As someone who suffers from anxiety I have heard my share of, “People don’t think about you as often as you think they do,” in response to my hang-ups in social situations, or my concerns over my appearance, or my embarrassment over my own awkwardness.
And I know that – quantifiably – that is 100% true. For every 1 time I am worried about what someone will say/do/think about me in a situation, there is not an equal 1 person thinking about me. So…on a mathematical comparison, Yes…people don’t think about me as much as I worry they are.
But every time I hear one person snark on another person, make fun of another person, judge another person, that is what adds fuel to all of my anxieties and that happens ALL THE DAMN TIME. Hell, there are entire websites and meme dedicated to making fun of people’s outfits and clothes and hairstyles. So, I get the point of telling me that, but until the world stops being such an asshole? It doesn’t matter that it’s LESS than what I worry it is, my anxieties will never fade entirely BECAUSE I HEAR AND SEE PEOPLE BE JUDGMENTAL ALL THE TIME. Here’s just a few real-world examples from my recent life:
- I was at a meeting once where people started making fun of someone who didn’t shower enough…THIS PLAYS IN MY HEAD EVERY TIME I WORRY I SMELL BAD.
- I was at another meeting (same group, for the record) where people were snarking on a woman who didn’t shave…THIS PLAYS IN MY HEAD EVERY TIME I MAKE A BEAUTY DECISION THAT MIGHT NOT CONFORM WITH WHAT OTHER PEOPLE MY AGE OR GENDER DO.
- I was at a triathlon once I overheard people making fun what someone bigger was wearing…THIS PLAYS IN MY HEAD ALL THE TIME NO MATTER WHAT ATHLETIC GEAR I’M WEARING.
- I was around a group of woman making fun of someone’s makeup application…THIS PLAYS IN MY HEAD WHENEVER I TRY TO WEAR MAKEUP.
This is just a very small and quick list of times where I’ve seen/heard judgement from people that feeds the fuel of my anxieties. This doesn’t even count the internet where judgement is thrown out like seed over a bare lawn…in large quantities over wide watches of ground.
And it’s not always cosmetic. I have seen people snark on people who are ignorant in regards to their politics and I’ve heard people snark on others who are naive in regards to their faith. I have been in a room where someone was casually joking about how awkward another person was and OH MY GOD HAVE YOU SEEN ME OVER HERE BEING AWKWARD? THAT IS MY BRAND.
I think instead of everyone playing the, “People don’t think about you as much as you think they do,” card – maybe everyone needs to stop and realize how judgmental the world really is. Maybe we need to all give ourselves the same lectures our teachers gave us in middle school about gossip and not saying anything if we can’t say anything nice. Maybe the casual, non-anxious person doesn’t hear the damaging ripples that travel around them when others joke about a person dressing the way they dress, or acting the way they act. I think people don’t always realize they are dishing out hurtful judgement in their casual throw-away “jokes.”
I have heard “funny” judgement and gossip and mockery come from even the nicest of people. I’ve seen normally empathetic souls share out People of Wal-mart type mocking memes on the internet. I think there’s something that changes in our brains when we’re trying to entertain whomever we’re talking to and the, “It’s a joke! I’m being funny!” argument allows us to casual snark on people without really thinking about how mean we are or the ripple effects of what we’re doing/saying.
I am not perfect. I went through terrible “Aren’t I funny and cute?!?!” judgmental 20s where I dealt with my own issues by making fun of other people. But now, after a decade of different forms of treatment for my own mental health, I’ve become hyper aware of it how UNFUNNY all of that really is. And also very aware of how ubiquitous it is. I know I still slip and then I hear my own voice of cruelty echoed in my head later, but it is rare.
It’s like when my therapist pointed out how often I casually make fun of myself and how those words are not nice, even if I think I’m being funny. Once she pointed it out I was defensive like, “I DO NOT DO THAT TOO MUCH!” But once I started thinking about it I realized…I DO IT ALL THE TIME. So I think maybe most of the offenders don’t even realize what they’re doing, it’s just their go-to response when they’re trying to be entertaining, or when they see something that makes them uncomfortable (like hairy armpits…OMG!), or when they simply want to make themselves feel better. It’s like Brené Brown says, we don’t judge people about things we’re secure about, we only pass judgement about things we’re insecure about.
I am lucky to have a lot of people in my life who never make jokes or negative comments at the expense of others. Some days I worry too many of my closest friends are pure of heart because it makes it that much harder when I go beyond my circle and see/hear it so often in the real world.
I have been working on myself for years, breaking those habits but I’m wondering if I should be calling it out more when I see it happen? I truly believe a lot of our cultural anxiety is based in fearing judgement. Especially with how prevalent it is on the internet. Have you ever casually confronted someone – not a jerk/asshat – but someone normal nice/kind who is in that moment being judgmental or gossipy or cruel? This deals with a whole other layer of my anxiety in that I abhor confrontation, but I really want to start being part of the change I see in the world. Is there a way to do that…kindly?
All I know is that sometimes I get really sad thinking about it and I wonder what the world would look like if we would all just take the time to think about our words – online and off – and leave the cruel unnecessary judgement and snark to never be spoken. What would that world look like? Would we all start loving ourselves more because the judgmental words of others would no longer be ringing in our heads? How beautiful would it be instead of the world was filled with such kindness towards people who are different that we never feared stepping outside of any pattern of pre-defined “normal.” What a beautiful world that could be.