How to Alleviate Self-Consciousness and Other People-Allergies

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“Hell is other people.”

~Sartre

Whether it’s the rude throng of last-minute Christmas shoppers, or the drunken fratboys slithering up to you at a concert, or the old man in the restaurant booth behind you who clears his decrepit throat every forty seconds, everyone finds themselves feeling a general aversion to people now and then.  For those with any level of social anxiety, there is always at least a hum of this derision in the background, sometimes a full-on shout.  Even for those without it, repeated ugly experiences can inspire a familiar distaste for people that may never completely disappear.  Unless, of course, the people do.

Sometimes the feeling is disdain for their behavior, other times it’s a fear of it.  Think of the last time you got upset.  Chances are, the actions of another person had something to do with it.  Other people seem to trigger the most unpleasant emotions in us.  Self-consciousness, intimidation, embarrassment, anger, vulnerability and humiliation tend to characterize our most painful experiences and our most unsettling memories.

When people are present, suddenly there arises a certain tension in the body and mind, however subtle.  Our senses are very keen to the spectrum of threats other human beings can present to us. This physical and emotional reaction to people could almost be described as an allergy; an involuntary reaction to the introduction of a certain element to the environment.  This offending element is humanity.

When people aren’t around, that same tension, whatever magnitude it is for you — the hum or the shout — disappears.

The Freedom of Vacant Spaces

I remember one particular night, as a teenager, when a few of us slipped away from the festivities of some rural bonfire to go and wander through a field of wheat.  There was a faint breeze and the sky was warm and clear.

When we emerged at the highway, I remember being stunned at how still it was.  It was probably two in the morning, and even as I stood perfectly still, there wasn’t so much as a whisper of a distant car to be heard.  It was like all the other people on earth had gone.  I remember walking out onto the pavement and enjoying the bizarre sensation of standing on a surface which, by day, would have been a bustling death-zone.

I wanted to explore that feeling more, so I sat, then reclined onto my back on the warm, new blacktop.  It was so still and silent.  Dangerless.  Comfortable.  I looked at the stars and listened to the crickets.  It was an amazing feeling.

As I went to lay down, one part of my brain kept saying “David!  This is a highway!  You’re nuts! This is wrong, so very wrong.”  But another part of my brain — evidently, a smarter part — knew that there was no danger at all.  I knew I would hear any vehicle and see its headlights three miles away.  I was only used to treating highways as being invariably threatening.

I realize now that many of us tend to view humans with that same automatic wariness and reactivity as I did the highway.  I feel much less of it now than I did when I was very shy, but it is certainly still perceptible.  I guess deep down, however accepting we are of human beings generally, we know that they are not entirely harmless.  Though we might not always be actively thinking it, some ancient part of our brain always knows that the everyday, garden-variety homo sapien is without question the most dangerous animal on earth.

Not that it’s violence or physical harm that we fear most.  Humans are extremely social animals, and injuries to our reputation or self-confidence are interpreted by our brains as being even more worrisome than bumps or bruises.  You have to admit, we hate to feel embarrassed or awkward or get looked at funny.  Our brains so greatly over-appraise social dangers and aversions, that we are famously more afraid of public speaking than death. We’re all self-conscious to some extent.  If you think you are an exception, how would you feel performing author Tim Ferriss’ exercise for eradicating self-consciousness in public:

…simply lie down in the middle of a crowded public place.  Lunchtime is ideal.  It can be a well-trafficked sidewalk, the middle of a popular Starbucks, or a popular bar.  There is no real technique involved.  Just lie down and remain silent on the ground for about ten seconds, and then get up and continue on with whatever you were doing before.

Some would say he’s nuts, but I think he’s a genius.

There is no question that the presence of human beings changes how we feel about a given setting.  Nearby people seem to add a dose of apprehension, whether a dash or a dollop, to any situation.  So when others are around we are unable to relax beyond a certain degree, which depends on our level of self-assuredness, as well as the familiarity and behavior of the people present.

