Problems in mental health practice seem to come in waves, and lately the theme has been profound feeling of social insecurity. Several teens, smart, funny, and gifted young people, have spent hours over the past few weeks lamenting the thought that someone is unhappy with them or dislikes them. Their parents worry about the consequences of social conflicts left unresolved.
These are situations that sound from the outside to be very minor social mishaps. A little conflict with someone just outside the social circle. Why does it matter if someone you barely know doesn’t like you, or even thinks you’re a jerk? You have a wide variety of loving and supportive friends and family.
“Do they like me?”
“Do they think I’m smart or talented?”
“What do they think of me?”
It’s hard to live a mindful life, even for a well-adjusted and emotionally secure adult. Staying in the moment, relinquishing the mental movies of our worries and fears, fantasies and hopes, memories… It’s a worthwhile goal. Otherwise a person can spend hours or days in distress over relationships that don’t really matter in the big picture of a well-lived life.
The Four Agreements says, “Nothing others do is because of you.” But when the idea gets stuck in your head that someone doesn’t like you, doesn’t understand you, or thinks you have betrayed their trust, it can be hard to let it go.
When a relationship is strong, these concerns can be discussed right out in the open. “Hey, did I offend you?” However, in many cases, there isn’t much room for discussion. When your new classmate thinks you said something snarky to his girlfriend, but he wasn’t even present for the conversation, should you bother trying to convince him you haven’t done anything wrong? Or when your sister’s date is rumored to have been offended by something you said when he picked her up, should you bother to explore to see if the rumor is true? At which point do we just let these minor misunderstandings and missteps go?
Sometimes relationships are just not close enough to discuss these issues, and then we each have to work out our feelings for ourselves, without knowing the answer to the question, “What does this person think about me?”
What difference does it make anyway? Why know? Why does a worry about another person’s feeling toward me change the course of my day?