There’s a saying in 12-step programs and other self-help that other people’s opinions about you are none of your business. This is a good rule to follow, but like many rules, believing in its importance doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. Our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist was recently featured in The Cut, addressing how feeling judged can be an invitation to consider your own perspective rather than fixating on what people are thinking or saying about you.
In “‘I Inherited Millions From My Mother, and Everyone Knows,’” Matt helps writer Charlotte Cowles answer a question from a reader dealing with complicated feelings about receiving a large inheritance from her mother when others, including her half-siblings and friends, are struggling financially. Matt explains that her ambivalence about her inheritance is not unique. “I’ve had a number of patients wrestle with questions around inheritance, especially when it’s the result of a difficult relationship,” he says. “They’re asking themselves: Do I deserve this money? Is it tainted somehow? Will other people judge me for it?”
While the reader mentions having a complex relationship with her mother, she is mostly concerned about how others might see her as a privileged “rich girl.” Matt suggests that this worry about other people viewing her negatively might be what’s known as “projective identification.” He asserts, “You’ve got your own feelings about wealth that may be bound up in your feelings about your mother, and you’re imagining others share those opinions.”
Although not in the article, getting hung up on a perceived judgment from others can be unpleasant at best or debilitating at worst. Often these feelings can linger until we move on to the next hang-up or properly understand why they’re happening. Rather than getting stuck, it’s helpful to use these paranoid responses as an invitation for inquiry and really explore what might be operating underneath the surface. Ask yourself: Is my assumption about others’ judgments what it seems to be or is there something obscured by this? Is this a fear, belief, or judgment I have of myself? Might I be projecting my views on other people?
Of course, if you’re determined to find someone with a negative opinion about you, you’re likely to find it (all the more so when you’re taking a strong stance). However, just because you found someone with that opinion, doesn’t mean fixating on it helps. It could also be the case that the judgment you perceive around you is real and worth listening to. While we like to talk about the virtue of looking past others’ judgments, the judgment could be a good one. For instance, maybe you were out of line when challenging your coworker in a meeting or were speaking too loudly in the waiting room. No matter what the answer, so much of the work is just to ask the questions and remain suspicious of your responses to what you assume other people are thinking or judging.