Have you experienced this before? You are in a social situation in which you feel uncomfortable. Maybe because you don’t know the people around you or because you feel some tension in the atmosphere, or just because that day your insecurity is out. The thing is that you don’t feel comfy, and suddenly without realising it, you adopt the role of the mind reader. You second-guess everyone. It’s like you know exactly what is in their minds as if it appeared written above their heads in speech bubbles: There is no doubt they don’t like you and they are criticising you. You feel terrible!
Of course, you don’t stop and ask them to make sure: You just assume that you know what the other person is thinking, or even worse: What ‘the other people’ are thinking. We are amazing at pluralizing and generalising, and before long, that thing we suspect one person is aware of, is on the mind of everyone in the room!
But is it really others are thinking, or merely what you are thinking projected on others?
WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY?
Today, this sentence is so closely associated with worry and second-guessing that even on its own it sounds negative! But its a distraction; an invention of our inner critic (The chimp) to dissuade us from exposing our true, vulnerable selves.
The chimp projects its insecurities and puts them in the mouth of others to give them power. The chimp has learnt that the threat of criticism from others will stop you from acting, as you are a social being and you care about others’ opinions. The chimp projects her thoughts on others as a tool to limit you and achieve her goal: To protect you at all costs.
THE PERCEPTION ILLUSION
Do you remember this day? You have a spot in the middle of your face, and you can’t stop looking at it, you wish you didn’t have it, and you feel that everyone you meet or pass by is looking right at it and judging you. However, you are forgetting that just as you are preoccupied with your insecurity, so is everyone else! The nails badly painted that they wish they had removed, or the cellulite, or the kilos they wish they could lose, or gain, or just redistribute! Each person has enough on their plate focusing on their own insecurity, let alone yours! And they can’t hear your chimp because theirs is making just as much noise!
Another tool that our chimp uses to affect our behaviour is storytelling. Every experience we go through has a story tacked on in the footer, and this little tale greatly influences how we think of that experience. But just because everyone else is listening to their chimp, and the stories it spins doesn’t mean we have to! By now you can probably see just how much power our inner critic can have over us if we let it, so its time to take these methods into our own hands, rewrite the stories so they don’t limit us and let our inner guide speak up a little.
Our mind creates stories non-stop, we are professional storytellers and there is nothing we experience we don’t create a story from. Experiences vary depending on the story we attach in the footer. What is good, what is bad? It all depends on perspective. It is in our hands to create stories that help us grow and to rewrite stories that limit us and suppress our voice, but for that, we first need to look at how much voice and vote we have given to our critic, the chimp that talks non-stop.
If your chimp is in charge of the microphone, the paper and the pen, your insecurities will probably drive your behaviour and your favourite moto will be something like: ‘No one will fire me from my own comfort zone’.
That is why today I am going to give you a tool to turn the chimp’s volume down or at least get your microphone back and tell your own story fearlessly. This tool is useful to de-catastrophise, and to avoid second-guessing what people will say before anything has been said. Would you like to try it?
Identify a moment in which you have second-guessed what another person was thinking of you. I recommend you choose a moment in which your guess was negative, and created a belief that limited you in some way. Example: The other day having lunch with some colleagues: ‘That colleague thinks I am boring, and would rather eat without me. When I speak they just switch off, it must be because I can’t contribute anything interesting.
Find SUPPORTING EVIDENCE: Search for specific incidents that back up your guess. Example: ‘Yesterday they interrupted me twice while I was telling a personal story’, ‘It was Monday and they didn’t ask me about my weekend’. Note: Be aware to not present evidence mixed with perception, like ‘They look at me dismissively’ or ‘Their lives are more interesting than mine’ (For you, maybe not in their view. Is that evidence?) or to pluralise! It’s very easy for one colleague to become ‘my colleagues‘.
Find EVIDENCE AGAINST: This is something we often just ignore completely! We latch on to that one shred of negative experience and weave a tale around it. So, what evidence can be found that what you think they are thinking is not true and that it is just your chimp trying to trick you? Example: ‘They wait for me if I end up working a little late so we can eat together’, ‘They include me in weekend plans’, ‘The other day they laughed a lot at my ridiculous anecdote’, ‘They often question me about ‘x’ topic’.
See how your evidence for and against your original guesswork stacks up! And make sure that you are presenting evidence rather than beliefs or perceptions. This may sound like some quite basic decision making, but we rarely look at this process impartially, especially when we already have a lingering suspicion in our minds.
And then, If you do have more supporting evidence, don’t leave it there! Try to talk to the people involved to make sure that you are right, and look for constructive feedback. If you have more evidence against, it is time to rewrite that story you are telling yourself and to realise that the chimp is inventing falsehoods: There is no real evidence to back it up or believe it is true.
What you believe others think about you can have an effect on your experiences.
If you believe that your work colleagues think you are boring, and criticise you if you give your opinion, the normal thing is that you keep quiet and suppress your voice out of fear, to avoid judgement. However, if you believe that your colleagues think you are the soul of the party and the funniest person in the company, you probably will spend your days making jokes and laughing openly.
We value body language, voice tone and delivery above verbal language, (Grunting cavemen could still understand each other very well!) as we have been interpreting these basic signals for thousands of years. Where we slip up is when we project our insecurities onto our interpretation. This is where we fail and limit ourselves unnecessarily.
Social anxiety is often derived from a nonexistent social external critic, which is created by our inner critic. This leads us to build evidence to convince ourselves that we are not accepted.
When we believe other people are criticising us, we suppress ourselves and tend to stop participating in social activity. This forms a vicious circle as people around us focus on those that are still contributing, and without intention ‘put us on the side’, reaffirming our belief that we are not liked, leading us to retreat further into the background. The circle grows, creating more and more suppressive behaviour and limiting beliefs about what others think.
I invite you to stop imagining and worrying about ‘What will people say’ and dare to discover it yourself by talking, participating, exposing yourself. The more you integrate yourself, the more others integrate you. The more you exclude yourself, the more others exclude you.
People around you often become a mirror of what you believe about yourself. It is not about avoiding what people will say, it is about transforming what you tell yourself so you can say what comes deep down from your truth.
Also, if you want to work deeper on your Social Anxiety you can download this free meditation that will help you make peace with anxiety, keep updated and don’t miss any other article like this one!
Love and Satisfaction,