I was talking to my therapist about my anxiety (which was going pretty well until this week – more about that in another post). I was questioning the logic of anxiety, a ridiculous train of thought considering anxiety has no logic. When talking about triggers, I explained that social events are frequently a trigger; it is not the social events with new people but often people I have met, work with, or that are frequently around our common group of friends and family. Put me in a room with a bunch of strangers, and I’m great. Put me out to dinner with some mutual acquaintances, and my mind spirals with panic. No logic at all!
As she pushed me further and asked why I feel uncomfortable or panicked, I blurted out a truth: “I feel like everyone is judging me.” Wow. Part of the reason I like my therapist so much is that she has this way of asking questions that push just a little further and further until I say the truth. I feel like judgment is everywhere and given by everyone.
She tried to dissuade me from this idea. I cannot live my life thinking that every person I encounter is thinking things about me and making judgments about my life, my appearance, my parenting, my career, my choices, etc. I recognize this. But how do you stop feeling this way? How do you condition yourself to not care if others are judging you?
I know I am not the only person who feels this way; I will admit to being hyperaware of it though. I think I can read a person’s words and actions pretty well. For example, if a person says, “nice to see you again!” but their face looks like they ate a sour grape, they probably mean the opposite. I see the side glances, I hear the snarky, backhanded comments, and I feel the glares. My husband often tells me that I am reading into situations and people’s responses too much, but I disagree. Hyperaware – yes.
So how do I live without feeling judgment? How do I stop feeling anxious or sad about judgment? I do not really know yet. My therapist suggested a few things, such as reminding myself that it does not matter or that my own opinions are all that are valid. Easier said than done, especially when you may be the biggest critic of yourself.
For example: I recently participated in a 24 hour run for my husband’s career field. I hate running, so I took Leo in a stroller and walked 9 total miles. I felt so great! I never go that distance and was proud of myself. But I quickly found myself feeling badly as I compared my distance to others I know. Why couldn’t I go just a little farther? I’ll never be as good as <insert a name>. I’m not as dedicated. I’m not in good shape. My contribution was pretty worthless. By the time the day was up, I felt badly about something that should have been a proud moment and a unifying event.
I think that as much as I worry and stress about the judgments of others, my own are the most damaging. I can tear myself down faster than any middle school bully, and part of my own work is trying to feel less shame and guilt. For me, I am trying to stop comparing myself with others and instead am trying to embrace the positives and triumphs for me. Not what others do, what I do. Not how others look, how I look. Not what others say, what I say and feel. Think of all the time and energy I could save by not worrying about judgment…
Regardless, I know that we are all being judged and even judging others, whether we realize it or not. It’s human nature to do this. All I can do is try to care a little less and judge a little less on my own. Everyday could be judgment day – but I will attempt to not let it dictate my life and mental health.
Attempt being the optimum word (don’t judge me for that).