“Oh, just stop worrying about what other people think”

It’s not at all unusual for submissive men to have a little trouble coming to terms with the fact that they’re submissive. A depressingly common piece of advice I’ve seen given is to “just stop worrying about what other people think”. That’s not advice, that’s a goal. The men looking for advice want to be able to stop worrying about what other people think. If they knew how, they’d already be doing it!

It’s seriously insulting to act like submissive men asking for advice are all too stupid to realize that they should just stop caring what people think. If your problem is that you’re worried people will think less of you/that you’ll lose friends/that no one will ever want to date a submissive guy, then it’s pretty fucking obvious that you’d be happier if you somehow didn’t care what people think of you. The problem is that it’s not a simple thing to do, which is another thing that makes that advice thoroughly unhelpful.

Humans are social animals. Even the most misanthropic cave-dwelling hermit who only visits the nearest town once a year to stock up on supplies still needs to worry about what people think of her for the duration of her supply trip. If she’s enough of an asshole, she may get thrown out of town before she picks up everything she needs. If she acts weird enough around other people, they may decide she should be hospitalized whether she likes it or not.

Or for a less extreme example, people do lose friends and partners when they come out as kinky, particularly if their kink is especially hard for people who don’t know anything about the scene to accept. It’s considered normal for men to be dominant, so it can throw people for a loop when they find out a male friend or partner is submissive. People also tend to have a lot of stupid assumptions about submissive men (and submission in general) which can lead them to look down on submissive guys in particular. Even if you’re able to educate them, that can put a serious strain on a friendship. Sure, you can argue that it’s silly to even want to be friends with the kind of close-minded jerks who would look down on someone for having a harmless kink that doesn’t involve them, but what good does that do someone who’s worried that everyone he cares about will abandon him? Seriously, you’d have to be a sociopath to just not care if your friends stop having anything to do with you.

Outside of the kink scene, people tend to assume that submissive men are failures at being men, weak, pathetic, and undesirable. Inside of the scene, they’re still often seen that way, plus they get to worry about being lumped in with the thousands of self-obsessed submission-fetishists who’ve made dominant women extremely cynical about every man who says he’s inexperienced but eager to learn. The idea that “just not caring what people think” will fix those problems is ridiculous. Accepting yourself will make things easier, but it won’t magically make all your problems go away.

Unfortunately, all I have to tell submissive guys who are having trouble accepting themselves is that it’s totally normal to be a bit freaked out, and that you shouldn’t feel bad about having a little difficulty throwing out everything you’ve ever been taught about how to be a man. If anyone has any real advice on accepting yourself, I’d love to hear it.

17 thoughts on ““Oh, just stop worrying about what other people think”

  1. So I was re-reading the comments on Cliff Pervocracy’s post about Why do you care what other people think? and came across a comment of mine that I completely forgot I wrote:

    The thing I really hate about ‘just stop worrying about what other people think’ is the implication that the problem is you. If you were stronger, smarter, better, you would be able to stop caring. If you can’t, well then it’s your fault for being weak and lazy, and you’ll just have to suck it up.

  2. A good thing to keep in mind is that even within our cultural narrative, as much as a big deal is made about winners, there’s also a lot of emphasis on sacrifice or on people in peril for entertainment purposes. Things like superhero comics routinely find excuses to tie or beat the heroes, Heracles spent a year doing forced femme as one of his tasks, etc…

    So while there are problems and this doesn’t mitigate them, it’s good to remember that the average masculine macho hero will be dragged through various degradations as a matter of course.

  3. All true. This is good advice and could be applied to all of life, really. Because people often care too much what other people think and let that thinking affect their behavior too much doesn’t mean the answer is to not care what other people think. What’s healthier is to accept that you do care what other people think and then maintain a strong sense of who you are and who you want to be while accepting it.

    It’s like those experiments that show how conformist humans are. Instead of having a “Well I would never act like that” reaction, accept that you do have that same tendency to conform and then you’re in a better position to fight against that conformist mentality when you want to or just go with it when you want to because, so what? As you said, we’re social animals. Conformity is not always a bad thing.

    Another piece of advice I hate, kind of off topic, is “Don’t live in the past.” Really? Where would humans be without our close connection with the past? Now, you can live too much in the past, but because some people do that, am I supposed to throw out my past and live exclusively in the present? No. Plus either one is impossible, so there’s that too.

    • What’s healthier is to accept that you do care what other people think and then maintain a strong sense of who you are and who you want to be while accepting it.