Think of the difference in how you feel, or how you carry yourself, when you are walking around your workplace in the middle of the workday, compared to when you go back to grab something around it after hours.  Certainly there is a different tone to the experience. Your gait and your breathing are probably freer, and your thoughts probably aren’t focused on your appearance.  There is a way to cultivate that unthreatening tone of having nobody around, even while people are around.  But first we have to know what it feels like.

The Cure to People Allergies

Whenever I notice symptoms of a ‘people allergy’, whether it’s feeling self-conscious, a fear of embarrassment, a fear of confrontation or awkwardness, frustration or impatience with people’s actions, or any other people-related discomfort, I remember to do the following exercise.

Picture the same surroundings you’re in right now, but with one minor difference:

No people.

They’re all gone.  Maybe it’s late and this area is closed.  Or maybe you just woke up in a Twilight Zone episode and everyone else on earth is inexplicably gone.  Or maybe a neutron bomb wiped them all out, leaving the surroundings intact.  It’s just vacant space; only the buildings, plants, furnishings and fixtures remain.  Really imagine it, in detail.  If it were empty of people, what would it feel like to walk around that same space?  Would you still be self-conscious?  Could you be?

Can you picture the same office, the same street, the same parking lot, or the same mall, as it would look if you were the only one there?

If there are any other people around, try it right now.  Otherwise, try it when you leave your home or office.  Any street, building or public place will do.  Anywhere you might sense a modicum of self-consciousness, or the loathesome ‘ick’ of overcrowdedness, is perfect.  Visualize what the place would look like if it were completely evacuated of people.  Get a real physical and emotional sense of what it would be like to walk around an emptied version of it.  Imagine striding across the open floor, or the deserted asphalt, blissfully aware that no soul can judge you or perturb you in any way.  Treat it as your own world.  Be carefree.  Get comfortable.

Know what it means to walk and act as if you’re in an empty space.  Walk through downtown as if it’s your own personal courtyard.  Sit down in a room as if you own it.  Feel that sense of free, empty space that the environment always has to offer, even while you walk around a lively party, or the aisles of Home Depot, or your company’s office space.

Next time you’re on the street, imagine that same street as it would look if it had been completely abandoned by humanity.  Just bare concrete, without a car or a soul to be seen anywhere.  The site itself is just a harmless arrangement of hard surfaces.  If you can really imagine what it would be like if everyone but you was gone, if you can really picture how freeing and open everything would feel, then you have a starting point for eliminating self-consciousness and other people allergies.

I recommend making a habit of doing this regularly, not just when you are experiencing anxiety or discomfort.  Here are some good places to try it:

  • While grocery shopping
  • In a boring meeting
  • Out on the street
  • At a seminar, fundraiser, or any other uninspiring function
  • In any entertainment venue

When you are able to picture an environment as empty, instantly that same environment feels inert and harmless, because it is rarely the environment that causes the anxiety.  It is the presence of people in our environments that triggers self-consciousness.  All issues of self-esteem and self-image are a function of how we feel towards others, not how they feel towards us. Truthfully, we just can’t ever know what they think, we only have access to our own thoughts.  We can only think we know what they think.  Dr Wayne Dyer famously said “What other people think of me is none of my business.”  You can’t really feel other people’s eyes on you; that’s a myth.  It’s only your judgments you feel, not theirs.

If there was simply no one else around, we would have a hard time feeling embarrassed, or jealous, or inadequate.  Nor could we feel threatened — so long as there are no immediate physical dangers present, such as sharks or lightning. So in order to lose our people-allergies, we have to know what it is like to be able to walk around without them.  Picturing the same scene as empty of people introduces us to the feeling of being non-self-conscious in a scene where we might normally be a bit uncomfortable.

Returning the People to the Scene

Of course, there are people.  We can’t pretend forever.  We have to interact with them, move around them, and accommodate their existence in our habitat.

Once you are able to picture the scene without people, then you can mentally allow the homo sapiens back into the picture, plunking them back into the empty space, one by one if necessary.  Recognize that the busy venues we frequent on a daily basis are really just animal habitats. The giant pandas have their bamboo forests, the angel fish have their coral reefs, we humans have our buildings and city streets.

