How cool is it to realise that you’re not the centre of the universe?
For many years I lived with the feeling of others not seeing me as someone beautiful or attractive enough.
Because of me feeling not beautiful, I also thought I was not bright and skillful enough, that I was not good enough in an endless number of situations.
So, I spent most of my time looking around me for confirmation of my beliefs. And with the fear of always being too visible.
This led me to avoid situations, decline opportunities for life experiences that in my opinion would have inevitably exposed me to the severe judgment of others about my body and my abilities.
The abilities were there. But I couldn’t see them.
I felt like this mostly as a teenager and while in college. However, to some extent, I carried these beliefs with me for much longer. Many times, I have interpreted the smile or laughter of a stranger as a direct judgment against me.
When I had to expose myself, I often experienced blushing, excessive sweating, shaking, stomach-ache, which made me feel even more observed and scrutinized by everyone.
Sometimes I still happen to feel some of these feelings or thoughts reappear in everyday life and I recognize them quite quickly. Often finding myself smiling up at it. Other times I get angry with myself because I wish they had completely disappeared from my life.
I also recognize those same limiting beliefs in you when you tell me things like:
“I wanted to raise my hand and share my opinion, but I was afraid of saying something wrong so I didn’t say anything.”
“Eventually, I didn’t go to that event. I didn’t like the idea of being seen like this, big and clumsy, awkward. There was nothing in my closet that made me feel right anyway.”
“Most of the time, I avoid making eye contact with people, sometimes even those I know. I pretend not to see them. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of what they might think of me.”
Once I was asked to do this exercise:
I had to commit myself to looking for the objective and unmistakable signs that others saw me ugly and stupid.
The exercise helped highlight how little objective my view of myself in the world was.
Then time, life experiences and studies helped me to understand:
- That the fear of the judgment from others has limited my life and my possibility of having important growth experiences for many years;
- How behind this type of fears lies anxiety, and shame prevails, with the anticipation of a situation of embarrassment which leads us to make ourselves as little visible as possible.
How do we generally cope with the fear of other people’s judgment?
1. Avoiding exposure.
By declining invitations, by being silent, or by expressing your opinion only in front of a few selected people. By saying no to events, parties, meetings, courses, etc, like I did in different occasions.
2. Addressing situations with the help of an emotional crutch.
- Drinking alcohol to try to appear more uninhibited and sociable.
- Eating to alleviate anxiety and avoid interacting with others.
- Bringing with us a person with whom to live that experience, and without whom we would feel lost.
3. Planning and mulling over.
Thinking about every single detail of the situation to which we will be exposed.
- Decide in advance that we will only be staying at an event for a very limited time and then hurry away.
- Learn a presentation by heart.
- Imagine the people we will be interacting with, fantasizing about what we will say or how we will feel.
- Thinking and rethinking what we will wear, how we will move and what we will avoid doing.
The fear of exposing oneself for fear of the judgment from others can often be decreased by starting to prepare to live those situations that scare us, but in a gradual and less obsessive way.
To then being expose to those situations and carefully observe what happens. The same that happened to me when I was given that exercise, remember?
Fear of other people’s judgment is overcome slowly, verifying from time to time how the worst scenario we had imagined doesn’t come true.
Slowly coming to the conclusion that we are much less at the centre of the universe than we think we are. What a liberation!
Others aren’t always there to control our imperfections or ridicule us.
While we may have had experiences in the past where someone has made us feel ridiculous, stupid, ugly or incapable (like I did as a girl with body shaming), it doesn’t mean that it will be like this for the rest of our life and with all the people we will meet.
The more we continue to protect ourselves and not do what would allow us to live a fuller life, the more we will hurt ourselves and the fear of the judgment of others will amplify, touching more and more areas of our life.
Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, by closing up to others we’ll send a message of closure and lack of interest in connecting to others which, in return, will reinforce even more our feeling of being judged and rejected.
Also, if you have a tendency to soothe strong emotions and fears using food, the urge to take food without control will also amplify or, on the opposite, you’ll obsessively control food intake, never finding a balanced way to relate to food.
If I asked you from 1 to 10 how much the fear of other people’s judgment is limiting your life and affecting your relationship with food, what would you say?
Would you like sharing about this and other issues with like-minded women and doing some journaling together?
Why not joining The Mindful Body Women Circle? It’s a group support for women who want to increase the confidence in their body, and learn to enjoy eating again, without guilt.
Click here if you’d like to find out more!