Update 2023: This piece has been coda'd, please read this post for the update to the sentiments expressed herein.
Written in 2021
It's a good question, posed by Arline Feynman to Richard in relation to his concerns about their joint Christmas card. It's a question that is worth posing when one finds oneself talking about the opinions others hold about oneself. So, what do I care what other people think?
Well, for the most part, I don't. People who don't know me, and whom I don't know, hold no sway with their opinions of me. In the cases where I do care, it's only because these opinions cause problems for me in terms of the way people relate to and treat me (or, more accurately, don't relate to me and treat me badly/like I am insignificant).
People who I do know also have opinions of me, and opinions on the decisions I make, the way I think and what I do. These people's opinions can be important, but very often I feel that the support of these people is contingent on my taking their opinions on board and changing myself or my decisions to fit or assuage these opinions. If I don't do this, the support is gone.
I don't often agree with the opinions people hold of me, but it feels like I am obliged to if I am to retain any kind of support (maybe not even support, maybe even just acceptance). It feels like these people are saying that what I think and feel is wrong, and this has gone so far with some people that their default position now is that I am always at fault, and any problem I mention is due to something I have done by virtue of who and how I am.
This has the effect of making me unable to have any contact with other people until I am able to regain the resilience to deal with being undermined, invalidated and not believed or taken seriously. It's not a case of me “being better” (or perhaps more able to make decisions others agree with and behave in a way they can accept), it's a case of me being able to mask my way through the experience of invalidation, of being undermined and of being assumed to be wrong and/or incompetent, over-sensitive or whatever it is people think of me.
I'm now in a position where I am faced with having to get to a place where I am happy to experience this invalidation etc., and I won't be seen as “OK” until I can cope to with life with this negativity, these expectations and this lack of support. As a benchmark of mental health, I don't believe that being happy to be seen negatively and being OK to deal with this invalidation is healthy, but that is my experience of dealing with what other people think.