“You need to eat something.” I remember feeling very nauseated after an eight-hour bus trip and the last thing I wanted to do was to put food on my stomach. However, one of the trip chaperones felt it necessary that I have a meal. It took a matter of minutes before I, the chaperone, and everyone near me discovered that I was, indeed, quite sick. She apologized for “making” me eat; yet, I wish I had stood up for myself in the first place. I knew what I could handle, and though I was not yet an adult, I did not have to heed her advice.
We have all encountered our share of unsolicited opinions. Here are a number I remember from over the years:
- “I think you should go into psychiatry rather than psychology. I think there are not going to be as many opportunities in psychology as in psychiatry. I think you are going to find that.”
- “Honey, psychology is not God’s way.”
- “You are twenty-six? You better get started having babies!”
- “Date somebody decent and I won’t make comments about your boyfriends.”
- “I really think you should try this diet.”
- “You need to wear brighter colors.”
- “I don’t think you are going to marry him. I think you’ll find someone in college to marry.”
- “No one is going to want to buy that.”
- “Don’t date him. It’s just not natural.”
- “I am not sure you should pursue a career in music.”
- “You should get clothes that look more like hers.”
- “You really should change your hair.”
- “But I like your hair better curly!”
- “Getting a C is completely unacceptable.”
- “I’m concerned about your marrying Eric. He doesn’t worship God with enough emotion.”
Probably like all of you, I have heard my share of other people’s opinions about my life and relationships. In some cases, their advice was spot on and I am thankful they shared it with me. In other cases, their opinions were just that – opinions to be heard, considered, and discarded.
Unfortunately for many of us, other people’s opinions plague us. We are jealous of those who make their own way in life and do not feel enslaved to everyone else’s ideas. Often, I say (in jest), “I need to channel my inner-Eric,” when I feel the need to confront someone or make an unpopular decision. He certainly does not bend under the weight of everyone else’s opinions.
So, this post is dedicated to those of us who need to break free! Below are a few thoughts we can all set to memory when we feel the unsolicited opinion tentacles grip us.
- There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. (cf. Proverbs 11:14) However, we need to determine ourselves who we accept as a counselor in this context. When I was about eighteen or so, an ex-boyfriend of mine became “concerned” when he thought a mutual friend of ours might be interested in me. Since this friend was going through a separation, this former boyfriend thought it was only right to counsel me on how I should proceed. Like any good Southern girl, I called my Granny for advice. She said, “Heather, what he’s saying might be right, but I think he’s saying it for his own good.” Granny nailed it, as usual. If we want advice, we can always find it. However, good advice must be vetted properly. Who is the person giving the suggestions? What lifestyle does he or she lead and do I respect his or her behavior? Does he or she have my best interest at heart? What does he or she stand to gain from advising me? Is God’s Word the source of this person’s wisdom? It is okay to thank people for their advice and promise to think on it, but not everyone is fit to be in your multitude of counselors. Who is currently in your multitude? Is there anyone filling you with opinions who should not be influencing you?
- You must live with the consequences of your decisions. Are the people filling your mind with their opinions affected by your choices? What is their motivation? At the end of the day, you must look in the mirror and face yourself. Look ahead thirty years. Imagine you have based your decisions on everyone else’s advice. “You do not have the personality for that job.” “Yeah, that person is not the one for you.” “Because I know you and you will not be happy in that city!” “Are you really planning to have more children?!” Are you happy with what you see? Do you feel good about the way you spent your life?
- When you know what you believe, you are less easily influenced by everyone else’s opinions. A former pastor of mine used to urge his congregation to go home and study the passages from his sermon. “Be good Bereans,” he would say. When we let pastors, teachers, and even partners spoon-feed us information, we leave ourselves at their mercy. However, if we take what they say and research it for ourselves, we can either disprove their ideas or make them our own.
- The more we know, the less power other people have over us.
- Others’ opinions come from their beliefs and experience. When a neighbor emphatically urges you to change banks, it may be because she either heard something negative or had a bad experience there. When your uncle reiterates his point that you should not go to law school, his beliefs are producing that advice. We all have experiences which inform us, but everyone else’s experiences are not yours. You may have nothing but positive exchanges with your bank and you may be the best law student this world has ever seen. Take their experiences into consideration; but, avoid making your decision based solely on another’s belief or experience.
- Others’ opinions may come from an agenda. When others seek to control you, they may create a convincing narrative that you internalize and adopt as your own. Be careful about falling in such traps and regularly evaluate your existing beliefs – especially if they are quickly onset and by a mass of people. Firm beliefs should be rooted in truth and that truth should either be from Scripture or logically provable (but not simply with rhetoric). Be careful of taking the lazy way out and just trusting others who can control you and have power over you. Investigate for yourself to see where the truth really is.
- It is not risky to give an opinion, but it is risky to take one. I can give out twenty pieces of my greatest advice, stretch, have a cup of tea, and sleep soundly – in doing so, my life is unlikely to change. But, for the person taking my advice, their life may significantly change upon implementation. Those people speaking into your life are going to say their piece, go home, and possibly never think of that conversation again. Mull over their advice. Pray about their advice. Line their advice up with your own research.
