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The Spotlight Effect: Releasing What Other People Think About You|3.22.2022

In this episode, Kristen talks about the spotlight effect, how it impacts your anxiety, and ways to work through it.

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Welcome to the Close to Chapter podcast. I am Kristen Boice a licenced Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice pathways to healing counselling. Through conversations, education, strategies and shared stories. We will be closing the chapter on all the thoughts, feelings, people and circumstances that don't serve you anymore. And open the door to possibilities and the real you. You won't want to miss an episode, so be sure to subscribe.

Welcome to this week's close the chapter podcast. I am thrilled you're joining me today for this important topic on the spotlight effect and how it impacts your anxiety and social anxiety and how to work through it. Have you ever thought you had a big zit on your face I have, you've got a big zit on your face. And you're convinced that everybody is noticing that zit and thinking less of you. It's almost like you're projecting your own insecurity and fear of what people think. And they're going to judge you and reject you on to that person. So the spotlight effect is when you are convinced that other people see your flaws and are focusing on them. So we are going to break all that down today. You do not want to miss this episode. And I want to encourage you to jump on to kristendboice.com. forward slash free resources to get your free healing guide. And you'll get the latest and greatest episodes in your inbox every single week. I want to build a community of people like you that want to do deeper work that are on a healing journey that want to grow, evolve, learn and deepen the sense of being themselves in the world, and offer themselves and other people empathy and compassion and have hard conversations. There's no coincidence while you're here. And I am truly, truly thankful that you are so I am hoping you get a lot out of this episode, if you found it helpful and think it'd be great to have a conversation with a friend or family member about it. Share the episode. I don't feel like this subject is talked about a whole lot. I just learned about it actually, I was really working with clients on how do we really convince ourselves that other people are focused on all our shortcomings. And while that may be true, on some level, depending on the person, research actually shows it's not true, that we are self focused people we're egocentric people, we are more concerned about ourselves, and managing how we feel about ourselves and thinking about ourselves more or less and not really focused on other people's flaws. So research does not back up that that is true. While that can be true. That's what I love research. I want to encourage you if you're listening today for this episode, and you struggle with what other people think about you, I want you to take a deep breath. And I want you to take in the facts of what I'm sharing with you the research and the truth. So when you're in shame, or in fear, and you're experiencing the spotlight effect or convince someone sees your flaws, I want you to go okay, the reality is everybody's more egocentric and concerned about themselves. Because our egos are really trying to keep us safe. And meeting these unmet needs that we didn't get in as kids and less concerned about me, and what I look like or how I messed up, we're not going to be diving into the cancel culture and those things, but we're gonna stick with the spotlight effect and how shame is connected to it. That is where I think we're gonna get the most out of our work together today. So I'd encourage you to get pen and paper. If you don't have access to that and you're driving or you're exercising, doing things around the house, that's okay, too. I want you to take this into your nervous system. I want you to absorb it and be able to digest this as truth, especially when you're so afraid of what other people think. And I want to show you the research.
The research is really interesting or tell you the research. I'm acting like I'm seeing you because I'm recording this. I'm really holding space for you as you're listening to this because I want you to feel the connection of the shared human experience. There's a lot of heartbreak in the world right now. And at the end of the day, everyone wants to feel safe, and that is truth. Everybody wants to have a felt sense of safety. Everybody wants to feel loved. Everyone wants to feel important, and they matter. And those are truths. And what the spotlight effect does is it takes us down fear, anxiety and shame. But underneath all that is fear of not being enough, not belonging being rejected being abandoned. And so I want you to really take this in as a universal part of being a human being that we're convinced that other people are judging us more than they really are. And what I mean by that is people can judge perhaps for a second or two, but they're not really dwelling on it. That's the big difference. We dwell on it because of our shame, but other people really aren't dwelling on it. Okay, so we are going to dive into exactly what the spotlight effect is, how it impacts you, and what to do about it. So I'm going to ask you something. Have you ever had toilet paper, maybe on your shoe I have, or maybe it's coming out of your undergarments, or maybe I know some people have peed their pants or maybe you have a stain on your shirt or a blemish on your face of exit or your hair, just having a bad hair day. In you're convinced and worried that people are focusing on that and thinking less of you that is the spotlight effect. It was coined by American psychologists, I may not say the names correctly, bear with me, Thomas Gilovich and kennis have esky who co authored a study on the subject in 2000. The spotlight effect as a term used by social psychologists to refer to a cognitive bias where individuals grossly overestimate the attention people are paying to their flaws. And this spawns the belief that every one is observing our smallest moves. And keeping a close note of our failures, as if we were under the spotlight in this impression of constant scrutiny by others can not only lead people to subject themselves to undue social pressure, and lead them to experience unnecessary anxiety and social settings. While experiencing self doubt is totally normal. We all have it. No one gets out of that for free, unless you might be a narcissist and I'm still going to argue their selves out there. The spotlight effect leads us to treat our blunders in an overtly severe manner. And we can become an over apologizer a pleaser a play cater a performer, a perfectionist, and Brene. Brown really covered this in her research, as well as the gift of imperfections where if we're perfect enough, and we are good enough, then we will avoid blame, shame, judgement and rejection, which isn't true. It's just defence mechanisms we learn. And so I want to dive into this research because I find it so interesting, and I really enjoy learning about it. So there was research journal published in 2000. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it was a study by researchers at Cornell University demonstrating that while the subjects who are asked to wear a t shirt they found embarrassing believe that 50% of their classmates had noticed it so they reported that they were convinced 50% of the people notice their embarrassing t shirt. By the way, it was Barry Manilow and the first study was done the late 1990s I believe and I love Barry Manilow but they were supposed to be embarrassing. And then in 2007. Another study exploring the interplay between spotlight effect and social anxiety subjected the participants to a memory exercise, they found that the participants who were told that the test would be recorded and reviewed exhibited higher levels of the spotlight effect a more negative evaluation of task performance. So here's the net net is very interesting. Experts believe that typically since we are actually aware of our own behaviour and appearance, we tend to forget that people around us might not be as focused on those things. Basically, it is the result of our ego. And so we are convinced that's where projection comes into play that the other person thinks exactly the same thing about ourselves that we do. And it's not true.

