It’s a familiar experience. The landscape and details may change, but the internal experience has no doubt been experienced by each of us. At times, it seems like an unwelcome visitor that insists on showing up. It’s the same for you as it is for her (that girl you think is prettier, smarter, and utterly flawless), but I’ll get to that part later. Just keep reading.
I bet you sometimes fear that you look as clueless in social situations as you feel. Anxiety bubbles from the pit of your pretzeled stomach and you scan the room looking for a sign that you’re not that awkward. You decide you must be because the feeling is so intense. Remember that I’ve taught you feelings aren’t facts. Just because you think it (or feel it), doesn’t mean it’s true.
It’s the classic scene… Girl feels awkward. Girl locks eyes with random girl. Girl believes random girl is judging her. Girl spends the rest of the day obsessing over WHY random girl would be judging her. Girl never learns that random girl was actually stressing over something in her own life and NEVER EVEN NOTICED girl was there.
There’s a concept in psychology that may help you better understand why you believe – and sometimes fear – that everyone sees the worst in you. Decades ago, a psychologist named David Elkind, Ph.D. introduced a term called imaginary audience. In a nutshell, that means that you always feel like others are watching you. It’s even happening to her (that girl you think is perfect and has no problems). So what’s an imaginary audience? Since your brain is reorganizing itself (it won’t be fully developed until you’re in your mid 20s), information gets processed in a way that makes you super sensitive to the fear of being judged. It makes you more sensitive to monitoring your own social behaviors. And it makes you more likely to interpret social and emotional reactions incorrectly. Imaginary audience refers to people assuming that others are watching them, when in fact, they aren’t. But guess what? That girl I mentioned earlier, the one you (falsely) assume is perfect and without problems? She probably isn’t watching you because she’s focused on who’s watching her. And so it goes… nobody is watching anybody because everybody is hoping to get approval from somebody. Exhausting, right?
So I beg of you… stop imagining that others think the worst of you and come to terms with your tendency to imagine eye rolling, evil stares, and nonverbal judgments that may not even exist. You aren’t alone in your desire to fit in and be liked. Stop assuming people don’t like you or are judging you. Relax. Don’t waste opportunities to have fun and let people get to know you. Welcome the little moments with open arms, because when you do, you will realize that those little moments become big moments. There is magic found in those little moments that become big. Rethink who and what matters to YOU, and remember, they’re not really looking at you anyway – so let go of those untrue thoughts and just focus on being you.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” –Dr. Seuss
by Dr. Alison Conner, psychologist and member of the Girlology Expert Panel.