Let them populate the scene and do what they are inclined to do, just as if you were releasing a basketful of cats into an empty living room.  Upon their release, they would do nothing but perform their ordinary feline acts and deeds, and you could just watch them as they respond to their environment.  They would probably look around, poke at objects with their noses, sniff the other cats, simply react whatever sights and sounds the room contains.  Some might try to intimidate other cats, a few may try to mate with other cats, one may try to hoard all the food for himself.  Surely this is all forgivable.  If one continues to observe, they may witness relationships forming, pecking orders arising, routines becoming established, and personalities revealing themselves.

Do this with human beings.  Any environment is ripe for this experiment: an office, a street corner, a restaurant.  Watch people interact with their ‘living room.’  All they will do is what people normally do.  They can’t do anything but what is in their nature.  Maybe we don’t have to be so uptight about it.  Consciously give them permission to do their thing. Then just watch them like you’re watching a National Geographic documentary.  Observe these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.

Revelations

When you focus on observing the environment first, then the inhabitants of the environment, the scene becomes a curiosity rather than a source of personal problems. That delicious sense of wonder and mystery – so scarce in adulthood – returns as if it had never left at all.

The other truth that may smack you in the face is that life itself is miraculous. Simply watching a living thing interact with its habitat is the most captivating sight imaginable, if you are not distracted by your own judgments.  If you have ever been floored by Planet Earth, or something similar, give it a try in a manmade environment. The creatures you will witness are beautiful and baffling, ridiculous and adorable. A mall, a store, a school, a sidewalk. Watch the fascinating creatures do their thing.

As a direct result of this newfound fascination with behavior, a certain respect for life arises, and moral judgments do not seem important. After all, we do not condemn a dog who swipes a bone from another dog with nearly the same venom we would for a person behaving with a similar level impulsiveness.  I suppose we are extra hard on people because we are so hard on ourselves.  We sometimes expect too much, I think.  Humans are incredible creatures, but we often forget that we are indeed creatures, subject to the same wants, fears, and impulses as any so-called ‘lesser animal.’  Let the cats be cats.

The Best Part

Often I forget that I’m there at all, that there are any personal interests of mine to be threatened in that situation.  I am just observing the scene as it happens, rather than the scene as it relates to me and my interests and my welfare.  Self-consciousness disappears.  Worry disappears.  I lose track of my normal preoccupation with controlling the outcome, for I’ve become (at least for the moment) purely an observer.  I am not personally invested in the situation, so my ego takes a back seat.

Watching a moment unfold as it will is exhilarating.  The familiar feelings of judgment and social anxiety defeat our ability to observe objectively.  Even while I have to move or act in the situation, I can remain in that open, observant mindset.  While I’m observing like that, my hands, body and vocal chords seem to do as they are inclined without deliberation or reservation.  After all, I’m a cat too.
Sometimes, under extenuating circumstances (picture the sidewalks in Montréal’s shopping district on December 26th) I am still sufficiently overwhelmed to leave the scene in a huff.  But even in those rare instances, I still don’t lose sight of the love and compassion that lies just behind my momentary emotional tantrum.  Simply understanding that it’s only people doing their people thing really takes the edge off any anxiety that does occur.

The effect on my life has been tremendous.  Instances in which I get flustered by others’ behavior are uncommon now, where they used to be virtually guaranteed.  More importantly, this way of looking at people has replaced my impulse to condemn with the impulse to forgive.

After picturing their absence, it really is gratifying (and even relieving) to allow these stunning creatures back into their environment.  You may feel a hint of sadness at the thought that one day, your beloved city may one day really be empty of life.  Perhaps a neutron bomb, or an insidious disease will eventually create the empty manmade spaces you have visualized in this exercise.  Don’t take for granted that we live in a place where human beings are alive and breathing and interacting with their habitat.  Such an engaging spectacle may not always exist, and we are so lucky to be able to witness it for free, anytime.  If you get familiar with this exercise, you will feel more and more of that kind of gratitude, until a visit to an overcrowded mall is becomes a beautiful and touching experience.  I’m not kidding.

