This blog post was featured in the Severna Park Voice, September issue.
In my last post, Coming Together When We’re Coming Apart, I discussed how automatically judging others can add stress to our lives. It also impacts how we view the world. In this week’s post I’ll examine how our anxiety, self-esteem and self-worth are affected when we feel others judge us.
Feeling Judged Creates Anxiety
When we get nervous about going somewhere unfamiliar, or meeting new people, sometimes our thoughts go right to the worst possible scenario: What if I don’t fit in? What if they don’t like me? What if I make a fool of myself? This projection creates anxiety. We start to believe that the people we don’t know will judge us by what we wear, or what we say or how we behave. I’ve struggled with this at times in my life, and so have many of my clients at Progression Counseling.
Some common statements that I hear from clients who get overwhelmed with the worry of being judged are:
- I can’t try new things because I might mess up.
- If I say “No,” everyone will be mad at me.
- If anyone knew that my kids were struggling in school or in sports, they’d blame me.
- I can’t believe I made that mistake. My co-workers now think I don’t know what I’m doing.
- I feel so stupid! I tripped on the curb and everyone laughed at me!
- I can’t share my struggles with the other parents because they’ll all think I’m a terrible parent.
- I’m overwhelmed emotionally, but asking for help makes me seem weak, or vulnerable.
When Anxiety Feels Overwhelming
When we assume that others are thinking negative things about us, it increases our stress and anxiety. Our brain now thinks we are under attack. As a result, the stress chemicals and hormones start pumping, so we feel like the attack is real. These physical and emotional responses increase our anxiety and stress, often leaving us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Not only do we feel bad about ourselves when we feel judged, but it can lead us to feel negatively toward others too. If we feel that we are constantly under attack by the people in our lives, it can put us on the defensive. So we disengage, ignore, or avoid them before we ever find out what they really think.
Negative Self-Talk: Our Inner Critic
We might even begin to feel bad about ourselves. If we always believe that others are judging us we might begin to internalize those negative thoughts. Or maybe the judgment you feel from others is really only what you’re telling yourself. If your internal voice, or your inner critic, berates you for making mistakes, tells you you’re stupid, or constantly replays past events looking for a different outcome, perhaps it’s time to pay closer attention and challenge the negativity.
4 Steps To Keep Your Anxious Thoughts In Check:
- Begin by paying attention to the negative, judgmental thoughts you are attributing to those around you.
- When you notice a judgmental thought, take three slow deep breaths and ask yourself, “What evidence do I have that they think bad things about me?” Maybe it’s a facial expression, or they sighed loudly, or they have a smile on their face, or they seem unengaged.
- Take another slow deep breath and with curiosity and compassion, think about the alternative stories that might have caused their behaviors. Maybe they’re having a really bad day, maybe they’re exhausted because they didn’t sleep, maybe they think you’re someone they want to know better, or maybe they have a lot on their minds.
- Once you’ve come up with other possible explanations for their behaviors, check in with yourself. If you’re still feeling anxious take a few more deep breaths and ask yourself if it’s time to challenge your inner critic.
Image by Jamie Brown at Unsplash.com