By David Joel Miller.
Why are people watching you and laughing at you?
If I started off by suggesting that people were following you around and were out to get you most of my readers would think that this was paranoia and say “no not me.” But a great many of you are convinced that others are laughing at you a lot. I have to admit I have shared that thought also a few times.
Most people worry in social; situations. We want others to like us. Being liked and included has had evolutionary survival value. When the tribe likes you they share their food, shelter, and fire with you. If they don’t like you the result may be being banished to the jungle or forest. In some more rural cultures, the mentally ill are still sent out into the jungle to live. The attitude is better they get eaten than the healthy ones in the village.
The more sensitive and insecure you are the more likely you are to be constantly vigilant to see if you are being accepted. People with high anxiety are constantly monitoring the environment to see if others like them. There is a big problem with all this insecure monitoring.
That problem is called confirmatory bias.
If you think that people laugh at you a lot, as you are walking through the mall you hear a sudden burst of laughter. You look around and see a group of people all laughing and they are looking at you. That confirms it. A group of total strangers is laughing at you. Once you catch them at this, they all turn and walk rapidly away. At least that is what you think.
That is not what happened at all.
An independent observer who was sitting on the bench watching this unfold would have a different story. A group of people was standing around talking. Someone told a joke and they all laughed. At that point, someone walking through the mall stopped, turned and stood there staring at the group of people. They became nervous and looked back. When this stranger continued to stare they decided to get out of there before that crazy person did something and they walked as quickly as they could towards an exit.
See how this confirmatory bias works?
If you think that others are looking at you when you look around there will be some people looking at you. That confirms what you thought. All other evidence gets ignored as you are not currently looking for people who are ignoring you.
One hard thing for people who are anxious or depressed to do is to realize that most of the rest of the world is not motivated by you. Frankly, they are, most of the time, not laughing at you. They are in fact not even looking at you.
This bias comes from the belief that you somehow are responsible for what the rest of the world is feeling, that if they are sad or angry or hurt that it is somehow you doing and therefore your fault.
One thing I have learned from my time here on earth is that most people are way too interested in themselves to pay any real attention to what I am doing. A lot of times that I felt embarrassed or worried because a made a mistake there in public, it turns out no one noticed because they were all too preoccupied with themselves.
So next time you become nervous and think that others are looking at you because of something you did or said, consider that they may be looking at you because they are afraid you just noticed what they did.
One other thing I have learned? To not take my self so seriously. Sometimes I realize I did something that even I should laugh about.
Hope you are learning to accept yourself however you are and moving towards the happiest life possible.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
- Waiting for the Ah-Ha moment (counselorssoapbox.com)
- How heavy is your baggage – Unpacking your baggage (counselorssoapbox.com)