What Are They Thinking?

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.                            I John 3:18-20 (The Message)

I spoke with a client recently about her anxiety regarding how others may perceive her. She is a very bright, insightful person, but she is beset by self-doubts at times, and she worries about what people may think of her.

Of course, everyone wrestles with acceptance to some degree. All of us want others to affirm and appreciate us- it is part of human nature, and indeed is important for social functioning. We need to fit, in some ways, into our surroundings and to find an accepting social circle. This is even a survival mechanism built into us. We need some acceptance into a “tribe”.

The problem comes when we overthink that, and we begin to take on what other people “must think of me”. We may begin to build up our own narrative of what others think of us and then we act accordingly.

There are, of course, problems with this. One is, that particular way of thinking seems to put us into the “mind reading business”. I suggested to my client that it is actually disrespectful to assume what others will likely think of us. We may really sell them short of what they are capable of. Also, our thoughts are often just projections of our own thinking. Other people do not necessarily think the way that we do.

Finally, because we are anxious, we “fill in the blank” of what others may think of us with the worst-case scenario.

So, while we are tempted to project our thoughts onto others, the discipline is to remember that we cannot control what others think. We just have the illusion that we can have that control of others by acting in certain ways.

We just need to be real and be who we are. That is good enough.

Prayer: Lord, help us to accept ourselves like you accept us, Amen

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