Photo: Robert Trachtenberg
Each one of us is sitting smack-dab in the center of our own universe, and so we have a tendency to make everything personal. We magnify and intensify what's in our consciousness—especially when it's negative. When we make a mistake, we assume the world is watching. Everyone must be thinking and talking about us, right? Then we spend valuable time and energy beating ourselves up for being so foolish.
Well, guess what? I have good news for you: You're just not that important. And if you really consider it, believing that people are sitting around discussing you is pretty narcissistic. You wouldn't worry so much about what others thought of you if you knew how seldom they did.
You're probably thinking that people do gossip sometimes, and you don't want bad things about you to be "out there." Don't I know it! Fifteen years ago, when I started appearing on Oprah's show, the first round of tabloids came out with completely fabricated (but juicy!) stories about me. I admit I was bothered at the beginning. When I stepped in front of an audience, I'd think, "Everyone has read that article and is wondering if I'm a bad guy." But eventually I realized that people were focused on their own problems and issues—which is what had brought them to me in the first place. They couldn't have cared less if I...actually, I don't remember what those stories said I'd done. I can't even recall the details of the last one, let alone the first, and they were about me! So how would anyone else remember, when they've got their own lives to live? More important, I know exactly who I am, so why would I give my power away by putting my self-worth in anyone else's hands?
In high school, I had a football coach who used to say, "Don't believe your own press." That's because we'd hear our parents and classmates talk about how invincible we were, and our coach didn't want all the hype to change the way we played. The same holds true for negative chatter—especially the kind that exists only in your head. When you pay attention to it, you take your eye off the ball. You stop acting, and you start reacting. And then you're not living on your own terms anymore—which is not really living at all. That's a shame indeed.
So you have some choices to make. How much are you going to let your fear of what others may be saying determine the way you behave or the way you feel about yourself? How much time do you want to spend feeling paralyzed, as opposed to moving forward? My vote is that you check your ego and let go of the idea that everyone is obsessing about you. That's a grandiose, and potentially self-destructive, outlook.
I mean this in the kindest possible way: Get over yourself. Stop worrying about what others think! I assure you that people have more pressing things on their minds, and they just want to get on with their own business. It's time for you to stop catastrophizing and do the same.
Dr. Phillip C. McGraw's daily talk show is in its 12th season. He has written seven best-selling books; his latest is Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World (Bird Street).
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From the December 2013 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!