“I want to connect to people and make friends, but I feel like everyone is judging me. I feel judged by my family as well as by society. I hate being judged. It makes me not want to talk to anyone at all. How do I get over my fear of being judged?”
We all want to be liked. When we feel like someone is looking down at us, we usually feel embarrassment, shame, and wonder if something is wrong with us. Most people sometimes worry about feeling judged.
However, if we let our fear of judgement stop us from opening up, we don’t give people the opportunity to like us for who we are.
I know how feeling judged by people can completely paralyze you and dump your self-esteem.
Over the years, I’ve learned strategies for how to overcome feeling judged—both by people you meet and by society.
How can we know if someone is judging us negatively, or our insecurity is making us misread the situation?
After all, fear of being judged is considered a symptom of social anxiety. People with social anxiety are more sensitive to feelings of being judged.
For example, one study on socially anxious men found that they interpreted ambiguous facial expressions as negative.
It can be helpful to keep in mind that it might just be your inner critic making you believe that someone is judging you.
If you have social anxiety and feel judged, you can remind yourself of the following:
“I know that I have social anxiety, which is known to make people feel judged even when they aren’t. So it’s very possible that no one is actually judging me even when it feels like they do.”
It can feel like it’s the end of the world if someone’s judging us. But is it really? What if it’s OK that people judge you at times?
When we decide to be OK with people judging us, we’re free to act more confidently, without worrying what others think.
The next time you’re feeling judged, practice accepting it rather than trying to “fix” the situation by redeeming yourself.
Therapists sometimes give their clients challenges to make small mistakes or embarrassing things to see that nothing bad happens:
One example is standing still at a red light and not driving until someone behind us honks. Another example is wearing a t-shirt inside out for a day.
While it can feel terrifying for the client at first, their fear of making social mistakes gets weaker when they see that it wasn’t as bad as they thought.
When you talk about your fear of feeling judged, you’re likely to hear a very common piece of advice:
“No one is judging you. They’re too concerned with themselves.”
You might catch yourself thinking, “hey, but I do judge others sometimes!”
The truth is, we all make judgments. We notice things out in the world – we can’t pretend that we don’t.
What we usually mean when we say, “I feel like you’re judging me,” is “I feel like you’re judging me negatively,” or even more accurately – “I feel like you’re condemning me.”
That’s genuinely an uncomfortable feeling.
When we think about how often we condemn someone, we often realize that it’s not as often as we thought.
That’s what people usually mean when they say that is, “other people are too busy thinking of themselves to judge you.”
Most of us care more about our faults and mess-ups than other people’s. We’ll notice if someone we’re talking to has a big pimple on their face, but we don’t recoil in horror or disgust. We probably won’t give it a second thought after the conversation ends.
Yet if we’re the one with the pimple on the day of a big event, we might panic and consider canceling the whole thing. We don’t want anyone to see us. We imagine that it’s all anyone will be able to think about when we talk to them.
Most people are their own worst critics. Reminding ourselves of that can be useful when we fear judgment.
The first step to getting over the fear of being judged is to understand the fear. What does it feel like in your body? What stories are running through your head? We feel our emotions in the body. They’re also attached to assumptions, stories, and beliefs we have about ourselves and the world.
What stories do you find running through your head when you feel judged by others?
“They’re looking away. My story is boring.”
“They seem upset. I must have said something wrong.”
“No one is starting a conversation with me. Everyone thinks I’m ugly and pathetic.”
Sometimes we’re so used to the automatic voice in our head that we don’t even notice it. We might only notice sensations (like increased heartbeat, blushing, or sweating), emotions (shame, panic), or dissociation that feels like almost nothing (“My mind goes blank when I try to talk to people. It doesn’t feel like I’m thinking anything at all”).
Rather than trying to “change” how you’re feeling, practice accepting it.
Make a decision to act despite feeling these feelings. Rather than seeing negative feelings as enemies you need to push away (which rarely works), accepting them can make it easier to cope with them.
