I went to see the live action remake of Aladdin this afternoon and, in the middle of the film, I got distracted and thought about something I did the other day that I wasn’t particularly proud of. For a moment I was worried about what the people who saw the post on Instagram and Facebook would think of me, but I was reminded of a valuable lesson I learned earlier this year about social anxiety.
When I was younger, I thought I was pretty much an open book, but as the years passed I found it more and more difficult to open up to people whom I don’t consider close friends. Which meant it also became harder and harder to create and share work that meant something to me personally, because that meant I had to expose a piece of my heart to the world. Uh-uh.
This year, however, after spending weeks reading books and listening to podcasts on self-esteem, self-sabotage, self-confidence, anxiety, perfectionism, impostor syndrome, shame, vulnerability, and courage, I learned that much of the fears I have of what people might think and say about me are based on parts of myself I believe I had and loathed.
Simply put, I was scared of being exposed—not because any of the negative things I imagined people would say about me were actually true, but because I already believed them to be true even when I was the only person who’s ever told myself such things.
When we’ve already convinced ourselves that we are weak, dumb, spineless, ugly, mean, or shallow, no kind, loving words from others can change our minds.
So the next time you catch yourself feeling anxious that others might think badly of you, stop. Take a few deep breaths to clear your mind before you think again: are those anxiety-inducing thoughts things people have actually told you to your face, or are they stories about you that you constantly tell yourself?