How To Deal With Negative Judgments About Your Social Issues
"I'm shy and awkward and I'm working on it, but in the meantime how can I deal with the negative judgments I get from some people?" If your peers look down at you because of your social issues it can cause a few problems: It can obviously make you feel bad about yourself, it can make you feel more anxious in social situations, and it can make you feel angry about being misunderstood and picked on. Practically, it can be harder to make social progress if everyone has already made up their mind about you.
This article will share some ideas for handling negative judgments. More specifically, it's about emotionally coping with a general opinion of you that you know is out there. It won't cover how to respond to hurtful remarks made in the moment. It's also not about dealing with specific instances of rejection.
No one ever gets to a point where they're totally unaffected by negative judgments
It's just human nature to feel bad when other people think poorly of us. Hopefully this article will help put negative judgments into perspective and have them sting as little as they have to, but you'll never reach a Zen-like state where they'll all roll off you like water. You can't become completely immune to emotional and social pain any more than you can learn to feel nothing if you break your arm.
Don't be too quick to assume everyone's judging you negatively
Obviously this one doesn't apply if you've already had people say hurtful things to your face. Shy, insecure people can develop thinking patterns where they believe everyone is negatively judging them more than they are. They don't get any direct criticism, but in their mind they just "know" everyone dislikes them for being so socially clueless, off-putting, and unattractive. Several cognitive distortions are to blame, like Mind Reading and Emotional Reasoning. Just because you're internally harsh with yourself over your social weaknesses doesn't mean everyone else feels the same way. Sometimes people aren't thinking about you much at all, or if they notice you doing something awkward they don't care that much and quickly move to other things.
Dispute your beliefs about what being negatively judged means and will lead to
Being negatively judged can certainly cause practical difficulties. However sometimes people are more distressed about everyone's opinions than they could be because they have exaggerated ideas of their consequences.
- Being negatively judged may set you back with certain people in a specific location, but it won't destroy all your social opportunities for the rest of your life. Some people may not have a totally rosy view of you, but still be willing to give you a chance. Other people may not agree with the judgment at all. Some people may look down on you for a time, but then get over it or change their mind. Not to mention that even if you've somehow burned all your bridges with one group, there's plenty more where they came from.
- Being negatively judged doesn't officially mark you as a through-and-through failure. It means a handful people have an opinion of you. Others may not feel the same way.
- Being negatively judged hurts, but it's not a fatal blow you'll be completely unable to cope with. No one is universally loved. Everyone has bad things said and thought about them from time to time. If not about their social skills than something else. They all get through it well enough.
Try to see some of the judgments made about you in a different light
How would you feel if someone came up to you and said, "You're so dumb for thinking the sky is blue. Everyone knows it's green"? The statement is so blatantly false that you'd brush it off without giving it a second thought. At worst someone may get on your nerves if they were really rude or persistent about making their deluded point.
How we react to a judgment made about us depends on our beliefs about it. Say someone calls you shy. Your emotional response will be based on the answers to questions like: Do you agree you're shy? Do you believe being shy is good, bad, or neutral? What beliefs about shyness do you hold? How many of these beliefs have you arrived at on your own, and which ones have you unintentionally, unquestioningly absorbed from society and the media?
If you can change some of the beliefs you have about the traits you're being judged for, they may have a less-hurtful impact on you. Like I said, some negative opinions may always upset you to a degree, but others may stop bugging you. For example, you may get to a point where being called "weird" for not liking sports doesn't ruffle you any more than being told you don't know what color the sky is.
Judgments about traits that cause interpersonal problems for you, but don't really hurt anyone else
If someone criticizes you for having a trait, that doesn't mean you have to totally love it either. If you're shy it can really inconvenience you. It makes you feel insecure about yourself and anxious around other people, and it stymies your ability to connect in the moment. It limits your ability to make friends because some people, while they have nothing against shyness itself, just prefer to hang out with more outgoing personalities.
However, being socially awkward in some ways doesn't make you a completely flawed, horrible person. Anyone who believes you're totally useless just because you're shy is wrong. And you're wrong if you believe it about yourself. Traits like shyness, or being inexperienced in making conversation, have their downsides, and it's reasonable that you'd want to work past them, but they don't single-handedly determine your worth as a person.
Judgments about traits that are acceptable, if often misunderstood, variations from the norm
There are a lot of social traits that are perfectly acceptable variations from the norm, but are unfairly looked down on and misunderstood by many people. Some big examples are liking to spend time a lot of time alone, having a quieter, more low key personality, and enjoying non-mainstream hobbies. If someone judges you negatively for them, it's not because you're doing anything wrong. They're just misinformed, and may believe inaccurate stereotypes about you.
It's easy to unconsciously absorb and accept negative messages about these traits and damage your self-esteem. You can believe self-talk such as, "I don't like partying. I'm such a loser. What's wrong with me?" Once you've become aware of, questioned, and discredited these messages it's a lot easier to handle the negative judgments that use them. If someone calls you lame for wanting to leave a bar early you can tell yourself, "Not everyone likes to drink late into the night. There's nothing wrong with it, even if it makes some people get in a snit."
