woman standing tall and proud in the world


child embracing her inner lionness

One of the greatest fears in the world is the opinion of others. The moment you are unafraid you are no longer a sheep. You are a lion. A great roar arises in your ears, the roar of freedom"


How much time do you spend thinking about what others are thinking about you?

I’m going to place a bet ….. a lot!!!!

But why do we do it to ourselves?

Why are we literally hard wired to jump straight into thinking, “What will they think?” “What will they say?” “Oh god, I cant they’ll all be thinking and saying …..”  Yep we all become mind readers, over thinkers, proper worriers and before we know it stay exactly where we are!

Just this week I deliberated over a post on my social media feed, because it wasn’t my usual inspiring, positive, come on we can do this type of post. It was honest and real and it was to say I’d had a crap day! A really pants, unproductive, feel yuk, want to cry kind of day.  But I’m a life coach, we cant possibly say that right? 

What will people think? How can she coach when her own life is a mess? She always seems so sorted! Blah blah blah

Want to know the truth? People appreciated the honesty, people related, perhaps some felt relieved I don’t actually have it all sorted, and perhaps some just don’t give a damn?

FOPO is the Fear of Others Peoples Opinions

FOPO is the Fear of Others Peoples Opinions and a phrase coined by Dr Michael Gervais, high performance Psychologist:

If you start paying less and less attention to what makes you you — your talents, beliefs, and values — and start conforming to what others may or may not think, you’ll harm your potential”

dr michael gervais

There is an actual term for it: Allodoxaphobia – fear of hearing others opinions.

Fear of what others think of us is deep rooted. It literally goes back to cave man days, times when we lived in small tribes – hey we’ve got I’m a celebrity now, so it’s still there in our psychology!!!

Anyway, in actual cave man days, if you were responsible for the days hunt and returned empty handed, you were more than likely stripped of your status in the tribe, and if you failed too many times you might actually face physical danger!

Or in the case of I’m a Celebrity – Eviction!

Now as extreme as this may sound stick with me, if you think about that all those hundreds of years ago, that’s what has been passed down through generations. Yes evolution means we aren’t out hunting for todays dinner and we don’t live in quite the same small tribes, although I guess that depends on your view of social media?!?!? 

But it’s not really a surprise that we are wired to have a desire to achieve, to fit in, to be successful, to be liked … and more than that, most of us have a true deep fear of being disliked, of being cast aside, evicted from the tribe, the gang, the group ! 

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t have a bit of FOPO.

People matter to us, social approval matters to us...

girl, face, looking

People matter to us, social approval matters to us – whether it’s our partners, our family, our friends, our work colleagues. Hell, even people we don’t even know.

Did you shrink within yourself when the teacher asked for a volunteer in class to answer a question or read out loud? Head bowed, heart thumping, desperately hoping not to be picked?

Do you still now in a meeting (or as life is right now a webinar), not put your hand up (metaphorically as an adult!) to answer first, to ask your question or share your point?

Today we have replaced the fear of being expelled from the tribe with modern world fear of embarrassment, humiliation, being expelled from the social circle?  We’ve all had embarrassing moments though right? We’ve all said something silly, pronounced something the wrong way, drunk a little too much and tripped in front of people – yep I’ve done that one! Not my finest moment I can tell you but a snowy night in Nottingham, prosecco and a hen do is a lethal combination!!

But back to the point …

You see the thing is embarrassment is intrinsically linked to that other wonderful emotion: shame!

Embarrassment and shame come when we believe we have violated a moral code or standard of behaviour...

Embarrassment and shame come when we violate a moral code, or more realistically an expected standard of behaviour, most likely our perceived expected standard of behaviour!

So basically, when we get ‘caught’ whether that’s literally caught doing something we know to be wrong, or seen to do something we feel is wrong (not necessarily morally) we feel embarrassment and shame.

And these are YUCK to feel

But … go with me, they actually can, and do serve a useful purpose.

Studies show that we are more likely to be more considerate & kinder when we have experienced shame, and we are far more likely to correct past mistakes. Basically in an effort not to repeat the shame, but we learn nonetheless.