      That is so much more helpful than saying “oh, just stop caring”.

      Another piece of advice I hate, kind of off topic, is “Don’t live in the past.” Really? Where would humans be without our close connection with the past?

      Yep, that’s thoroughly aggravating. Haven’t they ever heard the saying about those who forget the past being doomed to repeat it? The one I most hate is “just let go”. If I could, I would have done it already!

  4. This applies to SO DAMN MANY of the ways in which we are encouraged to feel shitty about ourselves.

    It’s not even about not caring what people think. As you point out, we all have to care what people think to some extent just on a practical level, and we all NEED approval from at least some people in order to feel fully human.

    It’s a matter of narrowing your focus, until it’s ONLY the opinions of PEOPLE who matter to you THAT matter to you on an emotional level. That’s a thing I learned to ask myself often: Does that person matter to you? Do they have power over you? Now, do you REALLY care what they think? Sometimes the answer to one of the first two is yes, but more often, the answer is no, and I can feel free to be outraged by their bigotry but not personally hurt in the feels by it. You cannot allow yourself to define your value primarily by what people who do not value you think. Un-learning that, internalizing it, is difficult.

    I don’t have to deal with this on the basis of being a submissive man, but I am fat, and I’m disabled, and so I have a lot to fight against when it comes to people looking down on folks like me, and I have had to undo a hell of a lot of damage. It’s a lot of work. So pardon me if I wax intersectional, and kind of random.

    I try to surround myself with supportive people and supportive energy. And by “people” I absolutely do mean online contact. Tumblr has been great for that. I try to find places where people talk about their experiences, both positive and negative. I try to find people like me that I think are awesome and that I admire, and I remind myself “X person is fat, and she is awesome, and I LOVE her because she is an awesome fatty, and I am also fat, which means I CAN BE AWESOME TOO.” I remind myself that X person is also bipolar, and one of the best people I know, which means that I can be good, too.

    Whenever I can — and I realize that this is something that’s difficult and risky for many people for many reasons — I start conversations. I talk about being mentally ill on my Livejournal a lot, and part of the reason for that is to increase visibility of people like me, so that others won’t feel as alone, and will have a space to talk about stuff if they’d like to that isn’t their own space, subject to scrutiny in a different way.

    Another part of the reason is that doing all that talking has REALLY helped me come to terms with a lot of what I’ve had to deal with. It has helped me sort out feelings, and boosted my confidence, even when I am talking about being scared and hurt. Saying “here I am, this is who I am, this is what I am,” even if I am only saying it TO MYSELF in a private entry or in my print journal, helps. So I suppose I’m recommending something I always found annoying when people recommended it to me: journaling. But writing down the truth of yourself, writing your own story, can help you see the value and validity of it.

    A lot of it comes down to that: seeing, believing in, your own value. And when you believe in your own value, you stop caring as much what people think. Rather, you do care, I — maybe most people — probably can’t ever stop caring that some people think I am pathetic scum, but it stops hurting as much. (Then you might go through a phase where you’re full-time pissed off, but that’s better than pain, and after that comes the blissful not-giving-a-single-fuck phase, which is glorious and worth the trip.) If someone looks at you like a bug, when they make it obvious they think you are worthless, you become offended THAT they think that, but WHAT they think stops hurting as much, because you’ve moved past feeling that about yourself. Does that make sense?

    I consume media where people like me are represented favorably, when I can. This is often difficult, and I am sure it’s difficult for submissive men to find that sort of representation in a non-porn context (not that there’s anything wrong with porn, I love it — when it’s not fetishizing my identity in a gross way — but I don’t find porn featuring fat women empowering in the way that I find other stories and imagery empowering — people in porn are not often depicted as fully-realized people, just snapshots of parts of a person’s identity, but not a depiction of a whole person or character).

    I am creative, so I have that outlet too. I can use that to tell stories or make art that affirm my identity. Not something everyone can do, but it should not be neglected for those who can. It can be very powerful. And I’m not talking about serious FINE ART shit, here, I’m talking about I make a custom My Little Pony and decide that part of her backstory includes having a girlfriend on another pirate ship, or I decide that the boy pony I made out of a girl pony is in fact a little trans pony. I draw fat mermaids giving people the finger. LITTLE things. Playful things. Silly, but that shit is actually really affirming.

