Humans are social animals; we interact every day with other people. We are also ‘thinking beings’, and because of our fabulous cognitive abilities, we can plan, predict, compare and evaluate. Our ability to interact and think has got us far, but it can sometimes come at a price.
As language and thinking are so fundamentally important to humans, we all inevitably have an internal commentary playing in our heads, and when that commentary tells us that we have done something wrong or embarrassing, or that others might think badly of us, it can make us feel upset. This is theoretically a helpful response, as it is a prompt for us to consider how perhaps we might want to do things differently next time, or that we need to do something to ‘make things right’.
However, when this often helpful response gets ‘stuck on’ or is triggered unnecessarily, then we become fearful of negative judgement from others, or perhaps we become overly critical of ourselves. This can lead to low confidence or wanting to avoid others for fear of being judged.
When people have low self-esteem, they have often taken to heart the idea that they are somehow not good enough, or not as good as other people. This message may be formed in adulthood but often it first develops in childhood. Stress and difficult life events, such as rejection, serious illness, difficulty at school, bullying, losing a job, or a relationship break-up can have a negative effect on self-esteem. Perhaps it has been difficult to live up to your expectations or other people's expectations of you, or maybe you compare yourself unfavourably to others.
Many people occasionally worry about social situations, particularly public speaking, but for some people the fear of judgment comes in the form of social anxiety, an intense fear of some or all social situations. Extreme anxiety is experienced before, during and after social interactions and affects everyday activities, relationships and work life.
Maybe you find that you dread everyday activities, such as starting conversations or speaking on the phone, or always worry about doing something that you think might be embarrassing, such as blushing, stuttering or sweating. Perhaps you find it difficult to do things when others are watching or feel like whatever you do others are negatively judging you, even when they don’t make any open criticisms.
If you have low self-esteem or low confidence, you may hide yourself away from social situations, avoid challenges and stop trying new things. In the short term, avoiding difficult situations makes you feel a lot safer, but in the long-term, avoidance reinforces your underlying fears and beliefs about yourself and others, and it ‘teaches’ you that the only way to cope is by avoiding things. The good news is that life does not have to be this way.
I have helped many people to regain their confidence and shake of the fear of judgment that was holding them back. You can build confidence and learn not to assume that others are thinking the worst of you. By understanding and challenging some of the ideas that maintain social anxiety and the fear of judgement, you can learn how to feel more comfortable in social situations and start to do activities that you would normally avoid. It can be scary at first, but starting with small and realistic goals and working upwards can help you to re-build your confidence.
For more information about how to deal with fear of judgment, contact Dr Alex.