Why “Stop Caring What People Think” Is Terrible Advice If You Have Social Anxiety
Imagine a man walks into a doctor’s office complaining of knee pain. The doctor listens intently to his problems and symptoms. Then, after carefully considering the potential causes, he tells the patient:
“My best advice to you is…stop having knee pain.”
And the patient replies “ah, great idea! Thanks for your help!”
Sounds crazy, right?
Now a doctor would never give this advice (I hope). But is it really so different to the advice given to people with social anxiety?
Many websites give the advice “you need to stop worrying what other people think.” And this is true.
But part of the definition of social anxiety is a feeling of being negatively judged or evaluated. This is a symptom of the problem – not the cause.
So it’s not just unhelpful to tell someone to just stop caring. It’s impossible when approached in this way.
Despite this, you’ll find plenty of well-meaning websites with exactly this advice – without any explanation of how you’re meant to do this. Even books written by experts teach the same idea, in one form or another.
Even worse, this advice when given on its own can actually make social anxiety worse.
Because consciously trying to “stop caring what others think” forces you to focus on your anxiety
When you have social anxiety, you spend a lot of your mental energy focused on yourself.
You analyse how you walk – in case your gait is strange or stands out.
You analyse how you speak – because you don’t want people to think you sound weird.
You analyse what you say – because you never want to accidentally offend someone or look stupid.
In other words, the essence of social anxiety is a deep feeling of self-consciousness.
This means the last thing you want to do is introduce a vague, near-impossible idea, such as “stop caring what people think”…and then tell people to make this their strongest focus.
It’s just going to make you focus on how you appear to other people even more
Instead of focusing on the other person, or on specific and actionable techniques for improving your conversation skills, you’re instead going to start a battle for control in your brain.
This isn’t a bad thing in itself. The brain does need to change in order to overcome anxiety.
But the problem is that you’re trying to tell your brain to do something it simply can’t – at least not at the moment.
This causes frustration. Increased anxiety. And a feeling of helplessness.
So what should you do instead?
This article might sound very negative. I certainly don’t want you to think it’s impossible to stop caring what people think.
To clarify, the goal of overcoming social anxiety is to reduce how much you care what other people think…in the same way that the goal of treating someone with knee pain is to reduce their pain.
But, like someone with knee pain, vague statements don’t help.
You need a plan for how to get there, specific action steps and a way to practice without becoming more focused on your own insecurities.
I hope that makes sense…
Now, it would be hypocritical of me to talk about how other websites give vague advice…and then write an article with no advice whatsoever.
So here’s what I suggest if you’re struggling to get started with overcoming social anxiety.
I believe the root of much of anxiety is a fear of rejection. Once your brain learns that being rejected isn’t the end of the world, things get a lot easier. It won’t stop you caring what others think – but you’ll give their opinions less importance. I’ve written an mini-guide about this, you can access it here.
And the next time someone tells you to “stop caring what people think?” Smile – they are trying to help. Nod your head. And ignore them.