THE BLOG
01/20/2015 11:06 am ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

Why Do You Care What Other People Think?

lofilolo via Getty Images

You think about it when you get dressed in the morning, when you choose a profession, when you choose a partner. Let's face it: It's hard not to make a decision without taking into consideration what other people might think.

You say you don't care, but deep down, you do... while feeling awful about it.

Don't worry: you're not alone, and you're not to blame. Why we care about what other people think, goes way back in mankind's history.

Humans: Social Animals

Since primitive times, humans have relied on relationships to survive (1). If a man or woman was accepted into a tribe, then he or she had a greater chance of living to see another day. The person who was cast out from the group would most likely not have survived the primitive world on his own.

As a result, no matter how evolved we are as a species, the individual's need for acceptance and social approval is a residue of our primitive lives. Therefore, while you may be able to survive on your own in modern-day life, biologically, you are compelled to fit in. Your tribal ancestry encourages you to depend on members of the tribe for both collaboration and agreement on social norms and accepted rules of behavior. The price for civilization is community. A sense of "sameness" allows you to feel safe against the threats of physical and emotional annihilation, if you can feel a part of a similar group, with similar values and similar mores. Thus, our unconscious drive to exist moves us toward the need for acceptance..

This innate feeling of fear of annihilation may be one of the reasons you feel uncomfortable going out alone to a restaurant or concert, and why parents groom and culturalize their children to fit in to their "tribe" norms. In fact, good self-esteem and security are all wrapped up in the desire to be liked and accepted.

And so, you choose the safe side, the "correct" side of religion, politics, relationships, careers -- all to be admitted to your modern day tribe. You care deeply about what others think, because the primitive human within is still fighting to survive.

However, you no longer need your tribe to physically survive in the modern world. So now that you know why you care so much about what other people think, how can you break these ancient and primal chains of conformity? In my next blog post, I will share some tips for establishing individuation and finding your sense of self.

(1) Reference: Tribal Science: Brains, Beliefs and Bad Ideas by Mike McRae