The other big issue with FOPO is in truth most of us are guilty of worrying far too much about what others think. So much so that it becomes debilitating. It stops us moving forward, it creates feeling of negativity, low self esteem, worry and anxiety.

We constantly overestimate how much and how badly others think about our failings (perceived or real) in fact we overthink how much people think about us.

Truth Bomb: most people are so wrapped up in themselves, they’re not even thinking about us. And that’s not rude, its fact!

Think about it, even when you are thinking about what others think of you, you are actually thinking about yourself not them!  Read that again and think about it, because it’s the most ironically true statement ever!

But the thing is, we do care what others think. We care because our happiness depends on the quality of our relationships. We care because we have a deep inner need to nurture and develop relationships.

But our worry about what people think can become a debilitating fear and then it becomes counterproductive because we can’t nurture true relationships while focused and worried about what everyone around us is thinking

Vicious circle!

How to deal with Fear of Peoples Opinions or FOPO...

Firstly, Don’t make it about you!

As I’ve already said, most people aren’t thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves. 

Give rather than take in your actions – others will naturally like you for this because it’s a nice way to be. Others will see what you do or say is for others. If your actions are misinterpreted or lead to negative outcome – don’t worry. 

As long as you know your intentions were good you truly can relieve yourself of worry, shame & fear of opinion.

woman standing tall and proud in the world

Secondly, most people are good people and actually want the best for you

Its true! I’ve been genuinely overwhelmed on many occasions now, by the outpour of support and encouragement I get when I allow myself to be vulnerable, or share a view I’m worried might divide opinion.

Those that matter, my loved ones, my confidantes, even my ideal clients, they get it! They want me to be ok. They are glad I’ve spoken out and pretty much said what they were thinking and didn’t feel they could share?

Hey they’re even pleased to see that sometimes I get it wrong, I’m not ok, because it makes me human! People can surprise us, without even planning to … Let them!

Thirdly, Hurt People hurt people 

Even when you do your best, with the right intention, sometimes it just isn’t enough.

You may still be judged negatively. Maybe because it isn’t what the other person would do. Maybe because it doesn’t provide the outcome the other person hoped for.

This is not necessarily a reflection of you but rather of where they are coming from. Ultimately in life you have to learn to detach yourself from the outcome of many situations, if you know you acted with integrity and good intention then be ok with that.

And simply learn from whatever happens next.

Recognise these things and become compassionate rather than worried and embarrassed

I am not saying disregard other opinions! 

There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence. There is an equally fine line between taking responsibility and blaming. 

So, don’t brush aside other opinions but ask yourself: 

  • Was I considerate
  • Was I kind?
  • Was I truly correctly intentioned?

If the answer is yes to these questions then you should not feel embarrassed, ashamed or any fear of others opinion.

You should feel proud that you are acknowledging others feelings, that you are acknowledging what others might think. But not so much so that you don’t act.

Check in with someone you trust

If you have a genuine concern about others opinions on a planned action or something you’ve already done or said, ask someone you trust for their view.

Not someone who will tell you what you want to hear, but someone who will help you see things rationally, may help you assimilate and learn, may help you gather perspective and move on but either way you can learn either from your insecurities or your actions. 

Control what you pay attention to...

Here’s the thing:

Sometimes we screw up. Sometimes the negative judgement is justified.  But that doesn’t mean wallow, and it doesn’t mean don’t try again. 

Control what you pay attention to, take responsibility for your actions and learn from them.  And if needed make it better – a random act of kindness can go along way. 

And here’s the other thing:

Sometimes people don’t like what we do, what we say, what we believe in, but that’s for them to own.

When you feel the power of FOPO holding you back, acknowledge it, accept that you have no control over others thoughts and redirect your energy towards something positive and productive for you and or others around you. Just Be You! It can be truly liberating!

Shelley life coaching women

I hope you found this helpful! 

If you have any questions or comments I would love to hear. 

Shelleys signature

P.S. Come join my community The Successful Ladies Escape Lounge for more hints, tips and challenging of your mindset!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *