You know that feeling you get after you step out of your comfort zone?
When you decide that you want to come out of your shell and push yourself to participate in the conversation. Then, after sharing your comments and ideas, you realize it.
Everyone's eyes are on you and you can tell from the expressions on their faces...
They disagree with everything you're saying, dislike your outfit, hate your hair, and have determined that you're some kind of fool.
At least, that's how we feel sometimes, right?
Feeling judged is demoralizing. In some cases, judgment is worse than embarrassment. At least with embarrassment, you have the silver lining that perhaps nobody noticed your blunder.
But, when feeling judged, there's no doubt in your mind. You know for a fact that the person doing the judging saw what you did (or didn't do) and expressed a distaste for your behavior or worse, for you.
So, how do you deal with it? How do you manage your social anxiety and spiraling thoughts in the face of feeling belittled and less than?
Here are some great strategies for you.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Many of us learned this phrase early on in primary school. It was our parents and teacher's way of telling us, we need to tell the truth no matter what.
But, when feeling judged, sometimes we forget this sage advice. Instead of being honest and truthful about what we're experiencing, we make up stories about what we think everyone else is thinking.
Instead, try taking a second and labeling those thoughts for what they are - just thoughts.
Tell yourself, "I'm just thinking negatively and none of it is true."
By saying that sentence, you are identifying your negative thoughts, you're telling yourself that you recognize they aren't truthful, and you're making it easier to discard them just as quickly as you thought them up in the first place.
We're Not Mind Readers
My co-worker William is quite the character. He likes to joke around and tell extravagant stories about camping trips with his college buddies. Whenever we're in a conversation and he slides into saying "This one time, when I was camping...." I know I'm in for a treat.
His stories never fail to have some element of disaster, ridiculous behavior, and alcohol. After he tells me a story, I have the same look of disbelief on my face.
That's when he says his favorite line, "I know what you're thinking..."
Whether we want to admit it or not, we anxiety fighters believe that one of our super powers is the ability to read someone else's mind.
We think we know what other people are thinking, especially at social events that cause us to feel anxious.
We believe we can read facial expressions as easily as we read children's books. We treat words from our friends and acquaintances as if they are some kind of riddle with an underlying judgmental meaning.
But the truth is, we can't read minds.
Instead of trying to decipher other people's thoughts, do your best to keep your thoughts in check. Use the labeling technique we discussed above. Then, just be open and accepting to what people actually say.
Allow the truth to shape your thoughts instead of your negative thoughts.
This will help you be more present in conversations instead of spending your time in your head trying to figure out what some stranger's facial expression really meant.
Who's the Real Judge Here?
Although we think other people are being judgmental of us, perhaps we are being judgmental of ourselves.
You and I both know that social anxiety causes us to be pretty hard on ourselves. We tend to be hyper-critical about every little detail. Whether we say it or not, we are sort of like perfectionist.
To some of us, perfection is having an experience that goes exactly how we planned it in our minds. But, how often does that happen?
When things don't go as planned, that's when we start in on ourselves. We say things like, "I just don't know how to hold a conversation," or "My fears have made me a less desirable person." We tend to feel disconnected from people and misunderstood.
Because we think all of these negative things about ourselves, we believe other people do too. This is called the False Consensus Effect. It is when we overestimate how much other people share our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.
So, when we are feeling judged, the outside world may not be the culprit. That feeling may be coming from within.
How can you tell? Look at the evidence.
Are you making assumptions about what you think other people are saying/thinking/feeling about you, or do you have proof to back up what you think?
If you're making assumptions, you may be the real judge here. If that's the case, identify and label it. Tell yourself, "I'm the one being judgmental about myself and I need to let that go."
By making that declaration, you free yourself from feeling judged and move on to give your best effort in whatever social environment you find yourself.
Only One Opinion Matters
One of the biggest deterrents to attending social events, speaking up, and standing out is a fear of someone else’s opinion.
We tire ourselves out worrying about what other people will think of us before we even get to an event. During the event, we’re walking on eggshells keeping to ourselves and trying desperately not to do anything embarrassing.
Afterward, regardless of not making any mistakes or saying anything crazy, we ruminate on whether or not we were the best version of ourselves.
We replay the facial expressions, eye contact, and overhead comments in our heads and wonder to ourselves…What did they think of me?
But all of this worry is futile. It misdirects your focus from where it should be, doing your best to keep your internal narrative (your thoughts) in check.
In other words, nobody’s opinion matters but yours. Your job is to keep your opinion positive.