So when you close your web browser and get up and head out the door, don’t forget that you are just magnificent creature in its natural habitat, and so are the rest of us.  I’ll see you out there somewhere.

Photos by RiotJane and Libertinus

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{ 39 Comments }

Marc Lesser April 10, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I appreciate and enjoy your post. Reminds me of a famous quote from Zen — a 13th century teacher, Dogen, founder of Zen in Japan — To study Buddhism is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be connected with everyone and everything. The tools and experiments you suggest are perhaps ways to study your self, to become familiar with your voices, your edges, your emotional openings as well as baggage… In the Dogen quote, he happens to be talking from the perspective of a Buddhist — I think the word relationships, or business, or life can be easily substituted for the word Buddhism — To study life is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self…

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Jay Schryer April 10, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Wow, David! I mean, wow! This is incredible stuff! I’ve been doing a lot of people watching recently, and I’ve come close to this realization a few times – it’s people just doing people stuff – but I never took it to the next level, replacing condemnation with compassion, which you describe at the end of this post. Thank you for illuminating my next step!!!

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Tom Maurer April 10, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Great post David. I have gone through a similar transition to you. The big aha moment for me was understanding that people weren’t always watching me, waiting for me to stuff up just so they could snigger. Everyone is self conscious to some degree and other people actually care about what I think of them as well. That gave me the freedom to be myself because I no longer thought of life as “the world vs me.”

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David April 10, 2009 at 7:21 pm

@ Tom — Hi Tom, Welcome to Raptitude. Yes, that was a big revelation me too: that people are not scrutinizing me like I scrutinize myself. Thanks for your comment, I hope to hear more from you.

@ Jay — Thanks Jay, I’m glad it’s meaningful to you. For a long time I’ve engaged in ‘amateur anthropology,’ which is really just watching people and observing how they live and behave. Never a dull moment. It really is fun to observe people, but judgments definitely ruin the fun.

@ Marc — Hi Marc. I really like that “To study the self is to forget the self.” I agree completely. When you really look at your ‘self’ you realize that there isn’t really a self at all. Or at least, the self is never what you think it is. When I forget myself I am truly in tune with everything around me, and I realize there is no distinction between me and what I observe.

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Lisis | Quest For Balance April 11, 2009 at 8:31 am

I’ve heard it said that, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what people are thinking about you, if you realized how seldom they do.” We get a little too caught up in our own heads sometimes, don’t we?

I love Marc’s quote above, especially the last part: “to forget the self is to be connected with everyone and everything.”

Hey, I think I’ve done Tim Ferriss’ exercise a few times at airports… does that count? ;-)

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Nadia - Happy Lotus April 11, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Hi David,

A long time ago when I was miserable and far from happy, I was self-conscious and judgmental when out in public. However, after lots of inner work; and conquering the misery and the unhappiness; I no longer no longer feel self-conscious. If you are at peace with who you are, then you are at peace with the world.

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Roger | A Content Life April 11, 2009 at 3:27 pm

David,

What a great exercise! I’m going to try it.

The other idea I have is to try and feel a connection to the people around me. I realize we have much in common starting out with being human beings that want to be happy.

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David April 11, 2009 at 4:36 pm

@ Roger — I’ve been doing that too Roger, I will probably write a post on it soon. I try to feel a sense of “we” when I’m out among crowds. I know that we’re all playing the same game, and we all ultimately want the same things. You’re right, we all have that fundamental want in common.

@Nadia — Not long ago, I realized there is a direct, inalienable correlation between how harshly I judge other people and how much I feel others are judging me. I realize that it was only my judgments all along that I was feeling.

Your line, “If you are at peace with who you are, then you are at peace with the world” is quite profound. I’m starting to see that there is only an imaginary distinction between me and “the rest of the world.” In a very real way, there is no difference between the two, only my thoughts about “myself” make me feel like I’m a separate entity.

@ Lisis — Yeah, it is utterly irrelevant what others think; but it does matter what we think. All that time I thought others were making me feel small; it was only me doing it.

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Nadia - Happy Lotus April 11, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Hi David,

The distinction between you and the rest of the world, IS imaginary. Here is a thought that helped me to realize that we are all connected. Let’s say for breakfast you decide to have a bowl of oatmeal.