Do you know for a fact that someone thinks you’re stupid or boring? You may have “proof.”: The way they’re smiling or the fact that they’re looking away may seem to support the fact that they’re judging you.
But can you know for sure what the person you’re talking to is thinking?
One way to combat the inner critic is to give it a name, notice it when it comes up – and let it pass away. “Ah, there’s that story about how I’m the most awkward person in the world again. No need to take that seriously now. I’m busy talking to someone.”
Sometimes, just realizing that our inner critic is feeding us stories is enough to make them less powerful.
Sometimes, just noticing the harmful stories you’re telling yourself isn’t enough. You may need to challenge your beliefs directly.
For example, if you notice a story saying, “I never succeed in anything,” you might want to look at it more closely. It could help to start keeping a list of things you’ve succeeded in, no matter how small you believe they are.
One effective way to challenge the inner critic is to develop alternative statements to repeat when the inner critic rears its head.
For example, you catch the inner critic saying, “I’m such an idiot! Why did I do that? I can’t do anything right!”. You can then tell yourself something like, “I made a mistake, but that’s OK. I’m doing my best. I’m still a worthwhile person, and I am growing every day.”
Another way to notice the power of our inner critic is to imagine ourselves talking to a friend the way we speak to ourselves.
If someone told us that they feel judged in conversations, would we tell them that they’re boring and should give up trying to talk? We probably wouldn’t want to make them feel bad about themselves like that.
Similarly, if we had a friend who always put us down, we would wonder if they were indeed our friend.
We like to be around people who make us feel good about ourselves. We’re the only person we’re around all of the time, so improving the way we speak to ourselves can do wonders for our confidence.
Challenging yourself is one thing. If you don’t give yourself credit for the things you’re doing, you might keep pushing yourself in the belief that nothing is ever enough.
Sometimes, we get the sense that we didn’t do much, but when we give ourselves the time to think about it, we can come up with more than we’d think.
Make it a habit to write down three positive things you did for yourself every day, no matter how small. Some examples of things you might write down include:
- “I stepped away from social media when I noticed it was making me feel bad.”
- “I smiled at someone I didn’t know.”
- “I made a list of my positive qualities.”
We tend to believe people will judge us for things we’re not confident about.
Let’s say you don’t think you’re good at making conversation. In that case, it makes sense that you believe people are judging you when you talk to them.
Improving your social abilities will help you address your fears of being judged by people you meet head-on. Instead of believing your worries, you can remind them: “I know what I’m doing now.”
Sometimes we come across people who genuinely are judgmental and mean. They might make passive-aggressive remarks or criticize our weight, looks, or life choices.
Unsurprisingly, we tend to feel bad around people like that. We might find ourselves trying to be on our “best behavior” around them. We might think of funny things to say or do our best to look presentable.
We often don’t stop and ask ourselves why we do all this. Maybe we don’t believe that someone better is out there. Other times, low self-esteem can make it feel like we deserve those people.
If you interact more with new people, you will be less dependent on those who are bad for you. For tips on how to do that in practice, see our guide on how to be more outgoing.
If talking to people is difficult for you, and you went out and did it anyway – pat yourself on the back!
It may be tempting to go over a negative interaction over and over again, but wait. You can do that later. Take a minute to give yourself some credit and acknowledge your feelings.
“That interaction was challenging. I did my best. I’m proud of myself.”
If certain interactions are particularly draining, consider rewarding yourself. Doing so will help condition your brain to remember the event in a more positive way.
This chapter focuses on what to do if you feel judged for your life choices, especially if they’re not part of the norm or other’s expectations on you.
Some of the people we considered most successful today went through long periods of struggle. In those times, they might have endured unsupportive comments and questions from others or feared that someone would judge them.
For example, JK Rowling was a divorced, unemployed single mother on welfare when she wrote Harry Potter. I don’t know if she ever received comments like, “are you still writing? It doesn’t seem to be working out. Isn’t it time to find a real job again?”
But I know that many in similar positions do and feel judged even without these types of comments.
Here are some other people who got a late start in life.
