Many of us struggle with the fear of what other people think and whether or not we measure up to society’s standards. In this short article we’ve outlined many of the causes behind this, as well as the negative consequences it can lead to. We will also highlight some of the ways we can overcome these issues as Christians by changing our perspective.
As Christians, we face a very real enemy in the devil and his sole purpose is to lie, to steal and to destroy. He wants to destroy our lives and our faith and one of his main targets is the mind. He will often try to convince us of things that simply aren’t true about ourselves or people around us by playing on our insecurities. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where a friend, colleague or a stranger has looked or responded to you funny? Did you choose to ignore it or did you start to and wonder if you’ve done something wrong and question if the person didn’t like you? That’s the enemy at work trying to get your mind focused on nonsense.
Studies have shown that past experience (especially in our childhood years) can have a dramatic impact on how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. People who have had very negative upbringings will often project those experiences onto others and sadly spend their entire lives living in the past. For example, think of a woman who had a very domineering and critical father. It’s very likely that she will have a huge distrust of authority and men in later life. All it would take is for a man to say something the wrong way around her and she could become defensive and self-conscious. The man may have meant no harm by what he said, but due to her past experience, she doesn’t trust him and has associated his remark as being the same as something that her father might have said. That is an extreme example of course, but even in more common examples, the consequences are very real.
Many of us who listen to the lies of the enemy or allow ourselves to be controlled by our past could have terrible struggles with paranoia. It might be something as simple as believing someone dislikes us because of our outward appearance or because we don’t think much of ourselves to begin with. Rather than believing what God thinks of us, we subconsciously listen and take on worldly mistruths.
The impact of second and third wave feminism for example has led many women to believe that in order to become a real woman you have to become a man. And we see this in the way that they behave. For example, suppressing their emotions, an obsessive drive to earn lots of money, becoming sexually promiscuous, even violent. All of these things, for better or worse, have historically been associated with males. But social pressure and confusion has led many women to follow this highly destructive and dangerous lifestyle which has been incredibly damaging to society and the family. Similarly, many men are concerned with social trends which force them to become more effeminate. Advertising is largely to blame with its unrealistic and sexually objectified images of men as play things for women. Rather than godliness and courage being the highest attribute, men have been pressured into something that has previously been almost entirely alien to them.; a hairless sculpted body, beautiful hair and fashionable clothes. Males are now encouraged to be much more in touch with their feelings than ever before. Do you see the pattern emerging here? Again, all these attributes, for better or worse have historically been associated with women. All this confusion has been caused by the fear of what others think and the devil.
Putting a mask up
Another consequence of worrying about what people think is becoming defensive. People are so scared of being perceived to be weak or insignificant that they will put on mask with others, which has nothing to do with who they really are inside.
One of the biggest problems people run into because of a fear of others is becoming a people pleaser. The Bible says, “Be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men”. When we spend our energy and effort into trying to live up to what others expect, we are directly disobeying the Word of God.
It’s important to acknowledge that not all our fears are unreasonable. There are plenty of people out there with bad intent, who get satisfaction from making you feel small and insignificant, so how you respond to this is more important. Rob Parsons from Care for the Family said that there are two types of critics out there: The ones who want to build you up and the ones who want to bring you down. If you know the person, you’ll know the heart that they are speaking from and you’ll only want to take on any advice from the person that builds you up.
We’re only human and it’s important we don’t fall into the trap of closing people off and ignoring what they think, because we’re protecting ourselves in the process. Otherwise, we risk becoming proud and self-conceited. So we need to find the correct balance. In other words, we need to consider what others think but we should never be controlled by it.
This week on Woman to Woman, Maria Rodrigues spoke with Sarah Abell, The Telegraphs very own agony aunt about how to overcome the fear of what people think. As a Christian she shares what role prayer can play in being free from the opinions of others.