As long as you leave a conversation feeling like it was a good moment, you've succeeded. The opinions of others, don't matter and have no power over you unless you allow it.
Remind yourself, daily if necessary, that the only opinion that matters, is yours.
You Only Feel What You Allow
In 2014, the USA basketball was preparing for the FIBA World Cup Basketball Championship by having a televised scrimmage. Many of the stars of the NBA were playing on this team, including the break-out start of the Indiana Pacer, Paul George.
During the scrimmage, James Harden was on a fast break and George was trying his best to chase him down. Harden went up for a layup. George jumped with him and tried his best to block the shot.
When they both landed, a hush fell over the crowd. Harden had landed on his feet, while George's foot caught the protective padding of the hoop and snapped.
Within seconds, the team trainers were by George's side assessing the damage. Then the paramedics rushed in with a stretcher and carried George off the court to a flurry of applause and prayers.
But, the one thing that stood out to me during the whole ordeal, was George's facial expression.
He wasn't grimacing in pain. He wasn't screaming or crying. His face was calm, his eyes were closed, and he was whispering something to himself. While I don't know what he was saying to himself, I recognized at that moment what it meant to be stoic.
If you were to look up the word Stoicism, you'd find that it means to endure pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint. But upon further research, you'd learn that Stoicism is an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium and made popular by Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca the Younger.
You'd also find out that the philosophy goes beyond enduring pain. It also entails managing your thoughts and thereby managing your feelings.
Stoics believe that you control your feelings by maintaining rational thoughts. In other words, just because someone says something to you or acts a certain way toward you, doesn't mean you have to let that affect how you feel.
Accept hurtful words or judgmental actions for what they are, just words or actions. Or, internalize them and allow them to affect you. You get to make the choice.
In Paul George's case, he decided to not let his injury or the statements made by announcers and fellow players that his career was over affect him. Instead, he did everything he could to heal.
Although it took him an entire NBA season, George learned how to walk again, then run, then play basketball all over again. He worked his way right back into the NBA and continues to be one of the league's brightest stars.
As I stated before, those of us who deal with social anxiety can be pretty hard on ourselves. That's why we need to practice self-compassion. We've discussed this before, but self-compassion is giving yourself a break.
Or as Dr. Kristin Neff put it in her research study,
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern and support you’d show to a good friend. When faced with difficult life struggles, or confronting personal mistakes, failures, and inadequacies, self-compassion responds with kindness rather than harsh self-judgment, recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
How do we show self-compassion?
First, we have to be kind to ourselves. Don't be so hard on yourself. Instead, tell yourself what you would tell your best friend if he or she was in your shoes.
You wouldn't call them stupid or awkward, you'd be encouraging and supportive of them. Be that person for yourself too.
Second, we need to remember our common humanity. This means we have to keep in mind, everybody makes mistakes. We all fail, or fall short at one time or another, and that isn't want sets us apart from each other.
Everyone in every country everywhere has experienced making a mistake. That's what makes us similar.
Instead of feeling like we're the only one in the world with our specific problem, remembering our common humanity helps us normalize our feelings and reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles.
Third, we have to be mindful of our negative thoughts. Being mindful of these thoughts will help us be able to better identify, label, and dispel damaging thoughts.
Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our thoughts. This allows you to develop the choice to feel one way or another instead of reacting emotionally.
We all feel judged at times, but we don't have to stay there. Use these strategies to stop feeling judged by others and be more present in the moment.
Take Action Today
The Labeling Technique - Labeling is observing your thoughts and identifying or assigning a label to them that is true and disconnected from your emotions. According to verywell.com, "labeling raises your awareness of the kinds of things you think about, which is especially helpful if you are trying to change your habitual thought patterns to become more empowering and optimistic."
So, your next action for today is to take 5 minutes and think about the last time you were in a social situation. Recall how you were feeling in that moment. Then recall the things you were thinking that made you feel that way.
Take those thoughts and try to label them for what they really were. Were they positive thoughts? Negative thoughts? Did your thoughts have any facts tied to them or were you making assumptions? Were thoughts useful or not?
I'd love it if you'd let me know how this exercise went in the comments below.
For example: When I ran this exercise, I realized that a lot of my thoughts were assumptions and judgments that I was placing on myself and not based on any facts. I was thinking and telling myself that the people around me had expectations of me that I now realized didn't exist. I had created this stress in my mind, out of thin air. I'll remember this the next time I'm in a similar social situation.