The reason why other people’s opinions influence us so much is because we want to fit in. From an early age, we conform. We learn to behave in ways compatible with our upbringing. And as we get older unless we have the confidence to know what we stand for and act accordingly, other people’s opinions will continue to influence and, dominate us.
Reliance On Others
As a baby, you’re entirely reliant on others for your wellbeing and safety. The world really does revolve around you.
As a vulnerable new-born, your parents made changes to their own lives to meet your needs, moods, health, and personality. They sacrifice sleep to feed you when you’re hungry and soothe you when you fret. Their lives will revolve around when you need to eat, poop, nap, and play during the day.
Other People's Opinions - Parents Influence
By the age of two, social norms began to influence how your parents react to you. Your parents adopt a style of parenting that’s in line with their values and beliefs. Also, other people’s opinions influence them.
At this stage, you’ll have learnt what was right and wrong. You’ll also learn what behaviours and actions brought you punishment or reward.
When I was young, punishment for naughty behaviour meant that I was sent to my room to think about what I’d done. You may have experienced this, or the ‘naughty step’.
When good, there would be a treat. Perhaps sweets or a memorable trip.
Naturally, you’d want to experience the good things so you would do everything you could to please your parents.
Other People's Opinions - School Influence
When you started school, a whole new set of influencers began to shape your behaviour. You began to grasp what helped you fit in to get ahead and generally get along. What the adults didn’t influence, the other children did. The dynamics of the playground and classroom taught you how to fit in.
You learnt that if you were naughty, you had to sit on the naughty mat in the classroom corner where the other children could see you but could not talk to you. A form of public humiliation! Later in school life you were either sent to the headteacher or ‘put on detention’.
These punishments were a way of separating you from others and making a public statement that your behaviour was unacceptable, so you didn’t belong.
Usually, the embarrassment would be enough to make you conform in the future. As a result, we begin to view embarrassment as a bad thing and avoid it wherever possible.
The Impact Of Other People's Influence
Along the way, what other people thought of you, what you wore, how you acted, and so on, began to make an impact. Their opinions influenced how you developed. If you wanted to fit in, you had to sail in the same direction as everyone else, whether you wanted to or not.
And, for girls, fitting in is paramount.
If you’ve ever watched the film Grease, you’ll remember Sandy's transformation into a Pink Lady. She changed to fit in with the other girls so she could win the heart of Danny Zuko. A classic example of why other people’s opinions influence us.
Picking Your Sports Team
Do you remember your PE lessons at school? When it came to team sports, the games teacher would select two girls as captains and ask them to pick the rest of the team? It usually goes like this.
As captain, the first person you pick is your best friend. It doesn’t matter if she is the worst at games because you know if you don’t choose her, you’re in danger of ‘falling out’?
For boys, it’s different. The first pick would be someone they consider is going to help them win the game.
Sadly, this philosophy continues through to the workplace.
Years Of Conditioning To Adopt Other People's Opinions
As a woman, you’ve had years of conditioning. You know you need to act in specific ways to get the results you want. You’ve seen first hand how other people’s opinions influence us. And this means you need to fit in. So, you become someone who:
- Helps others
- Pleases others
- Gives gifts
- Becomes accommodating
- Puts the needs of others above your own
- Waits to be spoken to
And so on, and on.
Other people’s opinion matters to you because they have become a barometer or measurement of where you stand. At school, we want to be one of the ‘in girls’, to be part of the popular clique. Even those who don’t seem to care about being accepted tend to hide behind a fear of rejection.
Why Other People’s Opinions Influence Us
There are several ways the opinion of others could influence you.
Perhaps because you:
- aren’t confident in who you are
- gave up on yourself
- Have been humiliated or bullied in the past
- live within cultural or class boundaries
- have suffered rejection in the past, whether in your personal or professional life
Let’s explore each of these situations in turn.
You Aren’t Confident In Who You Are
If you’re not confident in who you are, then you’ll look to other people to copy what they think because you’re not quite sure what you think. Not everyone benefits from caregivers who encourage independent behaviour and self-exploration.