So here's the deal. A 2002 study published in the Journal of experimental social psychology suggests that the spotlight effect stems in part from a failure to appreciate the extent to which people around us are preoccupied with managing their own actions. And so I love this because I want to get to the actual numbers of that study. Because in that study, it showed that while 50% of the people thought they would be noticed by the t shirt, it was only 10% and they couldn't remember who it was. was, so they couldn't remember who wore the shirt, they just remembered? Oh, yeah, there was a bright yellow, Barry Manilow t shirt, and they remembered it. But they didn't think anything of it. And they didn't remember who the shirt went towards. And it was 10% of the people out of 100% of the people, only 10% of the people notice the shirt, and they didn't even know who wore it. And I think that speaks volumes, because we're convinced that it's all about us. And they're thinking so negatively about us, when in actuality people are thinking to themselves, and we've heard this before, because people say that when people are thinking of themselves. In reality, we now know through the research, that it's actually true. And it's hard for us to believe that in a lot of ways, it's hard for us to believe that people aren't judging us the way that we're judging ourselves. And when we think of the spotlight effect, and we think in the moment that we are convinced that people are looking down on us, or noticing that zit or noticing how we said something incorrectly, when we can offer ourselves compassion and go, they all have human ness to them to there is no such thing as perfect. And that's hard for us to recognise because we think sometimes we're the only one. And we are so afraid of that rejection, we are so afraid of people talking bad about us. That has been one of my issues that I've worked on for years. And it comes from here's the deeper dive into this, it comes from triangulation, I did a whole episode on triangulation. It's where you pull someone into when you feel not good about yourself or conflict or disagreement, you pull a third party into the mix, when it's really between you and someone else has nothing to do with that third party. And you're doing it to make yourself feel better. You're doing it to validate yourself. I'm not talking about a therapist, I'm talking about a third party where you are wanting them to side with you. So your shame and anxiety decreases, which it doesn't work, by the way. But in my family system, there was a lot of triangulation. So my mom when she would feel upset, or dysregulated, or insecure, she would triangulate my sister into the mix. And then somebody had to be on the outs. Somebody had to be the bad guys. And that's called splitting, where you're splitting, quote unquote, good and bad parts from yourself. And you're splitting off from those parts. And so she didn't want to be the bad guy. So she had a split that part off of herself, and put it on or projected on that means put it on someone else, you're displacing that on to somebody else, and that somebody else was oftentimes not always but oftentimes myself, me. And so my mom would talk negatively about me and to my sister. And then my sister was young enough, she was trying to comfort mom, accommodate mom. And so that has been an issue I've EMDR I've done brain spotting, I've done hypnosis around people talking behind my back, nobody likes to be talking behind their back, mine was amplified because of the triangulation in my family system. And the reason I'm bringing this up as an example is because when we have a trigger, and we think someone's talking bad about us, it's important you float back. And so why is the spotlight effect? Why am I so afraid of people seeing my flaws? I don't even call them flaws, seeing my imperfections. Because there's no such thing as perfect. Or seeing the thing I don't like about myself? What is it in me that I feel so afraid of? That that's really a huge step in healing this in tending to it in the moment. And so I did the float backs, I was able to identify why is this so big for me because I've had several instances in this is more recently in adulthood where people have their own issues and might say something behind your back. And that's not your issue. Now, if you've done something, you're certainly going to take ownership of that apologise for that any hurt you've caused, and beyond that, it's not yours to own so you can own your part. And then knowing what's yours and what's not yours is a huge part of therapy and healing work. And so what is mine to own is my trigger around it is my sadness and fear and shame around it. I then can heal that I can offer myself compassion. I can go Oh, sweetie, I know you're really scared that they are noticing your imperfections and they're imperfect too. It's okay. They're more focused on themselves that on you their own pain and their own shame. They kneel and that's what the research says. So what I'm doing is I'm re parenting myself through those triggers. So when you have Have a trigger and the spotlight effect and social anxiety being one because we're so worried about what people think of us are we going to belong, it's really rooted in our child, oftentimes, unless you've had a trauma, post childhood, it really is rooted in emotional neglect trauma from childhood. And I do think it's scary to put yourself out there to be vulnerable, to share how you feel. That's where boundaries come into play. It's who's a healthy, safe person for you to do that with. And then if you get feedback, it's does this person really know me? Does this person also accept their imperfections, and as nurturing to themselves and accepting of themselves when they make mistakes or have imperfections, it's so important that we identify how we feel. And then we can begin to take some deep breaths, be with that emotion, befriend the emotions, and start re parenting that inner child that feels scared of that rejection. Because the spotlight effect is something fascinating because studies are showing the bottom line of this is studies show that people care more about themselves and how they come across, and how they look and how they appear, than they are going to pay attention. The time spent thinking about you, we spend more time thinking about ourselves than we do someone else's flaws. And that's the reality. That's the truth. And so when we think about shame, and how shame connects to the spotlight effect, it's really important you're identifying, when you're in shame, what is your body responsewhen you're in shame, and then we know we have to bring it to the light, because shame cannot survive. In darkness, it will be transformed. When it's brought to the light. If it stays in the dark, it'll be transmuted to somebody else. If it stays a shame stays in the dark, it will be transmuted to somebody else. And we don't want that that's called generational trauma. And we want to break that pattern. And so if this becomes a big issue for you that you're afraid people are so focused on you, and you're afraid to put yourself out there in a social situation. Because of it.

