How to overcome a fear of other people’s opinions

A fear of other people’s opinions – or FOPO – can severely strain your wellbeing. Here’s how to start caring less.

You’ve probably heard of FOMO, or fear of missing out, but what about FOPO?

This is short for fear of other people’s opinions.

And even if you don’t think it applies to you, it probably does.  

Mindset coach Emma Murray says everyone has this fear to some extent – it is how our brains are wired.

“Unlike cavemen, whose priority needs were food, shelter and not being killed by a lion, as humans who have those things largely sorted, one of our priority needs now is connection,” Emma says.

“And this means our fear of disconnection is strong.” 

She says the brain has adapted to combat this fear.

“We’ve created this really powerful, self-critical mind to protect us from people disconnecting from us,” she explains. 

It drives all those worries that people will judge or make assessments about us based on things like what we wear and the calibre of our kids’ birthday parties.

And it’s also behind our “I should”, “I have to”, and “what if I don’t?” behaviours and thoughts, Emma says.

What’s the problem with FOPO?

FOPO is exhausting.

“FOPO drives a lot of anxiety, because fear is fear and, regardless of the source, always shows up as a physiological response in our bodies,” Emma says.

“We get tighter shoulders, a racing heart, and the frontal lobe of the brain shuts down.”

A problem is, because FOPO is a constant, we live in a chronic stress loop.

“We end up constantly time travelling outside of the moment we’re in, to thoughts about what I need to do, what I should do and what I haven’t done, and that keeps stress constant in our body,” Emma says. 

“Not only is that exhausting, it’s when small tasks tip us over the edge so that we snap at our kids and we can’t recharge.”

While FOPO might be your default setting, here are three ways that can help you conquer it:

Recognise it’s happening

“We need to get really good at recognising how FOPO is showing up in our feelings and our behaviours because we’ve been doing them for a long time and aren’t even aware of them anymore,” Emma says. 

“Many of the behaviours we need to be aware of are around avoidance, people pleasing and being the person that says yes to everything.”

Learn acceptance

“That means self-acceptance that you’re enough, even if you don’t bake the perfect cake for the school fete or show up late for something, and also acceptance of the external environment,” Emma says.

“While acknowledging it’s normal to worry about what other people think, it’s also important to acknowledge that’s beyond your control.”

Shift your behaviour

“The most important step after acceptance is purposely doing things differently, which will take conscious work, will make you feel uncomfortable and you may not do it perfectly the first time,” Emma says. 

It could be saying, “No, I can’t make that event”, or “Yes, I will speak at that meeting” if FOPO has kept you silent in the past.

“When we do this, our mind gets evidence that it’s OK – your friends didn’t reject you because you didn’t go to the party, and your colleagues didn’t laugh at you in the meeting.”

As a starting point, Emma suggests assessing where FOPO is impacting you the most and working on one area at a time.

“It might be around your friends, your work or how you’re parenting your kids,” she says. 

“It’s about slowly building the confidence to behave differently and giving your mind the opportunity to see that it’s safe to start living the way you want to live.”

Written by Karen Fittall.