All therapists have worked with clients who are painfully self-conscious. Now that I think of it, all therapists have been painfully self-conscious. Self-conscious is usually some version of feeling embarrassed in front of an invisible audience--an audience just waiting to find us ridiculous or unattractive. We dress for the invisible audience. We feel judged by the invisible audience. We feel humiliated in front of the invisible audience...you get the picture.
A milestone in therapy is when a client finally realizes, "Hey! Wait a minute! Nobody really cares that much how I dress, what I say, or what I think! The real audience--the real critic I've been trying to placate and avoid all my life--is me!"
This insight--"The invisible audience is a fantasy, the audience that affects me the most is me!"--can open the door to reorganizing your whole life:
- Instead of dressing for the invisible audience, you can put on clothes you like seeing yourself in.
- Instead of trying to interact so the invisible audience doesn't think you're stupid or unpleasant, you can relate in ways you enjoy seeing yourself relate.
- Instead of walking through the world trying not to offend the invisible audience, you can walk through the world in ways you enjoy seeing yourself walk through the world.
Bronnie Ware who researched the most common regrets people had right before they died found that one of the top five was, "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." Living our life to others' expectations is bad enough, but mostly we worry about what we imagine others expect--the invisible audience.
Sometimes simply considering, "It looks like I'm really worried what the invisible audience thinks about me right now!" is enough to turn a self-critical moment completely on its head.