I have spent my whole life so far worrying about the opinions of others. There were times when I did it without being aware, but there were also times when I knew I was worrying unreasonably, but I still couldn’t do anything about it. Or, at least I thought I couldn’t. Living like that felt as if I was under constant stress. Whatever I wished to experience or create, I had to struggle to do, because the fear of being judged would always follow me.
Throughout the years, I realised I couldn’t live like that anymore. There were things I was genuinely excited about and things I loved, so I wanted to get rid of my fear and enjoy the life of my own accord. So I started trying different methods; some of them worked, some didn’t.
Here, I would like to share the way I decide whether I let someone’s opinion of me or something I do affect me or not. These are the methods that work with me in most cases. I discovered all of them simply by thinking about the notion of an opinion – what it is, what it does, what it’s aimed at, and so on.
Do I care about the thing someone has commented on?
I try to be aware of the importance certain things have in my life. So, naturally, if something is very important to me, I will have a greater emotional attachment to it.
If someone is giving me an – in most cases unsolicited – opinion of something I did, I always visualise a small scale in my head, from one to ten. Then, I assess it. How important is it to me? If it’s something minor, like changing my hair colour, for example, and someone comes up to me and says they don’t like it, I would rate it as six, maybe. It’s temporary, it can easily be changed, it made me happy at that moment when I changed it, but it doesn’t affect me or the people I love at all. So, if someone doesn’t like it, I can simply brush it off and say, “Okay”.
On the other hand, if people are sharing their opinions on something that means a lot to me, like my writing, for example, then I often struggle with my own emotional attachment to it, and I can see their comments in a dangerously subjective way.
For me, it’s important to draw a line between what I do on a whim for entertainment and what I do emotionally involved.
Do I care about the people who are offering their opinions?
I have experienced that almost all of the unsolicited opinions come from people who are not close to me. Especially with social media at hand, everyone has an option to say whatever they want and reach many people.
The lesson I had to learn was not to take everything personally. I remember it was so difficult in the beginning because that was the way I had lived before; in anything people would say, I would search for some intentionally malicious comment. And it wasn’t always malicious. Or intentional, for that matter.
So, when I receive an offensive opinion, hurtful comment, or anything that would normally damage my confidence to keep creating, I ask myself if I care about that person. Are they my family? Or friends? Do they belong to the audience I wanted to address? If not, I move on to the other methods of assessing the importance of their opinion, and if they are, I ask them directly for an explanation so that I can understand where the comment comes from or what they wanted it to do.
Is their opinion valid?
“Anyone is entitled to their wrong opinion.”
This was a quote I heard in a movie when I was a child, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since, popping up at times when it might be useful.
It’s true that everyone has a right to have an opinion. But, sharing offensive comments and hurting others is something everyone should think twice before doing. Even though, sometimes it seems that most people don’t.
There is also a question of validity. I constantly keep seeing people who base their opinions on their emotions solely.
If someone cannot provide valid arguments as to why they think something I created is not good, then how can I ever take their opinion seriously?
Can I learn something from them?
If the answer to all the previous questions was “No”, then I turn to this one. It might even be the most important question on this list. Can I learn something from others?
If their opinion is more subjective than reasonable, and there is not a single thing I can learn about my writing or whatever I did, I try to identify the things such a comment would teach me about myself.
- How do I react when I receive negative feedback?
- How do I react when a stranger disapproves of my work?
- How do I avoid stress in those moments?
- How do I keep being motivated after that?
In the past, whenever someone disapproved or disagreed with something I said, wrote, or did, my instant reaction would be to cry and feel desperate about myself. When I started slowly putting myself out there, at the risk of people having both good and bad opinions of my work, I felt relieved. It still mattered, and the bad ones still hurt, but also, the good ones made me go over the moon. I saw it as something once done, couldn’t be undone. If I put my work out there, there will be people loving it, and there will be people hating it, and that is fine.
I believe constructive criticism, where people do express their opinion or dislike of something but also provide concrete examples of what they see as wrong and why would be the best way to express our negative opinions. It would be the only helpful way, and therefore it would give such feedback a purpose.
I believe I learn something new every time I put my work out there and someone leaves a comment on it. I believe that’s how I grow and excel in my skills. When I look at all the negativity people share from such a point of view, then I see plenty of opportunities to improve, rather than a reason to feel desperate.
And even though the list of methods I have just explained has helped me significantly, I still get carried away and take the negative opinions personally, from time to time. But that’s just the initial reaction. What’s important for me is that I immediately focus on my list, answer those questions, and decide which opinions are helpful and which are useless.
How do you decide if the opinion of others counts? Can you learn something from a negative opinion?