    And I have tried to create a support network — everything from doctors to friends to professional contacts — where as few people as possible are douchebags, so that the majority of my important interactions are safe. This is not possible for many people in all circumstances, and I understand that all too well, but it’s something worth striving for, and something to be aware of. It’s worth clinging to the relationships that don’t make you feel shitty about yourself, and reminding yourself that THOSE are the people who really matter. “Asshole McFuckstick thinks I am scum, and I have to deal with him every day, and that’s toxic, but Joe Awesome and Kickass Jane are good friends to me, and my online support group of People Who Are Actually Incredibly Cool is full of people who Get It, and one of my parents loves me.”

    A lot of this feels to me hopelessly inadequate, because so many of these things are terrifically complicated on their own, or they are things that aren’t accessible to everyone, or they are things that aren’t going to appeal to some people or help some people (journaling, for instance, is not always good for people, it just makes things worse for some people by causing them to dwell on the bad/scary things — not how it works for me, but that’s why it’s a potential tool only, and not a solution).

    We crave approval. This isn’t learning to not need approval, it’s learning to give it to yourself in enough measure to sustain you so that you are not seeking it from sources that are more likely to harm you. It’s learning to hold yourself up until you can hopefully form a support network around you, and if you can’t, if you have to go it alone for a long time, it’s learning to bounce back from the blows — ’cause you can’t avoid getting hit. You just can’t.

    It’s a constant struggle to retain your sense of worth in the face of deeply ingrained society disapproval. The final piece of advice I can offer is that you aren’t going to win that struggle overnight, and it’s not a steady thing. You will be at 70% one day, and the next day is a bad day and you are down to 15% again. And those days are not failures. They are part of the process. You weather them, and in doing so you learn you can weather them, and they stop having as much power over you.

    Gregory above points out that it requires a strong sense of self. That’s so very true. And a strong sense of self is not something everyone just HAS. I sure as hell didn’t. I grew up being told I was a spoiled, worthless, cowardly brat. I had to develop it, it took time, it was hard, some of the hardest shit I’ve ever had to do, and at the same time it was deeply worth it and deeply rewarding.

    I wish anyone struggling with it the best of luck, and strength, and peace, and I offer my assurance that it’s a *skill* and you will get *better* with practice.

    • Yes! Yesyesyes. I want to hug and squeeze this comment and call it George.

      I try to surround myself with supportive people and supportive energy. And by “people” I absolutely do mean online contact.

      I hate it when people act like online friends aren’t real friends – I’ve been friends with people I’ve never met face to face for years, and I expect we’ll keep being friends for years to come. On a purely practical level, I’ve learned *so much* about social justice from twitter and tumblr.

      The final piece of advice I can offer is that you aren’t going to win that struggle overnight, and it’s not a steady thing. You will be at 70% one day, and the next day is a bad day and you are down to 15% again. And those days are not failures. They are part of the process. You weather them, and in doing so you learn you can weather them, and they stop having as much power over you.

      Yes! I wish we as a society talked about this more, that “failing” is a necessary part of the process. When I stopped biting my nails, I failed over and over and over. In hindsight it’s pretty obvious that the only way to learn the workarounds that helped me avoid my usual nailbiting triggers was to fail, but oh that process sucked.

      And a strong sense of self is not something everyone just HAS

      And this is another thing I wish we all talked about more. Self confidence isn’t magic, it’s a skill you build slowly and painfully. Lilith Saintcrow, a writer I dearly love, put it this way:

      For most of my life, I have struggled with an acute sense of worthlessness. I was told over and over that my value was essentially zero, or even negative. Writing taught me this was a lie. Not because I write things people eventually end up buying (though that is super-awesome, don’t get me wrong). No, it’s because the act of writing, of creating something out of nothing, has to have value. When I say writing has saved more than my life, this is what I mean: writing, creating something that wasn’t there before, teaches me in a very basic way that I have worth. Over and over again, this magic is performed for me. I just have to show up.

  5. I sympathize with submissive men. I am woman and dominant and have struggled my whole life with gender issues. I know on some level I should ignore the society’s norms and others people’s opinions and just love myself the way I am blah blah. But it sure feels lonely and confusing. I have never dated despite being in my 20’s and suspect I never will because I am so uncomfortable with the role I am offered as a woman in relationship. I don’t know how to flirt, I act too masculine and scare men away. Femdom doesn’t solve the issue because I am very far from the common idea of domme – I identify a lot more with male dominants. Which just makes me feel twice as bad, it’s one thing to fail at being what vanilla men want, I even fail at being what submissive men want.