Of course, there is a grey area. You may know there's nothing technically wrong with, say, having a less-social personality, but still be annoyed at the hassles it brings into your life. The important thing is to make a distinction between, "X is fundamentally okay, but I find it inconvenient in some ways " and "X makes me flawed."
Try to change the way you look at the people making the judgments
Even if you're fine with what's being said about you, the message may still sting because of who's delivering it. Negative judgments hit us harder if we believe the people making them are "better" than us in some way, and that they have the authority to gauge our social worth. For example, there are tons of messages in society that say that popular, gregarious, athletic types are at the top of the food chain, and that your value depends on what they think of you. Again, if you can identify and discard any messages like this that you've been following, it will help make negative judgments easier to bounce back from. You'll think of someone's remark in terms of, "That's just a random person's opinion", instead of, "The world will end if they don't approve of me!"
I'm not saying to trash everyone who criticizes you, but take a moment to consider whether someone's opinion is even worth considering. If someone makes fun of you for respecting your parents, are you going to care that much if they have an unhealthy, chaotic relationship with their own family? You may still not like that they judged you, but knowing their views don't count for much can take the edge off.
Overall, develop a mindset toward life that's focused on your values, your goals, and your way of looking at things
It sounds a bit simplistic and cliched, but some people have a hard time dealing with negative judgments because they let too much of their identity and self-esteem be defined by what everyone thinks of them. Don't get me wrong, we all care about other people's opinion of us to a degree, but it's a problem if we focus on it too much, and don't have enough of an inner compass. Try to cultivate a mindset where you live your life based on your own goals and values, not ones that have been shoved on you by your peers or society. It's easier to blow off criticism when you know you're following our own path. Try to develop a self-reliant worldview where you give the most weight to your own views and opinions. That's not to say you have to become completely inflexible and close-minded to outside ideas, just that in the end your own mind has the final say.
Make your social success less dependent on the people judging you
Negative judgments feel worse when you believe the people making them wield a large amount of control over your social success and happiness. If you go to a small high school and several of your more popular, connected classmates look down on you, that seems like a big deal. You can make their opinion of you feel less harmful if you take some of their power away. Expand your horizons so that you don't feel your social life will live or die based on how a handful of people see you. I realize this isn't always something you can put into use and see results by tomorrow.
Partially this involves taking practical steps: Get involved in outside activities and hobbies and meet potential new friends away from the little bubble of your school or workplace. You're not going to care as much about being negatively judged by one person if you can tell yourself, "Yeah, you think I'm too quiet and boring, but I have a whole other group of friends who like me, so whatever." If the situation you're in is really, really slanted against you, and the option is there, it may be better to get out of it entirely. Move to another city, get new roommates, or switch jobs. Also, just continue to practice your people skills. As they improve more options will open up.
There's also a broader mental component to this suggestion: Try to realize that wherever you currently are in life, in the grand scheme of things it usually doesn't matter that much, and there are so many bigger and better possibilities to come. I think this is a particularly important mindset to try to develop when you're younger and you don't have as much of that life experience which helps you put things in perspective.
When you're in high school it may feel like life or death whether you fit on or not, but when you're 28 you'll look back and realize how unimportant it all was. You'll think, "I have a great group of friends in my new city. Why did I care about being accepted by a couple of jerks in the small-minded little town I grew up in?" Yeah, when you're still sixteen and in the thick of a life where everyone you know seems to think badly of you it's sometimes easier said than done to develop this bigger picture outlook , but you can at least try. Even if you cultivate it a little it may help.
Work on your legitimate weaknesses
I have to be careful with this one because I don't want to seem like I'm blaming the victim or excusing the actions of anyone who's being mean and cruel. One way to handle negative judgments is to make them go away over time, and one way to do that is to correct the trait you're being judged for. Also, sometimes people's judgments are giving us feedback about real flaws we have. Like I mentioned, if someone makes fun of you for not liking nightclubs, they can be ignored, but if they avoid you because you're a condescending poor listener with foul body odor, they have more of a point.
If you go this route it's vital that any changes you make are things you'd want to work on anyway, and that you're doing them for yourself. If a small group of people start to see you in a better light then that's a nice bonus. You don't want to live your life in a directionless, reactionary way and try to change yourself to mold to the tastes of whatever group you happen to be around at the moment. If someone negatively judges you because you're extremely withdrawn in conversations, it's understandable you'd want to correct that problem anyway. However, if they rejected you because of your long-held religious beliefs, you shouldn't throw your values out the window just to make more friends.
Accept that sometimes people are going to be jerks to you and get away with it
Negative judgments can be especially annoying when someone insults you in a blatantly rude, disrespectful way, and because there's a power imbalance there's nothing you can do about it - They're more popular and connected, you care more about their opinion of you than the other way around, they're physically tougher, or they outrank you at work. It sucks when this happens because it feels so unfair. They've hurt your feelings, but you can't get back at them. I wish I had a better solution, but you just have to cope with the emotional upset as best you can, and try to make peace with the fact that sometimes people will be nasty to you and get away with it. The universe doesn't even everything out in the end. It just is what it is. There are probably times where you hurt someone's feelings without any consequences as well.