The “Spotlight Effect” is the belief that other people are paying lots of attention to you and judging you harshly.
It’s a term coined by psychologists to explain the excessive self-consciousness that some people experience, whether from a social anxiety disorder or just general insecurity.
The truth is, most people are not paying attention to you. They are wrapped up in their own lives, with their own worries and other things on their mind.
In fact, there’s often a circular loop going on: you worry what they think of you, but they may be far too busy wondering what people like you think about them. Neither of your are actually judging the other.
Self-consciousness is a limiting belief. It causes the self-conscious person to take fewer risks, speak up less, and spend more time on the periphery of social interaction.
That’s not good because it limits opportunities to develop friendships and relationships. It’s kind of hard to make real friends when you’re constantly concerned with how people view you, particularly if you don’t feel comfortable enough to be your true and genuine self.
Your self-consciousness may be causing you to miss out on life-changing opportunities because you avoid engaging with life and other people.
The good news is that self-consciousness is something that can be worked on and improved!
How can you do that?
1. Audit your circle of friends.
The first thing you want to do is take a good, hard look at the people you associate with.
Why? Because pessimistic and judgmental people will fuel your self-consciousness.
What do you think it does to your perception of how people view others when you listen to your friend regularly judge and demean other people?
That kind of behavior gets internalized. You may start thinking, “Everyone is judging me. Look how Sarah judges everyone else!”
And really, who cares what a miserable person like Sarah thinks about them? What right does she have to throw stones at anyone?
In all likelihood, people like Sarah often throw stones to distract from their own problems and negative lives. Or they just thrive on drama.
Pessimistic, judgmental people are poisonous to your happiness and peace of mind. Their negative thinking rubs off on you and affects you, even when you do not realize it.
You will be thinking about how you and other people are perceived if you hang out with judgmental people a lot.
Instead, try to spend time with people who are positive and complimentary and have nice words to say about others.
2. Examine your internal narrative.
What do you say about yourself with your internal narrative?
Is it positive? Supportive? Kind? Understanding? Accepting of your shortcomings and flaws?
Or is it critical? Judgmental? Negative? Full of thoughts and statements about how you aren’t good enough? How people may not really like you? How awkward, or clumsy, or unworthy you are?
A positive internal narrative is part of the bedrock of self-acceptance and self-love. It’s hard to feel good and positive about yourself and what you bring to the world when you constantly tell yourself that you’re not good enough.
And most of the time, those thoughts of not being good enough aren’t even your words. They’re usually the words of some jerk who saw fit to tear you down instead of trying to build you up; bad parents, abusive romantic partners, crappy friends.
You will need to work on that internal narrative to improve your self-consciousness.
Self-consciousness is often driven by insecurity, which other negative people and experiences often create.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve made mistakes in your life; everyone has. It doesn’t matter if you’ve looked foolish before; everyone has. It doesn’t matter if things didn’t go how you planned them; that’s how it is for everyone.
None of these things make you a bad person, unworthy of friendships, or somehow lesser than. These are all things that everyone deals with once in a while.
You just have to tell yourself, “I made a mistake. I’m a human being, and we all make mistakes.” And then get on with living.
You don’t have to dwell on the negative emotions or tear yourself down.
At the same time, you can’t expect to switch to self-affirming thoughts in the blink of an eye. Instead, it might be easier to simply address a negative thought and then try to stop thinking about it by turning your attention elsewhere.
3. Shift from an inward to an outward focus.
An inward focus is a common way for self-conscious people to make themselves feel safe and secure in a social setting.
They tend to look inward, thinking about how they feel, how they think others might be feeling about them, and focusing on those feelings.
Shifting to an outward focus can help level off that self-consciousness because you are not feeding the beast of insecurity by focusing on those feelings of insecurity. Focusing on those feelings is like pouring gasoline onto them. It just makes them burn brighter and stronger.
When you find yourself focusing on your thoughts and feelings, try shifting your focus.
Look around you. Focus on the environment you’re in and the other people around you. Look at how they’re socializing. Are they happy and laughing? Sad? Serious? Heated?
