Ever walk into a room and feel all eyes are looking at you? You imagine people are judging your every flaw. You start to shrink and think about everything that is wrong with you. It's an awful experience - - enough to make you want to skip any event.
I’m guessing you have had this experience as it’s pretty much universal.
Since we can’t magically make others or ourselves disappear when we feel self-conscious (but wouldn't that be nice?), what can we do to get some relief RIGHT AWAY?
During times of self-consciousness, you will notice that you are observing yourself as if you are outside of yourself. What helps is to change your perspective so you are once again looking out at the world and others through your own eyes.
Looking Out Through Your Own Eyes
This process involves two steps and then repeated practice.
Step 1: Awareness that you're feeling judged
Step 2: Making a quick shift back to looking out through your own eyes to see (or judge) others.
Here’s how you do it step-by-step:
First let's try a simple, less emotionally-loaded exercise to learn this technique. Try this in a store or other public place where at least one other person is around.
In a public place where there's at least one other person, think about your hands and visualize them, but don't look at them. What do you think about your hands? Do you like their shape, their size, your skin? This is an inward eye gaze - you're looking inward. This is the start of self-consciousness because you're noticing a part of you.
Next, check out the actual hand of someone in the place where you are doing this exercise. This is looking out through your own eyes. Check to see how many fingers they have. Evaluate if the fingers are fat or slender, long or short. Are their hands large, medium, or small sized?Are they moving their hands? Are the hands down by their sides or on their lap or somewhere else like on their face. Are they older-looking wrinkly hands or younger supple hands. If you were to judge these hands, what would you judge about them. Do you like these hands? You're looking out!
Next, while you appear to be looking at this real person's hands, change your mind's gaze back to imagining (not actually looking at) your own hands. Now you're looking in again.
It's the quick shift in vantage point from looking in and judging yourself to looking out and judging others that we are practicing. While judging others isn't the best practice, I tell my patients in the beginning of our work on social anxiety that I would rather they judge others than themselves.
So here's the practice for social events:
You walk into a room filled with people. You feel self-conscious. Notice that you have your mind's eye turned inward towards yourself. Notice that you are viewing yourself through other's eyes. Notice you have left your own centered and embodied state and moved out of yourself.
Notice if you are judging your personality, your job, your level of education, your clothing, your skin, your face, your body, your everything!!! Notice if you are judging yourself for your flaws and notice if you're imagining others are judging you too.
In one quick judo-like move, shift your eye gaze so you are looking out of your own eyes at others! Come back into your body and see out through your own two eyes. See the room, see what is outside the windows and the doors in the room you are inhabiting. Now see the furniture in the room (what looks like a comfortable place to sit?), and most importantly look out at the people in the room. YOU look out and see others' outfits, bodies, faces. Look for faces that seem kind or warm. Look for smiles.
Who are you drawn to? Who looks kind, fun, and/or interesting? You get to choose who to walk up to.
Resist the temptation to look at yourself and judge. You might have to practice this many times in one day or evening - but keep doing it. Keep seeing out through your own eyes and deciding who YOU want to approach - even if you don’t or can’t actually make a move... yet.
In summary, the eye gaze quick swap is:
Noticing when you’re anxious?
Checking if you are looking at yourself through the eyes of others or feel looked at by others.
Shifting the intention of your gaze so you’re looking out and noticing the people around you.
Noticing details about others (that will help you keep looking out and not defaulting back to self-judgment).
Feeling the anxiety drop. Feeling relief.
The truth is that most people are scared about not being liked, and scared about being judged. Self-consciousness feels bad and is also very human. It's all about making sure we are firmly grounded in our own body looking out and viewing the world from our own Self. We do not want to look at ourself through the eyes of others. Noticing if you are looking out or looking in, and then shifting your gaze to see the world of people around you can ease the internal gaze of self-evaluation that makes us feel worse. Try it and let me know if you sense the difference.
To work even more deeply to heal anxiety, pick up a copy of It's Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect with Your Authentic Self.