EMDR can be very helpful in working through it can help that body response, it can help work through any previous traumas. And I know in the last episode, I talked about first grade riding on the bus, and no one would sit with me, and how that shame and the fear of not belonging drove a lot of deep seated, I would say, insecurities that I have continuously worked on in therapy in just in my own work, listening to podcast, journaling, reading, and being gentle with myself, offering myself compassion and grace. And I want you to talk to yourself, like you would someone you deeply care about, maybe it's your child, maybe it's a pet, maybe it's a friend, a co worker, a neighbour, someone that you really, really care about that is so loving and kind, I want you to think about a person in your life who doesn't judge you. And it could be you know, God, it could be whomever, it doesn't judge you and maybe you don't, maybe you feel like God does judge you because you've projected some of that, or you've had negative experiences religiously a religious trauma of sorts. And that's not what this is. It's it doesn't matter, spiritual background, religious background, just thinking of something or someone, someone in particular, or could be something, an animal, a person that has offered you love and nurturing, and compassion.

And you have embodied that when you're with them. Just notice how your nervous system feels when you're loved and you're accepted. You're are some additional ways to work through the spotlight effect. So first of all, reminding yourself that it's self imposed spotlight, meaning you are shining the spotlight on you, no one else is shining the spotlight on you. So overcoming the spotlight effect can sometimes be as simple as just knowing it exists. When you remember everyone around you has their own concerns to focus on, including their worry about how everyone's perceiving them, that the spotlight probably won't feel so bright on you. So even when your hair Absol lately won't behave or you regret your outfit or you feel like you've got acne, or whatever it is about your body that you don't like just keep in mind that far fewer people than you can imagine will actually notice and care about it. And those that do they likely won't remember for too long. If you're still worried, ask yourself how often do you notice and remember what other people look like or do or say or their flaw or their blemish? How often do you stay focused on that? And oftentimes, if you're focusing on that, it's probably because you're in judgement to yourself. So oftentimes, if we're in judgement with somebody else It's because we're judging that thing in us. And that's been reflected back to us. The spotlight effect may not necessarily relate to public's mistakes, but that's when you might feel it most. And when you can look at yourself with a sense of humour, and let yourself know that there's no such thing as perfect, and everybody makes mistakes or says something, or looks a certain way that they're not confident with competence. I heard this the other day. And I thought it was really good in terms of building confidence when we feel unworthy or that don't matter that confidence is about repetition of building a skill over and over and over again, until you feel competent at it. And I think that's true of like the breath work that I encourage you to do the square breathing every single day, every hour, is because once you feel like it's an automatic response, you don't feel like you're working so hard at it. Journaling, if you make it a routine every day, and you make a commitment to yourself that you're going to write five minutes a day, or a few minutes a day to get out what you're feeling and process it, it becomes automatic, it becomes a part of a way of life. That's why routine can be so helpful, or movement. If you walk every day, or do something for yourself in that way. A lot of times we don't feel like doing it. And so that sabotages us and when we can just give ourselves five minutes and say I'll do it for five minutes and then see how I feel. Chances are we can work through it. And then Sunday's we don't have it in us and we have to offer ourselves grace. And I think our self consciousness, amplify who's in our own mind what other people think about us. So the bottom line is, it's normal to see yourself as the centre of the world because everybody does think that's a little extreme, but normal to see yourself as the centre because that's part of being a human being. And sometimes this perception can make it seem as if others spend just as much time considering your actions as you do, which is a false, which is not true.

