I sit at the counter, phone in hand, staring at a text message. Someone had reached out with an idea — an invitation to do something. The timing and logistics don’t really work for my family; they need a little tweaking. So I sit, thoughtfully, brainstorming a careful response. I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the offer. I don’t want to offend the sender, but it is important that I speak my truth, and do what works for the six people under my roof. I craft a text, complete with gratitude and an alternative suggestion, and I press send. Ten minutes later the response comes through — ding! — and it reads: “Okay.” Instantly, my mind launches into overdrive.
I first analyze the obviously short, quick response and assume I am in the doghouse. I go through a mental checklist of all the terrible things this person must be thinking about me. I have a full courtroom battle with them in my head, defending myself against all the presumptive allegations. And then I pause, remembering a very important thing my therapist has said to me repeatedly — other people’s opinion of you is none of your f*cking business.
And just like that, my brain screeches to a halt. I regain logic and think about what I know to be true. I know I am a good person. I know I was setting a necessary boundary for my family with no ill intent. I know that how someone else perceives my actions is out of my control, and is not of my concern. Amen.
It’s such a simple idea, really. But it is so impactful, and when practiced, releases an infinite amount of stress.
I spend so much time — too much time — trapped in thought patterns about what other people think. I get lost in mental scenarios, where I convince myself that people are perceiving me a certain way. Is it because I am such an over-thinker myself that I assume everyone has deep, complicated, analytical thoughts about everything like I do? Is it because I struggle with anxiety? I don’t know. Regardless, these thoughts seldom serve me. They rarely help me make choices — in fact, they only make decisions more complicated. Because it is impossible to placate the needs or thoughts of others in scenarios where you need to be firm for yourself.
So today, after a few insane years of inherently heightened anxiety and worry, I think it’s time to take this issue off my plate. Because the reality is — people are going to think what they are going to think, regardless of my intent. It is now my job to retrain my brain to think differently — to teach myself to worry less about the opinions of others.
As long as I am acting with pure, decent intentions, it is none of my f*cking business what someone else thinks about it. It is none of my business if someone thinks I am selfish for choosing a family beach day over a neighborhood cookout. Or if someone thinks I am irresponsible for letting my kids ride their bikes alone around the block. It is none of my business if they think I am crazy, dramatic, boring, or inconsiderate. Because all of it is likely a product of their own crap anyway.
And I want to offer this freedom to you too. So when you start overanalyzing the responses of others — stop. When you start worrying about how someone will perceive a genuine act or decision of yours — don’t. Because life is so short, and hard enough already. Managing the health and happiness of your children and your partner — that is a full time, exhaustive, insanity. There is no room for this other unproductive noise. And I think you will be better for it. But really, that’s none of your f*cking business.
Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.