There are many steps that took place in order for that oatmeal to be in your bowl. If you were to rewind all those steps to the very beginning which was when the oats were harvested, you will come to realize that so many people were involved. So how can you be separate from another?

There are many other things that a person needs to do to feel that inner peace but it can be done. There mere fact you are aware of it, is awesome! :)

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vomle April 11, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Hi, nice article! its so weirdly awesome; whenever I read your articles they usually touch on something I’ve been mulling over!

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matt April 11, 2009 at 10:34 pm

hey david
your articles are continuing inspiration for me as they all seem to make too much sense and are improving my life on a weekly basis. For this i thank you, i dont know where i found the link to this site but it has to be the best thing that’s happened to me in months. “People watching” is a pastime of mine as well and this article will help me to engage with my environment more and help me get a step ahead of my social anxiety so i can kick it in the face for lack of a more eloquent expression.
keep it up as you are making a big difference in my life and all those i share your ?blog/true inspiration? with.
:)

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David April 11, 2009 at 11:43 pm

@ Vomle — Hi Vomle, nice to hear from you!

@ Matt — Thanks Matt, that really means a lot to me, to hear that I am actually improving people’s experience in life, and not just entertaining for the moment. People fascinate me too; it used to feel like they were mostly just sources of problems for me. And I definitely intend to keep it up. Stay tuned!

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Vinny @ Yinnergy April 12, 2009 at 6:08 am

Hi David,

Like yourself, I find it fascinating to observe my surroundings and how people interact with each other. I would purposefully pay attention to everyone around just to see if they notice me and for the most part they don’t. Everyone is so preoccupied with themselves that it seems like everyone is busy within their own bubble much like myself.
The moment is awkward only if “you” deem it to be, or else you are just like a drop of water in the vast sea of interactive processes.

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Tim April 12, 2009 at 10:06 am

I enjoyed your thought-provoking post. As someone who has worked in client services, I recognize that working with clients can be both the best and worst part of my job. People can be absolutely wonderful or in need of psychological help. There are all kinds out there.

I was reminded of this just yesterday as I stopped in the candy section at my local target. A thirtysomething gentleman was there with his girlfriend/wife. As I walked near them, the guy ripped an absolutely astonishingly loud fart. It was as if he had entered a gas-passing contest. I immediately walked away pretty disgusted – not so much that it happened – I mean, hey, we all pass gas. But this guy did something that I would expect a high schooler or frat guy to do in front of his buddies. I lost a little faith in humanity for a while afterward. Don’t ask me why.

For a good example of what life would be like without other humans, read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” Great book, which will soon be released as a movie.

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Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching April 12, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Thanks for this post. I definitely resonated with what you said about noticing how your body feels when people are around. What I find, both for myself and in working with clients, is that really taking a look at what’s going on in your body in that moment — whether it’s your shoulders tightening up or your pulse speeding up or something else — can actually start to give you a sense of freedom. Somehow this has us realize that we’re only feeling a lot in our bodies when others are around, and we’re not actually in physical danger.

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Angus April 12, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Hey David, another great post. All of it rang a bell with me, but especially the parts relating to deliberately courting embarrassment. I did something similar when I deliberately volunteered to be hypnotized on stage, even though I was pretty sure it wouldn’t work. You inspired me to post about the experience here:

http://www.otherbs.com/2009/04/12/why-you-should-be-embarrassed-for-yourself-stockings-law/

cheers,
Angus

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Laurie | Express Yourself to Success April 12, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I would have liked to have read your post yesterday before I went out shopping and trying to navigate around the masses of people – and getting extremely frustrated in the process.

Your idea is very interesting and insightful. People are just doing their thing and will do it with or without me. It’s the meaning I give it (frustration, like yesterday) that makes me, as you so creatively put it, allergic.