Think more about the people that are around you and consider what they might be feeling in the moment, based on their body language and words.
By making this an active exercise, you can force your brain off that negative path to a more neutral one. It doesn’t necessarily need to be positive. Landing at neutral is still an improvement because you’re not thinking about all of the things that make you feel self-conscious.
Develop a genuine curiosity about other people and their lives. This will provide you with things to talk about and keep you from dwelling on the things that make you feel self-conscious.
4. Push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
Avoiding uncomfortable feelings typically reinforces them, making them harder to deal with and overcome.
There are times when you will need to confront those feelings, push through them, and use that experience as a means to deal with your self-consciousness.
Typically, you may find that your self-consciousness springs up on you at random when you’re around other people. That’s a problem because it’s hard to know exactly when you’re going to experience those feelings to work on them.
Some predictability and control over the situation will let you mentally prepare to deal with those stressful feelings.
You might go about doing that by buying a silly hat and wearing it out in a public place. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but that’s the point. It allows you to create this situation where you are almost guaranteed to feel self-conscious and deal with the emotions as they arise.
You’ll see that some people look at you and how it’s not that big of a deal. You may get other people approaching you or commenting on the hat.
Or you may find that people just go on about their business because that’s not the craziest thing they’ve seen recently.
It’s a way to put yourself out there in a safe, low-stakes environment.
5. Avoid putting others on a pedestal.
“When you put others on a pedestal, you force them to look down on you.”
What does that mean?
Well, by telling another person that you think they are so amazing and putting them up on that pedestal, it changes the way the social dynamic functions between you.
Telling or showing another person that they are greater than you creates one of two problems. They either need to treat you like you are lesser than they are, or they are forced into feeling like they need to assure you that they are not better than you.
Both scenarios have problems.
First of all, why would you want to hang out with someone who feels like they are better than you? You can certainly feel like a person is a good person or has positive qualities that you admire, but that’s information you generally want to keep to light compliments or in your head.
If you tell a person that they’re better than you and they agree, well, that’s a person you should avoid at all costs. They’re likely going to take advantage of that.
On the other hand, if they are decent, they don’t want you to feel down about yourself. They’re not going to want to be aggrandized at your expense. They’re not going to want to feel like you are using them as a tool to harm yourself with.
That interrupts the social dynamic by forcing them to treat you like you’re someone who needs to be cared for, which isn’t a good way to start or maintain friendships. It’s unhealthy.
You can’t put other people on a pedestal as a means of dealing with self-consciousness and telling yourself that you’re somehow unworthy.
Instead, focus on the fact that everyone has positive and negative qualities. There may be things about this person that you admire and aspire to, but maybe they also have some problems they need to deal with.
6. Act more like a friend who is more socially comfortable.
There’s a lot you can take away from other people who are more socially comfortable and graceful.
By looking at how they interact with other people, you can learn to mimic that behavior until it becomes natural to you in a “fake it till you make it” way.
People often have internal feelings that aren’t mirrored externally. Plenty of people get out there and smile their way through their discomfort or pain because they understand that dwelling on it isn’t going to do anything positive for them.
That does not mean that it’s healthy to avoid or ignore one’s problems. It’s just a matter of understanding that some things are outside of our control. Sometimes all you can do is make the best of a situation, grin, and bear it.
Consider the people that you know who have social behaviors that you would like to have. What can you do to act more in that way? Are there behaviors or mannerisms you can adopt?
7. Do talk to a therapist about your self-consciousness.
Self-consciousness is a problem that is often tied to other problems, as we previously mentioned.
It might be tied to something like a bad childhood, abusive relationships, or mental health issues that cannot be resolved through self-help articles.
If you find that your self-consciousness is a persistent problem that causes you regular distress, it would be best to talk to a therapist about the problem so you can get to the root of it and heal it.
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- How To Stop Beating Yourself Up: 7 Highly Effective Tips
- How To Be Yourself: 5 Tips For Being Real, Authentic, And Not Fake
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