- If you try to please everyone, you will always disappoint yourself. As a lifetime people-pleaser, I understand the fear of letting others down. Year after year, I worried about what people thought of me until I realized how unhappy and unfulfilled I was while they lived their lives uninhibited. Unless you only have two people in your life, and they magically agree on everything, you are going to have conflicting opinions come your way. When we put all our energy into pleasing people, we will always wind up disappointed in the end. Sure, maybe aspects of our lives will turn out great; but, ultimately, we will think of those risks we did not take or those roads we did not explore all because we wanted to make everyone else happy. Not to mention, if we are obsessed with pleasing man, we are not seeking to please God. As Christ-followers, our allegiance is to our Father. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10, ESV). Pleasing Him matters. It will often be unpopular. Which leads to our final point…
- What God thinks of you is more important than what man thinks of you. If the opinions others give do not line up with Scripture, they are null and void. For the people-pleasers and those who desire popularity, pushing aside others’ opinions can be a challenge. When I was twelve, someone told me some girls were outside making fun of me. We all know how hard those tweenager years can be; and, like most pre-teens, I wanted to be liked by my peers. Unfortunately, I got this news just before taking a standardized test. Though trying to concentrate on the test, all I could focus on was the vision of three girls who barely knew me standing in a huddle making fun of me. My resultant test score was abysmal. As much as I hate to admit it, that twelve-year-old girl still lives inside of me. She is not quite as sensitive as she once was, but she still desires to be liked. Because of this, I am tempted to water down my beliefs or hold my tongue when I should speak. All too often I struggle with the fact that as a believer, I am not supposed to be accepted and adored by the world. (“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. [John 15:18-19, ESV]) What God thinks of us is all that matters in eternity. We all, from the most beloved to the most hated, have an end coming. We will all eventually breathe our last breath. In that moment, no one cares about others’ opinions of them. All that matters then is that Almighty God, maker of Heaven and Earth, knows us and receives us into His kingdom. No earthly friendships or accolades will make a difference in that instant. All that will matter are “Have I repented of my sins and do I have a relationship with Christ?” This life is short, but eternity is long. We can endure for a season of being unloved by this world in exchange for an eternity with our Lord and Savior. (“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” [Romans 8:18, ESV])
There will always be people out there – even well-meaning people – who think they know what is best for you. They will repeatedly grace you with their opinions and even become offended when you do not heed their advice – that is okay. At the end of the day, you must answer to God and to yourself. In fact, choosing to make your own choices based on personal prayer and research is empowering. You can graciously decline advice. You can even say, “thank you for that idea. I will think on it” (if you mean it), but you are not meant to be a slave to what everyone else thinks.
Freedom from Everyone Else’s Opinion about Your Relationship
If there is anything – anything – I have received opinions about over the course of my life, it has been my relationships. A lot of dear people who did not want me to get hurt spent a lot of time and energy explaining why I should not date the particular men I dated. In most cases, it was because they cared. Some people just believed they were right, and they wanted me to “obey the oracle” (and they were “the oracle”).
From ages twelve to eighteen, I was often tied in emotional knots and much of my angst came from the flood of negative opinions and self-righteous advice my circle had for me. Did I feel peace in my spirit about these relationships? No. I felt constant squirming and questioning; however, I sometimes wondered where the people’s voices stopped, and the Holy Spirit’s voice began.
At that age, I wanted what most teenagers want: to be loved and accepted. Is that only a teenage desire? Do we not all long for love, respect, open arms, and support? I allowed their constant comments and opinions to attach themselves to me – to become a part of me. I bathed in their words and at times became completely overwhelmed and panicked. Was their advice wrong? Perhaps not. Was it delivered well? Sometimes. What I regret is not so much receiving their advice, but rather my response to it. Even as a young person, I did not have to wrap my identity in what everyone else said about my life.
If I could go back in time and speak to my younger self, I would encourage her to create healthy boundaries. I would explain to her that it is possible to hear an opinion without it becoming her reality. I would assure her that her peers who seem to know everything absolutely do not, nor do they have the life experience or privilege to make her feel like a lesser person for her struggles. I would tell her that even adults are fallible, and that all advice should be considered under the microscope of Scripture and prayer. I would also explicitly state that opinion abuse (i.e., someone verbally berating you with his or her opinions in a forceful way) is not okay and that she does not have to sit on the couch and take it.
Perhaps you are in a relationship right now and you are hearing comments from friends, family, co-workers, Sunday School teachers, and all the rest. Maybe the noise around you is so loud you cannot hear from God. This is your validation. This is your permission to step back, go somewhere quiet, and seek the Lord. Write down all the advice you have received. Be as detailed as possible. Pray over the list. Search the Scriptures. Discard the ideas which are not Godly.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, ESV)
Of the opinions which remain, consider them individually. Consider the motives of the person who offered the opinion. Think about the perspective from which he or she may be coming. What is this person’s body of knowledge or experience from which they are giving this opinion?
At the end of the day, you must decide for yourself which opinions you take. You must own the decisions you make. If you marry the person everyone thinks you should marry, you must live with that choice. If you do not marry the person everyone thinks you should avoid, you must live with that choice too. When you walk down the aisle, you will not want 1,000 voices following you. You will want to walk confidently towards the man or woman you have chosen for your reasons.
Listen to others. Consider their words. Pray. Uncover and discard the lies you believe. Then, make your decisions based on what you discover and believe. Let them speak if they are kind, but do not allow their opinions to determine the course of your life.
Your opinion is not my reality. – Dr. Steve Maraboli
Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. – Steve Jobs
The greatest prison people live in is the fear of what other people think. – David Icke
Do you need to find freedom from others’ opinions?