I used to live a half-life. I lived not for myself, but for other people’s approvals. I always used to see myself through the subjective lens of the world around me. And the lens was always a negative, condescending, disapproving one. This blocked me from the real world and hampered my interpersonal growth. It would happen when I tried to speak to someone, when I had to read out loud before people, when I had to answer calls, even when I had to open the door to welcome guests. I just couldn’t stop the feeling that the entire world thrived on judging me – everything about me. Whether it was my hair, face, dress, posture, stride, profession, speech, or my smile – I felt nothing about me was good enough, because I felt that the world around me thought that I was not good enough. It ultimately became so bad that even walking down a street became an intense personal struggle. My fear of being judged, my embarrassment of who I was biting me from inside, eating me alive.
Then, finally, I decided I had had enough. I’d lived all my life like this, and I knew that I wasn’t living up to my capabilities – not to mention my family’s expectations. I was missing out on so much, and I was not contributing anything to society. In a life-changing resolution, I decided that my cringing fear of human contact could be overcome only if I faced it head-on.
But it wouldn’t happen overnight. My phobia had thrived in me all my life – all those dark, self-bashing years. Defeating my biggest enemy, my fear, would take a long time. It would take patience, perseverance, and complete dedication. I approached it one day and one step at a time. They say slow and steady wins the race, and so I took my own time to beat my fears. Slowly, painfully, but steadily, I travelled out of my comfort zone and connected with the real world. It took me well over 16 months to achieve that, but I was still far from my goal.
Then, one day, I tried a new exercise. I went to the middle of my town square with a large placard on which I had written the following in large, bold letters: “Does the fear of what other people think, stop you from doing something?”
Initially I thought it was a silly idea, not to mention an extrovert one. But I was in a phase where I was safely away from my comfort zone and I did not want to revert back to my shy, former, reclusive self. I thought this is the time to break my barriers.
The response I got from this venture was unexpected – I had no reason to be worried. People open-heartedly engaged with me upon reading my sign. Many smiled and nodded, many sadly acknowledged, and many stopped and spoke to me. Some conversed about how they managed to speak openly, but most of the people shared that they too had the same fear. This was an eye-opening experience for me. For the first time in my life, I was engaging with people who were just like me, who were terrified of being judged by others, who had lived like that for years – or were still living like that. And there were so many of them!
It was on that fateful night that I came upon this very important conclusion: no matter what your problem is, you are never alone. There is always somebody out there going through the same distress as you, and always somebody who has managed to overcome the same obstacle. The paranoia about being judged by others is a widespread phobia. Talking to those people that day made me realize that they were as afraid of being judged by me as I was of being judged by them. Understanding this really helped me put things in perspective.
Do you fear being judged? Talk to people. Break your barriers and throw the shell away. Talk and you’ll realize you’re not alone.
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