’s be clear: when people don’t like us, sometimes they can absolutely try to make life difficult for us. That’s real.
My childhood has many LENGTHY periods where the bullying of other kids really ruined the experience of being alive for me. Our peers’ opinions of us and behavior toward us DO have realistic consequences.
But our depression and anxiety often WANT us to leap to the conclusion that other people are thinking, feeling, and saying negative things about us without much evidence…and our depression and anxiety want us to take the further step of letting these possibly-imaginary thoughts, feelings, and words to largely define our self-image.
We can’t let our depression and anxiety convince us that we are DEFINED by what others may or may not think.
Unfortunately, when we were growing up, many of us are not taught how to cultivate self-esteem independently of the positive regard of others.
We were often taught that we “should” feel good about ourselves when OTHERS felt good about our behavior or achievements.
The truth is, it’s nice when others approve of our behavior or when we achieve goals. It’s certainly nicer than when others don’t like us or we fail to achieve our goals.
But achievements or popularity aren’t sustainable foundations of self-esteem.
They weren’t sustainable when we were kids, and they’re not sustainable now.
We build self-esteem by deciding who we are, what’s important to us— and by living congruently with our values.
We build self-esteem by living with self-awareness, self-compassion, and personal integrity.
We can do those things whether or NOT we happen to be liked by our peers, or wherever we happen to be in the journey toward our goals.
Depression and anxiety want to make our self-worth dependent upon what others may or may not be thinking, feeling, or saying about us.
It’s up to us to appreciate the truth: our self-worth is created and nurtured by us.
No one can give it to us, and no one can take it away.
No matter what depression or anxiety whisper in our ear.