If raised to ‘blend in’ it can be tough to know who you are.
If this is you, then taking the time to get to know yourself is essential. Start by looking at your:
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Emotions and how you can control them
- Desires and needs
I wrote an article on Why Self Awareness is important for your wellbeing, which might be useful. If you’re looking for techniques, please have a look at 5 Powerful Ways To Increase Your Self-Awareness
You Gave Up On Yourself
Saying you gave up on yourself sounds harsh. But many of us who understand who we are and what we stand for, may give up on those beliefs and values due to external pressure, or an over-riding need to fit in. Other people’s opinions influence you strongly.
Here your environment will significantly influence how you behave. Some people find it easier to sacrifice what they believe in, so they can be perceived as ‘normal’ to gain acceptance by others.
You’ve Been Humiliated Or Bullied In The Past
Suppose you’ve experienced ridicule for saying or doing something, then the likelihood is you won’t want it to happen again. For example, if you were in a team meeting and offered an opinion on a project that others laughed at. Rather than staying firm to the belief your view is important, you apologise for your stupidity and then blindly accept what the majority think is a better idea. Other people’s opinions influence you, so you fear putting yourself forward.
Suppose you’ve suffered at the hands of a bully who always undermined what you said and did. In that case, you might believe their opinion is also the opinion of everyone else. The result is you become more introverted and compliant with the views of the bully. Particularly dangerous if this is an ongoing issue where you start to doubt everything about yourself. Constant bullying can destroy any confidence you might have.
Impact Of Cultural Or Class Boundaries
Where we are from can influence what we think. Whilst you might understand the theory, it will be hard to raise your voice to share your views.
For example, let’s say you live in a society where women defer to men for decisions. It would be hard to then work in an environment where women need to voice an opinion.
Similarly, it would be hard to overcome class boundaries. A friend of mine confessed how she never felt good enough as a manager because she came from a working-class background. Whilst she was growing up, her father always told her that management was not ‘for the likes of them’.
When these boundaries are in existence, it can be hard to breakthrough. Other people’s opinions influence your understanding of the world.
These limiting beliefs you have about yourself will hold you back until you find a way to challenge and change those beliefs.
Suffered Rejection In The Past
Rejection is difficult to stomach. Whether that’s a relationship or a promotion at work, it can hit us to the core.
It takes courage to raise your hand or put yourself forward for something like a promotion. Being rejected feels like a personal indictment on you. If you take rejection personally, it will stop you from ever putting yourself into the situation again.
Rejection impacts our emotions, and it’s a psychological pain that causes the most damage. It destabilises our need to belong.
Rejection can lead to feelings of anger or hurt. As women, we tend to beat ourselves up. Blame ourselves for something we said or did. The rejection is because we are a terrible person. Or, you tell yourself ‘I’m not good enough’.
But this isn’t true. What’s important to remember is the rejection is not because you are a terrible person or because you’re not good enough. Rejection at work is commonly due to a poor fit, different expectations. In personal relationships, a lack of chemistry or incompatible lifestyles.
When You Should Care About What Other People Think
There is a situation when you should care about what other people think. Your actions have consequences and can have an impact on others. In these circumstances, you do need to care about what other people think. But, your choices shouldn’t be based solely on what others think.
By understanding our upbringing, we can see why other people’s opinions influence us so much. We all have this basic need to fit in. Whether we’re at school, home, work or out socially, we are all desperate to be included in what is going on.
The challenge comes when we sacrifice our own beliefs and values in an attempt to fit in. The result, we’re not behaving in a way consistent with who we are or want to be, and can lead to feelings of confusion or not being authentic.
What you like, how you express yourself and how you show up in the world should be based on what makes the most sense to you.
Suppose you want to reduce the influence other people have on you. In that case, building your confidence by gaining a good understanding of who you are and what you stand for is a good starting point.
If you're ready to discover what you really stand for, please read my article on How To Find Your Unique Personal Values