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Calm • Perspective

Stop Worrying About Your Reputation

It’s natural for most of us to spend time worrying about our reputation: what others think of us, whether we are deemed good or bad by the community…

Photo by Aubrey Odom-Mabey on Unsplash

This can quickly become a painful topic, and our thoughts can descend into bonfires of worry. What if we are accused of something? What if we are ostracised and mocked? What about if we become a pariah?

A useful way out of the panic was suggested many centuries ago by the Stoic thinkers of Ancient Greece and Rome. They suggested that we divide the topic of reputation into two. 

On the one hand, who we are and what we think of ourselves.

And on the other: what other people may decide to declare or say about us.

The Stoics reminded us of an important detail. We can never be certain of the second part of the equation; we can’t control the world beyond a certain point. There is always the possibility that someone vengeful, mean or disturbed will say something about us and try to damage us. We can never be completely assured that they won’t.

This might seem like alarming news, but the Stoics wished us to take it on board with courage and then gain strength from focusing on the first part of the equation: what we think of ourselves.

And here, things are far far brighter, because we are far more in control. We can calmly evaluate what we’ve done, what our hearts are like — and we can then come to a view of what sort of people we are, which provides us with a vital bulwark against the possible vagaries and tempests of public opinion. We have a solid anchor. We know who we are.

Modern psychotherapy would add an important detail to this analysis. Our sense of who we feel we are is often highly distorted in a negative direction by our past — which makes us far more jittery about public opinion than is sound. Our sense of self is the result of how other people viewed us in childhood, especially our parents or caregivers. Some of us wander the world with an acute sense of shame and self-distrust that we absolutely don’t deserve, and project a lot of paranoia and fear onto others — primarily because we have been treated with disdain in our early years. 

We will start to feel a lot more solid and immune from the ups and downs of gossip once we become conscious of how negatively biased we have been and settle in our minds what we are worth — irrespective of either what figures from our past said or what someone around us now might suddenly decide.

The path to immunity from worry about reputation lies in a more secure and just handle on our own value.

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