“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”
I don’t know how many times I chanted this when I was younger.
Sometimes to friends when they were messing around, sometimes to my brother when he was teasing me and, more often, in my head when the bullies were really going for it.
Did I believe it?
What they said hurt me emotionally. I cared what they (and others) thought despite telling myself that I shouldn’t.
I was one of the geeky girls, with short hair, funny glasses, often top of the class. I also thought I was fat (I wasn’t).
I sat on the edge of the popular crowd, sometimes welcomed in, often excluded. I wanted to be liked, and it hurt when I wasn’t.
I cared what they thought of me – and looking back I seemed to care more about the opinions of those that didn’t like me than those that did.
Why was that?
Part of it was security:
- I didn’t want to be cast out, lonely, with no friends and on my own. That might lead to me being singled out and picked on. I felt I needed to blend in so I had the protection of the crowd.
- I was scared of what those that didn’t like me might do. If I listened to their opinions I thought I could adapt and protect myself to make sure they didn’t do anything to hurt me.
But as long as I anticipated that hurt by caring about their opinion, they hurt me anyway. And those opinions can still hurt me now if I let them – even though we’ve all grown up, become different people and I’ve not seen them in decades.
For me, this is where the clue lies. It shows me that the stuff that’s hurting me is in my head, it’s my thinking – because that’s the only place where those opinions still exist.
My interpretation of what their opinions mean about me is the thing that hurts, not the opinions themselves.
If I can hurt myself with opinions that no longer exist anymore, it makes me curious about whether those opinions ever mattered.
It gets me interested in when an opinion does matter. When should I listen, when should I take it to heart, when should I listen to the hurt?
I’d love to say that this has led to a massive realisation and that I don’t care about other people’s opinions at all anymore – it could be so much easier if that were the case.
I still care, but I care less.
As I continue to explore and get curious about this area, I’m noticing which opinions I still think matter. My intellect is telling me that these are the opinions that could matter:
- they matter when I’m collaborating on something with others – their ideas and their suggestions (their opinions) get thrown into the mix with mine.
- they matter when I’m leading a project or an initiative and need the buy-in from others to help me make it happen.
- they matter when I’m learning something new and someone is passing on their knowledge or giving me feedback.
And it’s useful to notice that none of these opinions needs to hurt.
Interestingly though, as I was writing this article someone challenged me on a social media post I’d written, and I cared about what they thought. So clearly there are other (non-intellectual) places where opinions also matter. And that’s useful to notice too. I’m still exploring, and I still care about what strangers think.
The thing that has stopped being so important is what their opinion means about me.
I find it easier to tune into what matters, take action (if I need to) and let it go. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore.
Instead, I can see that they have an opinion, and I do too. Neither is right, and neither is wrong. Both come from our individual experiences of the world.
I get to choose whether to listen to that opinion, learn from it and adapt, or let it go and carry on my merry way.
Can opinions hurt?
Absolutely they can – if we let them. And please don’t beat yourself up if they do (that just adds more hurt into the mix!).
But if you find yourself worrying or hurting as a result of someone’s opinion of you, ask yourself why it matters and question what you’re assuming that it means about you.
What if the feeling of hurt was just a small trigger to encourage you to get curious about your thinking?
Next time you notice yourself caring about someone’s opinion, do your own experiment and see what you learn about what other people’s opinions mean to you.
Fear of other people’s opinions is one of the most common reasons my clients give me for not being more visible. Experimenting with the thinking that’s holding you back can lead to massive shifts which change the way you communicate your ideas, increase your impact and show up more as you.
Continually revisiting your experiences over a period of 3-4 months with the space to step back and observe what’s going on is a great way to see these things in a different way, and perfect for exploring this topic. My package of 7 one-to-one Authentic Leadership coaching sessions is designed to do exactly this.
And don’t forget there are nudges, ideas and support around this topic in the Authentic Visibility for Women In Tech Facebook Community – come and join the discussion.
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