Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

How To Stay Out of Other People’s Heads

You do it. I definitely do it. We hang out in other people’s heads, trying to figure out what they’re thinking about us. We’re trying to create safety for ourselves, but we’re actually doing just the opposite.

On a first date, we spend more time wondering what the other person thinks about us than what we think about them. With a good friend, we wonder if they think we’re being self-centered because we’ve been talking about our exciting new job for 15 minutes. Checking out at the grocery store, we spend the whole time wondering whether the cashier is judging our dessert-to-vegetable ratio.

Why do we spend so much time in other people’s heads? The short answer: it makes us feel more in control. I don’t know about you, but I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to approve of me – that makes life feel safe. According to my brain, if I know what others are thinking about me, I’ll be able to adjust myself to be more appealing to them.

I’ve spent a lot of time in other people’s heads trying to figure out what they think is “good” and what they think is “bad.” This information allowed me to show them only the parts of me they would approve of and hide the parts they wouldn’t (or at least be clear that I don’t approve of them either). If I knew what they were thinking, I felt like I had more control over whether they accepted or rejected me.

At some point in early adulthood, I realized that this was not working as well as I thought it was. I felt safer in the moment, but in the big picture I had no solid ground under my feet. My acceptability was always in someone else’s hands. Or heads, as it were.

There is considerable danger in spending too much time in other people’s heads. We start to care more about what others think about us than what we think about us. That’s how we lose ourselves.

By putting so much weight on what someone else thinks of us, we are telling ourselves that their opinion matters most. Their opinion is the “right” one. Our opinions of ourselves take a back seat.

The more time we spend in other people’s heads, the further back our own opinions go, getting quieter and quieter. This erodes our sense of self, our true safety. It gives away our power.

Our power comes from owning who we are. Our power comes from not needing anyone else to tell us who we are or what we’re worth. That’s safe, solid ground.

But how do we get there?

I meandered, taking a couple of steps forward and 10 steps back. Staying out of other people’s heads is a hard habit to break! Where do you go instead? You go to your own head and set up camp.

If someone had told me back then, “Spend time in your head,” I wouldn’t really have known what to do. I started with therapy (and tried to get into her head, naturally). I journaled – sometimes I was into it, sometimes not. I was definitely in my head when I ran. Gardening turned out to be helpful. Talking to friends about what was in my head helped. Regular meditation was enormously helpful, once I added that in.

Spending time with myself in all these different ways started to pay off. I felt like I had some solid ground. I was building sovereign space. I was building a sense of who I was that could stand up to other people’s perceptions of me. I’m still building.

Like most of life, it’s an ongoing practice. I still have to remind myself to work the steps. They’re more challenging than they appear.

To stay out of other people’s heads, there are only three steps we need to practice:

Stay out of other people’s heads.

This simple-sounding step takes active, intentional focus and practice. Start by noticing how often you hang out in other people’s heads. Notice when you’re wondering what someone else is thinking. Notice when you’re worried about what they think of you.

Once you catch yourself in someone else’s head, bring your attention back to your side of the fence – that’s where the actual helpful information is. Remind yourself that what they think is not relevant to who you are.

Spend more time in your own head.

Don’t skimp on this. Regularly spend some time alone, without anything hijacking your attention (e.g., no TV, social media, or podcasts). There are a million ways to do it: you could meditate, sit and look out the window, go for a walk, doodle, stretch, do some light housework, or journal.

Spending time with yourself, observing your own thoughts, feelings, and patterns, helps you get familiar with yourself.  When we know ourselves well, we don’t feel pulled to look to anyone else to tell us who we are.

Prepare for The Show.

Before spending time with someone else (whether via text, phone call, video chat, social media, or in person), prepare to stay in your own head: Practice knowing that you are the authority on yourself. Remind yourself that nothing about you is up for question or opinion. Remind yourself that your power comes from staying on your side of the fence.

When you’re with others, look at them through your eyes; don’t look at yourself through their eyes. Ask yourself what you want to get out of this interaction and what you can do it impact it. Keep asking yourself what you think of what the other person is saying or doing. Stay grounded in yourself, not the other person.

Just three steps to staying out of other people’s heads!

It’s a hard habit to break, but the benefits are well worth the effort. Staying in your own head gives you the safety and power you’ve been looking for.


For more, read Stay Out of Other People’s Heads.

Article originally published on YourTango.

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