Overcoming Embarrassment – Ending Anxiety & Fear
Do you ever get anxious that you might somehow embarrass yourself in front of others? It’s a pretty common thing to worry about how others might judge or perceive you if you are battling with anxiety or self-consciousness issues.
In fact, it can go a little further than that and you may find that you take on anxiety for fear of other people being embarrassed or because of something they are doing. I’ve even known clients with anxiety and fears to become panicky when watching things on TV or in meetings happening to others yet responding as if it is happening to them.
The other day I was messing about making up silly new lyrics to familiar songs with my kids and the words I was saying came out pronounced all wrong. Now in an environment with people where you can relax and be yourself, such things can just be laughed off and forgotten as soon as you move on to something else.
Yet sometimes things happen (or could happen) around others, and that’s where the fear and worry comes in. I can still remember a time many, many years ago when I fell over on the bus to where I lived as it swerved around a corner. It doesn’t bother me to think back on it now yet at the time I was acutely aware of people laughing, of someone I knew from school seeing it happen and the anxiety and embarrassment that coursed through my mind and body. It ruined the rest of that day and I brooded on it for days after (and avoided as best as I could being seen by that person who knew me). It made me anxious about bus journeys and hyper on edge on them for many months after in case I should endure a repeat performance.
Fast forward to earlier this year and we were out in Bury St Edmunds shopping because the girls had got vouchers as part of their Christmas present from a relative. We were in a crowded little shop that sells pencils, rubbers, pencil cases and lunchboxes (and a million other things aimed at little people) in bright colours. To me it looks like overpriced tat but to kids it seems to be irresistible. Anyway, I was trying to squeeze past everyone to escape from the shop when somehow my rucksack caught the table display and brought the whole lot crashing down in a mass of boxes and brightly coloured stationary type things. It went everywhere and it was loud. It was the shopping equivalent of when you are in a pub, restaurant or coffee shop and someone drops and smashes a glass and in that moment, the entire place stops mid-sentence and turns to look. I paused, sincerely apologised to the assistant (who, judging by his reaction, was clearly already having a very bad day) and we bought our stuff and left to get on with the rest of the day.
The first occasion on the bus, when I was anxious and self-conscious, was like torture; yet the experience in the shop was just a fleeting unfortunate mess-creating moment that was soon forgotten.
Overcoming Fear of Embarrassment Around Others
The fear of embarrassment around others can cause you to avoid doing the things you want to do. That could be saying something in a public meeting, picking up the phone or even replying to an e-mail. All those thoughts of things going wrong, being judged or making an idiot of yourself somehow can lead to enough anxiety that you avoid them as much as possible.
And, of course, it can apply in many contexts from a general worry of what others think about you, to worries about being anxious or having a panic attack in front of others or, with something like IBS, a fear or embarrassment if you need to run off to the toilet.
Recent research has suggested that if you tend to view these events in the first person (or as the actor as they call it in the research) then you are more likely to experience anxiety and self-consciousness than if you view things as an observer. By learning to do ‘shift perspective’, the research suggests, you can overcome anticipating and avoiding situations where you fear embarrassment (‘Countering embarrassment-avoidance by taking an observer’s perspective‘). The research involved three studies, two of which involved someone accidentally farting in an inappropriate place and in front of others. Those who put themselves in the shoes of the person affected (the actor) reported higher levels of discomfort and distress (even though the scenario was about someone else).
And so if you can learn to view a potential situation as an observer, you will very likely find that your levels of anxiety and fear reduce, meaning you should find yourself feeling more capable of doing those things.
It’s one of the things I discuss with people when they tell me they are imagining all sorts of worst case scenarios in their minds and then driving up their anxiety levels. They may then either endure the anxiety and push on in discomfort or just avoid the situation, circumstance or even altogether.
If a scenario is causing huge levels of anxiety then you are probably imagining being in that situation and being embarrassed or anxious. And the more vivid you make that imagined scenario, the more of the emotion you feel. So if it is ‘life like’ in our imagination, it’s almost as if you are there and it may be bright or colourful and have movement in your mind.
In the midst of all the anxiety, it can be hard to remember that this thing is just imagined, it isn’t happening right now and, in fact, may never happen (how many of us have worried about something that never actually happened?). So it’s worth reminding yourself that, at the moment, this is just your imagination, just something you are making up in your mind.
Then you can start practicing adopting an observer’s perspective, as the research suggests. Instead of being ‘in’ the scenario, imagine watching yourself in it, almost as if it was happening to someone else who looks like you. Making the images smaller and darker and black and white in your mind can also help reduce the anxiety. Then, with the anxiety reduced, you can start to imagine a new scenario, one where things go well, or just ok or where you cope with whatever happens. You can start to be the observer rather than the actor.
When I think back now on falling over on the bus, I observe that younger me who was doing the best he could while trying to make sense of his anxiety. And when I think back on knocking over the display stand in that shop, I observe watching myself in my mind and think that now, it’s actually quite funny (although I may use my previous clumsiness as an excuse to avoid going into such shops again in the future!).
To your happiness and success,
Overcoming Embarrassment Hypnotherapy Ely, Newmarket, Zoom
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