Really great article; I like coming here. :)

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Positively Present April 12, 2009 at 3:11 pm

This is a great post. I have a lot of trouble dealing with other people because I get frustrated when they aren’t doing things the way I would. In general, I like to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible, so I often have a very hard time dealing with people who drive slowly or meander down grocery store aisles slowly. The ideas in this post will DEFINITELY help me deal with my “issues.” Thanks! :)

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Ian | Quantum Learning April 12, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Love the exercise. I was going to try it today but Warsaw is completely empty of people, like a ghost town. It’s Easter Sunday!

I don’t think I have any special people allergy though I do sometimes lock myself away in my apartment and don’t go out for a couple of days. I’m curious to see if anything changes after reading this post.

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David April 12, 2009 at 8:36 pm

@ Ian — I love that ghost town feeling.

@ Positively Present — It really is an exercise in “live and let live.” Bodily tension is a really good indicator for when we’re trying to control things. I find, when someone else’s behavior is getting on my nerves, my jaw, midsection and legs kind of tighten up. I’m learning to detect that tension as soon as it occurs, and often just releasing that muscle tension also releases any contempt I have for others. It’s a sort of ‘forgiveness reflex.’

@ Laurie — Hi Laurie, good to hear from you. I had been getting better and better at dealing with crowds, until I tried to go shopping on the day after Christmas in Montreal. The crowds were so think, I became dizzy and defeated and had to leave. I returned later, with the spirit of ‘letting them do their thing’ and I was fine.

@ Angus — Hey Angus! That’s a great post, I urge my readers to check it out. Like I said on your blog, I made embarrassment into such a no-go-zone that it became a gigantic predator, waiting for me in every public place. Terrible strategy!

@ Chris — Absolutely, the body tells all. The body is much more finely tuned than the rational mind, if only because it has been evolving for much longer.

@ Tim — Haha, great story, made me laugh. Believe it or not, reading The Road is what triggered this line of thinking in me. I was just fascinated by the idea that our time on earth is only a brief window, and I should not be making enemies with the highly populated and vibrant world I live in. I can’t wait for the movie, it should be plenty creepy.

@ Vinny — The moment is awkward only if “you” deem it to be, or else you are just like a drop of water in the vast sea of interactive processes.

Well put.

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Alison | Quest for Balance April 12, 2009 at 10:04 pm

The quote Lisis mentioned (above) is important to consider. Realizing that people probably aren’t judging me or even thinking about me makes me feel a little bit freer to go about my business, whatever it may be.

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Paul Sunstone April 13, 2009 at 7:12 am

Excellent blog, David! I’m glad I stumbled across it.

I agree that regarding people with compassion is essential to happiness. When we condemn others, we wind up condemning ourselves — and vice versa.

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David Cain April 13, 2009 at 7:59 am

@ Paul — Hi, welcome to Raptitude. It seems to me that there is a direct link between how I treat others and how I treat myself.

@ Alison — Hey Alison, good to hear from you. In fact, that quote bears repeating.

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what people are thinking about you, if you realized how seldom they do.”

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Jan April 15, 2009 at 9:06 am

Great post! You really made my day. Just right before I read it, I was fighting this feeling. I work in an office room with another guy. He’s chewing his fingernails and picking his nose ALL THE ****** TIME! ;) Sometimes I can hardly concentrate on my work because of the feeling of aversion. I’m (almost) sure he doesn’t do these things to bother me … but it feels like it. I have the feeling of being attacked personally. I guess I have to realize it’s just him doing people stuff ;) It’s relieving. Thanks.

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David April 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Hi Jan,

Some ‘stuff’ is harder to deal with than others, but it definitely helps to give it a bit of perspective. Glad I could help your day. But I sure hope he’s not chewing his fingernails and picking his nose at the same time, that’s just completely unforgivable. ;)

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Alex April 24, 2009 at 11:12 am

haha really like the title.

the “imagining the street is abandoned” exercise is really cool. i used to do something similar in nightclubs when i used to get nervous. seems really intimidating with everyone dressed up, loud music etc but imagine it in the day time with nobody there and completely different story =D

…another exercise i’d really recommend is the opposite. instead of trying to distance yourself from it to realise the triviality of the fear – do the opposite. fully feel the people and environment – listen to the sounds and the silences between the sounds – fully feel the connectedness that you are and that life is and melt into the environment.

really solid stuff.
will check back

alex
unleash reality

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David April 24, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Your suggestion is a good one, I often did that on the bus when I was going to college. I would just kind of let myself ‘bathe’ in all the sensations that made up a crowded bus. Traffic noise, loud conversations, even gross body heat… I’d just kind of let them ‘have their way with me’ so to speak, and it really made it feel perfectly fine.

