As much as we may tell ourselves that we don’t care what other people think about us, that is not the truth for many of us.
We may not want to care, but we yearn for belonging and acceptance as humans. It’s an instinctual drive that encourages us to be accepted by a group to increase our chance of survival from ancient threats.
With the evolution of knowledge and technological advancements, many innate survival behaviors are doing more harm than good in our modern world. The good news is that we can evolve our minds within our lifetime. All it takes is awareness and discipline.
So, if we can advance our minds in a single generation, why haven’t we collectively done so over the last several thousand years of being a modern civilization?
I believe, in many cases, it’s due to those in power seeing an opportunity to take advantage of and profit from our primal instincts. We are deterred from introspection and self-awareness and instead encouraged to follow a set of rules, beliefs, and norms. Thus, it has been reinforced and conditioned, which is a more contemporary reason we care what other people think about us. Just as happiness has been marketed as an external commodity, so has our self-worth and personal identity. This marketing ploy is so prevalent that most of us aren’t aware it exists.
Take a moment and think back to your childhood. How often were you made to feel less than or weird if you didn’t behave or think a certain way?
Were you ever mocked or given a sideways glance if you showed an interest in something that wasn’t the norm?
Were you made to feel that your performance was directly attached to your self-worth in school?
Were you made to feel that certain emotions were unacceptable to feel or express?
Did you find that keeping up with trends, i.e., clothing, gadgets, pop culture, etc., was influential in determining likeability?
Human instinct does make us feel unpleasant emotions when others don’t accept us. However, in modern society, strategic conditioning encourages us to feel pressure to be liked and yield to societal norms to ensure conformity. And so, many of us subconsciously comply.
How to care without caring:
It’s becoming more common for people to dismiss seeking the approval of others and instead be our “authentic selves.” While being unapologetically ourselves and not caring what other people think about us can be positive, courageous, and healthy, it does more harm than good when we lack awareness and emotional intelligence.
When we lack emotional intelligence, we can easily misinterpret what it means to be unapologetically true to ourselves as “I can say and do whatever I want because I’m being true to who I am.”
When we think this way, we are simply justifying our lack of respect for others and satisfying our ego, not discovering, exploring, and embracing our true selves.
People who don’t fully understand what being unapologetically true to themselves might say:
“If you don’t like what I have to say, too bad. This is who I am. Deal with it!”
“If you don’t like me blaring music from my car, too bad. This is how I like and represents who I am.”
“If you don’t like me ranting on social media and criticizing your beliefs, oh well. I don’t care. I am expressing myself.”
When we take the time to develop awareness and emotional intelligence, we understand what it truly means to be unapologetically ourselves.
Being unapologetically ourselves is:
Feeling comfortable with our interests. If you are obsessed with collecting Smurfs, go for it. Own it. Be confident in your interests, hobbies, etc.
Wearing what makes us feel good. If you hate wasting money on clothes keeping up with the trends, and feel good about wearing clothes that still fit you and are in good condition from a decade ago, do it.
Productively expressing our emotions. If you need to have a good cry, cry. If you need to take a moment to step away while you process your anger, do it. As long as you are not projecting or displacing your emotions onto others, don’t ever feel guilty for feeling what you are feeling.
Doing what we love and following our passion. If you want to make a living herding sheep because you love the outdoors and being connected to nature, do it. When you are true to yourself, others’ plans for your life hold no weight.
Feeling comfortable in who we are. Self-compassion and understanding are the highest levels of being unapologetically ourselves. When we accept ourselves for who we are, acknowledge our flaws—which does not mean excusing or justifying our poor behavior—and play on our strengths, we no longer feel the need to be accepted by others.
When we exhibit the above, we are caring without caring. Meaning we still care about the well-being of others and refrain from doing anything that disrespects or causes harm to another. At the same time, we no longer care whether they accept us for being true to ourselves.
So, the next time you say or hear someone say, “I don’t care what you think,” or “I’m being unapologetically me,” pay close attention to which category your, or their, lack of caring falls under.