    I’ve read your blog and I love your writing style and what you say. I’ve been following all these smart blogs about femdom for a while now. One thing that I am a bit surprised by is the lack of talk about women’s insecurities. Everyone talks about how male subs are unvalued and go through a lot of crap and it’s terrible and I agree. But while you and many other smart dominant women have criticized the stereotypes of dominatrix etc I don’t think I’ve ever heard any domme write about feeling insecure and unvalued/unlovable because of their sexuality. Maybe I’m just an exception to the rule and dommes don’t go through this, I don’t know. But my personal experience goes against the commonly held idea that female doms have it easier than male subs. Since I can’t identify on almost any level with the image of femdom that the scene or society as large offers I have had no models to look up to and help me understand my sexuality and what I want romantically. I’ve been trying to create my own model from almost thin air but it’s challenging and lonely. I think many submissive men feel the same way.

    So I agree with you, saying “ignore other people” doesn’t work in general, but it’s especially useless when we are talking about something like D/s which kinda by definition is not just about you, but other people too – to be able to practice D/s you must be able to find someone to do it with. And this is where a lot of the insecurity stems from, I think. It’s fear of loneliness.

    • I know on some level I should ignore the society’s norms and others people’s opinions and just love myself the way I am blah blah.

      Ugh. I hate how we all get this message that we ought to just magically love ourselves the way we are and somehow ignore how incredibly difficult it is to do that without anyone ever telling us we’re lovable or desirable.

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard any domme write about feeling insecure and unvalued/unlovable because of their sexuality.

      Huh. You know, I’m not sure I have either. I definitely get frustrated by the cramped little boxes people seem to want to shove me in, and I hate hearing how easy dominant women supposedly have it when there seem to be so few submissive men who actually believe women are people, but I guess I’ve known enough people who really appreciated dominant women that even when I was convinced I was unloveable, it was for reasons that had nothing to do with my sexuality. Of course, it helps that I have an easier time fitting into the “woman” box than you do. I think the only straight female blogger I know of who mentions gender identification issues in conjunction with dominant sexuality is Perverse Cowgirl. I swear she’s written about men being freaked out by her forthright approach to flirting, but I’m totally failing to come up with a link tonight.

      So I agree with you, saying “ignore other people” doesn’t work in general, but it’s especially useless when we are talking about something like D/s which kinda by definition is not just about you, but other people too – to be able to practice D/s you must be able to find someone to do it with

      That is a very good point. By definition you have to care what other people think if you’re looking for any partner, and it’s only more complicated if you want to find someone who you can communicate well enough with to do d/s with.

  6. I usually find it’s more productive to phrase advice in an affirmative sense, “do this,” rather than the negative “don’t do this.”

    Accordingly, I usually tell people concerning this topic:

    1) Remember that almost everyone is and always will be more concerned with their own lives and what you think of them than what they think of you;

    2) If you’re proud of yourself, then what other people think shouldn’t matter as much as what you think;

    3) You only need so many people to like and respect you, find those people and rely on them;

    4) If you’re regularly finding yourself around people who don’t respect you, find different people;

    5) How you feel is one thing, how you choose to act is another. If you let your fears about other people’s opinions be an excuse to not be yourself and to take opportunities where you can find them, then that’s your responsibility, not theirs.

    • That’s much better advice than “just stop caring what other people think. And I think it’s more than just turning a “don’t” into a “do”. There’s so much more detail there than just “do believe in your own value”, which isn’t much more helpful than “don’t care about other people’s opinions” because it doesn’t give you any real idea how to get there from here.

  7. Perhaps its easy to assume Dominant Women have an easy time. But its not surprising that they may, at best, feel the odd man out. These women don’t fit neatly into The Woman Box pushed by society. That makes these women different. Unfortunately, if you don’t conform, it is all too easy to feel unvalued/unlovable.

    Which, however, gives the Male Submissive a role-if he can just get beyond the Worm stereotype.

    • It’s extremely and depressingly common for assertive women to be told that they need to stop being so bossy and they’ll never find a boyfriend/husband if they don’t tone it down. Submissive men can absolutely do good for dominant women by letting them know they’re lovable and desirable the way they are.

  8. I have to wonder if Dominant Women are the result of natural variation. A minority, perhaps a small minority, of women being natural born dominants.

    Perhaps an inclination towards being a dominant could be described as a temperment.

  9. I was thinking about the Wikipedia article for “counterculture” (alternative is “counter-culture”). What we need is a counter-[i]Scene[/i]. Built around Dominant Women who are into the Lifestyle. I think that blogs by such women may be the first step.

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