All therapists have worked with clients who are painfully self-conscious. Now that I think of it, all therapists who aren’t autistic (and I’ve never met an autistic therapist) 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.
Sometimes the simple intervention of, “It looks like you really care what the invisible audience thinks about you!” is enough to turn a self-critical moment completely on its head.