It’s Hard to Remember They’re Not Paying Attention

These are thoughts, maybe a bit scattered, but I think important. About how we perceive others are perceiving us, anxieties around that.

I was thinking about how people sometimes realize “oh yeah everyone’s in their own little self-conscious world, they aren’t paying attention to me, or what I’m wearing, or what I’m doing.”

And that can be really liberating, and it feels like “oh silly me! I got so caught up in me I forgot everyone else is caught up in themselves too!”

Which is true. But I was thinking about why we even think that this is a thing to begin with. We don’t get insecurities out of nowhere. Kids are not born with insecurities and a compulsion to be self-conscious. It’s learned.

And as kids, someone WAS always paying attention to us. Our parents were paying attention and often directing or controlling us, perhaps our first harsh critics, or abusers if we were particularly unlucky. Insecure little kids were comparing us to them and putting us down to raise themselves up. Teachers and school administrators were telling us what to do, how to look, and sometimes who to be.

And as adults, maybe no one’s paying attention to the fine details, but for a lot of marginalized people, we may be ignored most of the time but have moments where we are still under constant surveillance. Policing of appearance and behavior by people who think it’s their job to tell us how to be better, so that they feel safe in their position in society.

How do we overcome this?

I don’t know. So I’m thinking and asking about it.

I think for one thing, being self-conscious won’t stop anyone from making their judgments. So we can at least give ourselves *permission* to stop taking responsibility for other people’s shitty behavior, even if it’s easier said than done, or we have to hide to feel safer or even be safer.

I struggle with this a lot. I think if I am hyperaware I can put some kind of shield around myself, but, it doesn’t change what I’m wearing or what I look like or who is around me and what they are thinking. I want to feel safe in being confident. And maybe sometimes it even actually helps. I’m working on it, because even if it doesn’t keep me safe, it’ll save me the background anxiety.

I think one of the more frustrating but anxiety-freeing things is that while people might still judge us, they aren’t going to remember later. Maybe not in a few minutes, definitely not in a few days. We become just one in a sea of people they’re peering at through their judgmental eyes. Some people never grow up and some of them do have the power to hurt us. But those who just quietly judge, you don’t have to worry about them, cause they probably already forgot you.

I’m not sure how to answer my question “how do we overcome this”, because well, there are tons of essays and books and and whole social movements and probably a billion pages of therapists’ files on people trying to figure it out.

I guess my point, if I’m going to choose one to be making, is that it’s not ridiculous or unreasonably self-centered to take time to realize people aren’t paying that much attention to you. Cause at some point they were. You didn’t just imagine that, that mistreatment was real. And at some point maybe they stopped. Or mostly stopped. And it’s okay to take time to feel safe in that. It’s okay to take time to feel safe in anything.

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One thought on “It’s Hard to Remember They’re Not Paying Attention

  1. No easy answers for how to live without being a self-conscious mess. My mother was narcissistic, judgemental, and critical. First, I had to separate from her. Then I had to stop listening to her voice in my head. Then I had to really pay attention to making sure that I liked how I looked. I may have needed to change my name and have top surgery too. And I still have bad days, but the proportion of good days is way higher. Good Luck!

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