I've always been that way, unless I put up such a fortress, or wall, that I couldn't feel any of it. It was that wildly swinging pendulum. Either I cared way too much what others thought of me, or it swung wildly out to rebellion and not caring at all. I went from being the student that cared and was very sensitive to her teachers' approval, to dropping out of high school and never looking back.
I've learned that there is a healthier middle ground, where the pendulum doesn't swing so wildly back and forth, but sways gently near the center.
In relationships, for me that's a practice of healthy boundaries. Saying yes when I mean yes, allowing myself to say no, and not giving myself, my energy or my time away to either please or avoid disapproval. Sometimes that has meant saying goodbye. When people slam their head against my healthy boundary, then blame me for it, it's time to move on. It always feels awful, but I've learned it's necessary to maintain my self respect.
In fitness, that looks different. What is a healthy boundary in fitness?
For me, it means when I go to my Body Pump class, that I don't worry at all about what others think about me, the amount of weight I put on my bar, or how I decide to modify my workout that day.
Or when I go to a spin class, it means following my heart rate monitor above the instructors cues. S/he may be belting out, "OK let's go! Climb! Push!" But if I am where I need to be, I may be the only person sitting down while everyone else is standing and climbing. I'm cool with that.
In strength, just because I can lift a certain amount, doesn't mean I should. There is a process to lifting. There is a way to stay balanced. I can do a pretty heavy chest press. But I am prone to upper crossed syndrome (tight, shortened chest muscles, painful neck). So, just because I can lift a certain amount, doesn't mean I should. I am 50 years old, and my goal is to stay fit and enjoy life. I want to prevent as many chronic conditions as I can, and I know exercise is one of the best ways to do that. I don't want to be a bodybuilder, and I don't want ripped abs. I want age-appropriate fitness.
Every time I lead my seminar, or hold a support group meeting, I ask for the people pleasers and approval junkies to raise their hand. Everyone in the room responds. This tells me that we as humans struggle with this. And healthy boundaries aren't easy to learn or maintain. But I think it can be done.
As much as you want that gold star from your teacher (personal trainer, spin instructor, Tread instructor), s/he wants you to have a great, safe workout. That does not mean work out at your maximum capacity every time. It means knowing what level/zone you are meant to be working in, and being good with that not being 100% or ass-beating or brutal. A good instructor will put you at a level where you not only get a great workout, but you minimize the risk of injury and don't feel like you just got the mental sh*t kicked out of you. You should leave your workout ready to take on the world!
Part of that is up to your instructor. But part of that is up to you. Healthy boundaries in fitness are OK!! You are NOT wimping out, you are not a wuss, you are being smart. And respectful of your body. And mindful of your holistic experience. Make your workout your own. Leave your comparisons at the door. We're all on a journey. We're all on the same path. We're just at different places on the path.