We all know people who immediately own any room they walk into. They strut around, happily engaging with strangers, chatting and laughing in a relaxed and open manner, making everyone around them smile and feel at ease.
However, if every time you walk into a room filled with strangers and immediately feel the stomach-sinking sensation that everyone is looking at you, examining you for flaws, judging what you are wearing, how your hair looks and finding you lacking in all departments—You are overly self-conscious.
This uncomfortable feeling—called the spotlight effect by psychologists—makes you seek out a corner where you hope no one will notice you, or maybe rush over to the food and drinks table so that you look busy and appear more at ease than you actually feel.
While everyone may feel this way occasionally, if you feel this way often—and even feel this way when the room is filled with friends and acquaintances—you may be chronically self-conscious.
If self-consciousness is something that has had a negative impact on your life, such as keeping you from socializing for pleasure or holding you back in your education, career, and relationships, it may be time to take some steps to overcome self-consciousness.
Identify Any Specific Reasons for Your Self-Consciousness
The very first step toward shaking off your feelings of self-consciousness is to identify or pinpoint any specific reasons for it and then address those reasons. Sometimes self-consciousness is just an innate part of our character, and we’ve always experienced it, but for some people it’s the result of something specific, such as weight gain, surgical scars, feeling they lack the right clothing or style, their hair is graying, or maybe they won’t go to the beach because stretch marks make them feel uncomfortable in a bathing suit. This type of self-consciousness has real-world solutions and can be addressed.
If your weight is giving you social anxiety and holding you back. It may be time to speak to your doctor about a serious weight loss program.
Old Or New Scars
If you have either old or new scars that make you feel self-conscious, speak to a doctor about cosmetic surgery options, or try out one of the very good scar creams that are now available over the counter and can effectively fade or minimize scars.
Talk to a stylist about a new wardrobe, or go the more budget-friendly route and look online for current clothing trends, and then shop to achieve a new look.
If gray hair is making you appear older than you feel. Try out a hair coloring option to blend in your grays. Or go for a whole new look with a brand new color.
If you avoid the beach or stay covered-up because stretch marks make you feel self-conscious in a bathing suit. These can be addressed with a good stretch mark cream both during and after pregnancy or weight gain.
Keep in mind that the way you feel about these issues can be addressed even if the problem itself can’t be corrected. Remind yourself that most people really aren’t spending their time examining your flaws and that much of how you feel is only your own internal judgment and not that of others—which leads to the next important step.
Say No to Negative Thoughts
If you feel like someone is negatively judging some detail about you, try to shrug off the thought. For example, if someone glances your way and you immediately think they are noticing some flaw. This is because you’ve convinced yourself that your perceived flaw is so important that it’s the first thing people notice.
When you have this thought, try shrugging it off as though it was a completely ridiculous thought such as, “pigs can fly.” This is a reminder that your own inner voice is not a reliable source on this issue. It’s not at all the voice of reality because you’ve blown your own flaws far out of proportion.
Just as it’s likely that you don’t have unkind thoughts about someone you are meeting, the person you are meeting is highly unlikely to be having unkind thoughts about you. Which leads to the next important step.
Stop to Consider Your Own First Thoughts Upon Seeing or Meeting Someone New or Greeting Acquaintances
It’s very likely that when you encounter another person, whether you know them or not. Your first thoughts are not negative ones. In fact, as humans, we tend to dwell on negative thoughts about ourselves. While we are much more generous with others.
Acknowledge that when you meet someone new your first thoughts are probably something. Like, “What a pretty smile she has, “ or “I love her hairstyle,”. And not, “Wow, she needs to lose a few pounds,” or “I bet she isn’t as educated as I am”. If you wouldn’t think such things about a stranger or new acquaintance. It’s highly unlikely that they are thinking about you. In fact, it’s your own self-judgment that you are feeling and not the judgment of others.
Turn off Your Own Spotlight
When you walk into a room full of people and your stomach starts to sink. Remind yourself that people really are not paying as much attention to you as you feel they are. The reality is that people are generally too caught up in their own thoughts or conversations. They are having with others to stop whatever they are doing to immediately assess you for flaws. Even if they glance at you, they are not focusing on any negative features about you any more than you are about them.
Treat Yourself Like You Would Your Best Friend
Imagine that your best friend told you that she walked into a social event or an important meeting. And immediately felt like everyone was negatively judging her on her appearance, her education, her qualifications, and her personality. Wouldn’t you hug your best friend and tell her that it’s all in her head. Because she is a beautiful, smart, friendly person, and no one could possibly be thinking negative thoughts about someone like her?
Well, if this is so obvious to you when you consider your friend in this situation. Then why isn’t it obvious about yourself? Treat yourself exactly as you would your best friend. And tell yourself that no one could possibly be having unkind thoughts about you.
If your best friend deserves this kind of reassurance than don’t you as well?
Fake it Until You Make it
One effective way of overcoming self-consciousness is to purposely challenge yourself. By putting yourself into the types of situations your self-consciousness usually makes you avoid. Then simply pretend to be a much more self-assured, outgoing person than you really are. For instance, make yourself approach a stranger and strike up a friendly conversation.
Walk into a party and pretend to be that person who owns the room when they walk in. And engage strangers in conversations as though you are completely at ease. If you do this often enough, you will eventually be more comfortable. And may even really become that person who owns the room at every social event.
Even if this challenge fails. Shrug it off and pat yourself on the back for taking the huge forward step of trying. And then try it again!