Welcome to Raptitude, Alex, we’ll see you again soon.

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Sam April 27, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Wow, David, this is an amazingly touching and insightful post. I found it through Jenny Blake’s list of networking links, and I’m so glad I was able to read this post. I am someone who definitely suffers from “people allergies,” and no matter what I’ve done, I haven’t been able to make them go away. This post definitely speaks to me, and I will give your suggestions a try. Glad to have found your blog, and I look forward to reading more.

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David May 5, 2009 at 11:52 am

@ Jeeshan — I can sympathize with the tendency to treat people like enemies sometimes. When I was more self-conscious, I often resented other people, because I viewed them as causing my anxiety. I still feel those hints of resentment sometimes, but now I know that’s its just a bad habit, and not at all warranted. That makes it easier to let it go and enjoy the space I’m in.

@ Sam — Alleviating people allergies isn’t going to happen overnight, it is a matter of habit change. Habitual postures and tones of voice have to be looked at and consciously changed, but hopefully there are some new perspectives here that will make it easier.

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chris May 26, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Wow. Simply one of the most interesting article i’ve seen in years. The ending words are just great. ( By the way English is not my native language, so…) Being in the flow is what we are born to do afterall. A flow that is useless to resist. I personally think that when we feel threatened by the world, we almost forgot our humanity and that of others. Our perception is distorted. But as you said, we are lucky to be able to witness the world for free. When we realize what a privilege this is, hell turns into something a bit more closer to paradise. Thank you my friend. You made my day.

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Niyati September 17, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Great post! Really helped me out!

So often I, under the veil of “improving myself”, decide to be extremely self-conscious in every action I do in order to appear elegant, or whatever. But I judge myself so harshly, especially in front of other people.
This post has made me realize that I don’t have to be a walking hourglass doll all the time, nor must I worry about what people see in me. If I want to make conscious movements because it feels right to me, so be it.
I needed this post. I need to remember the freedom of empty spaces everywhere I go.

Thank you.

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David September 18, 2009 at 8:15 am

Good, I’m glad it was helpful Niyati. This exercise is actually fun too.

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Larissa October 13, 2009 at 5:15 am

This really helped me. Thanks for writing.

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nahl July 10, 2010 at 6:19 am

I’ve tried doing this, but when I am around people or when they are talking to me, I just can’t get myself to imagine that I am in an empty room. Is it just me or am I missing a step?

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David July 10, 2010 at 9:18 am

I try to do it when I just arrive in a new place, and when I first begin to walk around. I don’t find it difficult but I’m not sure what it’s like for other people. Focus mainly on the surfaces: floors, walls, streets, the space itself. It may be easier for men than women because men tend to have more keen spatial perception.

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eli November 1, 2010 at 1:36 am

thanks David, well said;
I felt like i was talking about myself when you explain your original situation.
Three questions:
I know listening is important, but how do you get people to come and tell you their passion to begin with??
Also, many would recommend opening up to people to connect more; how would you put these in their correct place?
And lastly, when i do communicate with people (or specially on a date) there are many things i would originally like to talk about, but during the conversation i just cannot recall them; i appreciate if you would’ve any tips on this.

many thanks

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Jane October 5, 2011 at 10:03 pm

When I did this “Visualize what the place would look like if it were completely evacuated of people.” I just felt ………….. lonely. And that was the best gift I could have had from the exercise because it showed me I’m not quite the loner I thought I was, I like my humankind.

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jhonson August 29, 2012 at 6:20 am

hey david great post but can anyone answer my question that how can this be treated

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Izzy August 26, 2013 at 11:13 am

WOW. This is probably the most applicable and fast-acting strategy for social anxiety that I’ve ever seen. Simple, effective and beautiful- thanks.

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