The spotlight effect can get in your way, when you struggle to cope with it alone, excessive worries about how others perceive you can make it tough to speak up in school and work at home in relationships and prevent you from pursuing your interests. And if this is the case, if it's very pervasive, I highly recommend therapy, if you can in EMDR or brain spotting, because it probably ties back to something deeper, something someone said to you in childhood, that's been a tape in your head, something that maybe a loved one said to you, or someone in passing said to you that got stuck in your mind and became a belief about yourself. And when you can bring it to the light process, the sadness and the fear underneath it in grief through that and release the body sensations, chances are, you're going to feel better. So I'd encourage you, the spotlight effect is shining a spotlight on what needs to be healed within you. And when you can shine the light on what needs to be healed within you. Because everybody's got pieces and parts of us that need to be healed within us. We can then feel better, that we're tending to it, nurturing it and offering ourselves some grace and compassion around it.

So what are you shining the spotlight on that needs to be healed? That's the takeaway from this episode. And when you can identify that you can start beginning to get unstuck, transform your life in heal. So we're going to shine the spotlight of healing and grace and love onto you onto those parts that are screaming for your attention to be healed, to be acknowledged, no longer masking it no longer shoving it under the rug no longer pretending like it doesn't exist or minimising or bypassing it. Other people did that to you and you're not going to do it to yourself who matter too much. And I am here to encourage you in this work and go at your own pace. This isn't a marathon or this isn't a sprint, it's more like a marathon and then some to take your time. Thank you for being with me. You matter, you're important. You're loved and you're enough and the shame wants to tell you something different. So make it a point to do something every single day to attend to your emotions, whether it's journaling and the breathing, talking to somebody talking out loud, writing it out to process and get it out listening to a podcast reading a book, you can begin now and I'm right here cheering you on, put me in your ears and have me speak some truth to you that you are worth it. No matter what anybody has said to you. I believe you when you tell me your pain. I believe you when you tell me your hurts. I believe you when you tell me you're scared. So today's the day you're going to be kinder to yourself. You're going to tend to your pain, you're not going to ignore it. We can go and listen to the episodes binge listen to those episodes that speak to you that you need to hear multiple times because we need to hear things 2000 times, especially when we're little for it to sink in. So you can listen to this on repeat, share it with a friend start having deeper, more meaningful conversations, I'm equipping you on how to do that, by equipping you with language and how to have deeper conversations because every buddy has pain. And I am on a mission to not ignore it, to not suppress it, to not numb it, to not minimise it. I am on a mission to acknowledge it and bring it to the light so we can transform it. Thank you for joining me today. I hope this was helpful on your healing journey. I'll see you next week. Thank you so much for listening to the close the chapter podcast. My hope is that you took home some actionable steps, along with motivation, inspiration and hope for making sustainable change in your life. If you enjoyed this episode, click the subscribe button, too. Be sure to get the updated episodes every week and share with a friend or family member. For more information about how to get connected visit kristend.boice,com Thanks and have a great day.