How do I stop being afraid of what people think of me?

How do I stop being afraid of what people think of me? I care so much I get afraid to go out in public sometimes.

How do I open up and state my opinion without fear of being smacked down?

Just keep swimming. — Dory

13-17-24-26-40 / 19

Hello Diner. Imagine driving or walking in your city on a busy day. The destination doesn’t matter: maybe you are taking me to your favorite Chinese restaurant on a busy weeknight. Once there, think back at the turns you took. Think about how you fit yourself into right-sized gaps and blended into the flow of traffic. From experience, you know the other cars or people shift their positions for you. And that’s it. You honestly didn’t think about how you were going to survive each turn without being hit. How did you know what to do? How were you so sure it wasn’t a risk every time you made a turn?

I am not trying to make you question your driving (or walking) when there wasn’t a problem to begin with. I wanted you to see how little you doubted a successful turn and trusted the traffic to fit around you. That is the exact dance you perform when interacting with people—only you’re much less in danger of accidentally hitting someone. You trust the social contract: we all behave predictably to get from point A to point B—physically or conversationally—understanding that we all don’t want to be a danger to ourselves or other people. And that’s it. You know where you are going; you look for a right-sized space; and you move into your place in the flow without issues. Interacting with people is the same process. You understand your point of view and work with the unspoken rules you formed with the other person for this brief span of time. If you find a right-sized gap and know where you’re going, traffic will accommodate you.

Sure you are bound to find the one driver who cuts you off, or the one pedestrian who doesn’t pay attention. From experience, you know two things: they are more the exception than the norm; and if you do encounter them, you know to deal with them—whether you calmly give them space or tersely honk your horn. Either way, turning around to go home is probably not what you usually do.

You’re hungry, and Mama Lu’s dumplings are calling your name.

Those with more anxiety may still find this short mental exercise daunting. Remember how driving or walking around a city was intimidating when you just received your license or had just moved to a new city. You eventually learned how to negotiate traffic through the increasingly familiar streets. Instead of being afraid of cars suddenly jumping out at you, you learned to see when they were slowing down, speeding up, or changing lanes. It simply takes more driving. If you still feel paralyzed, don’t be afraid to visit a doctor or therapist.

Putting it all together, you lose the fear of rejection for speaking your mind by just moving forward. Find safe drivers and pedestrians. Use well lit streets. Never forget that you know where you’re going. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to explore. Good luck, Diner. I know you’ll find your way soon.