The point isn’t that you will eventually become wealthy and successful. Nor do you need to become successful to justify taking a different path in life.
It’s a reminder that it’s OK to make different choices, even if your family and friends don’t always understand.
I recently saw a post by someone who kept getting judgmental comments about their job as a cleaner. She didn’t seem to feel any shame, though.
The woman declared that she loved her job. Because she had ADHD and OCD, she said the job fit her perfectly. The job gave her the flexibility she needed to be with her child. She liked to help people who needed it, like the elderly or disabled, by giving them the gift of a clean and tidy home.
Even if you’re dying for a relationship, listing the benefits of being single can help you feel less judged by society. For example, you have the freedom to make whatever choices you want without needing to consider a significant other. You have more time to focus on yourself so that if you do decide to get into a relationship in the future, you will feel more ready.
Sleeping alone means you get to sleep whenever you want, without worrying about someone snoring in your bed or setting an alarm for several hours before you need to wake up.
You can find similar benefits for a temporary job, living with roommates, living alone, and nearly everything else. The truth is most things aren’t all good or all bad.
Many of us believed that we should have our whole life mapped out by turning 22. Looking back, that’s a pretty strange concept. After all, people can change so much in a matter of years.
The chances of finding both a lifelong partner and a lifelong career at the age of 22 are relatively low.
People grow apart and divorce. Our interests – and the markets – change. And there’s no reason we should try to fit ourselves into a box that serves other people.
Some people spend their twenties healing from childhood trauma. Others started working at what they thought was their dream job, only to discover it’s not really for them. Taking care of sick family members, abusive relationships, accidental pregnancies, infertility – there is an endless list of things that “get in the way” of the path we thought we should take.
We all have different personalities, gifts, backgrounds, and needs. If we were all the same, we wouldn’t have anything to learn from each other.
If you’re going by Instagram or Facebook, it may seem like your peers have a perfect life. They may be successful in their job, have good-looking and supportive partners, and beautiful children. They post photos of fun trips they take as a family.
Everything is so easy for them.
But we don’t know what’s going on behind the screen. They may be insecure about how they look. Perhaps they have a highly critical parent, feel unfulfilled in their job, or have a fundamental disagreement with their partner.
It doesn’t mean that everyone that seems happy is secretly miserable. But everyone has something difficult to deal with sooner or later.
Some people may be better at hiding it than others. Some people are so used to appearing strong that they don’t know how to begin to be vulnerable, show weakness, or ask for help – which is an enormous struggle in itself.
Whether you currently see it or not, certain things are easier for you than others.
There may be things that you take for granted, like your ability to understand numbers, express yourself in writing, or push yourself to achieve your goals.
Remind yourself of your positive qualities whenever you feel yourself feeling judged by society.
Just like everyone has hardships, everyone has a bias.
Sometimes someone will judge you because they feel judged themselves. Or perhaps fear of the unknown is what drives their critical remarks.
We haven’t done anything wrong by announcing we’re going on a run. But someone who has been beating themselves up for months about going to the gym might assume we’re judging them because they’re judging themselves.
Whether or not that’s the case in your particular situation, remind yourself that people’s judgments are more about them than it is about you.
Some people in our lives may be more judgemental or less understanding than others. We might choose to stay in contact with these people but limit the amount of information we share.
For example, you might be comfortable talking about your ambivalence about having children with close friends who are in a similar dilemma, but not with your parents, who are pushing you in a certain direction.
Remind yourself that you are allowed to decide what you’re willing to discuss with the people in your life.
Sometimes, we’re talking to someone, and they ask us a question that catches us off-guard.
Or perhaps we avoid meeting people because we don’t know how to answer specific questions.
You don’t have to share the negative aspects of your life with people that don’t make you feel comfortable.
When someone asks how your new business is going, for example, they don’t need to know about the financial struggles if they have been judgmental of you in the past. Instead, you might say something like, “I’ve been learning a lot about my abilities.”
If you have decided not to talk about specific topics, hold firm and compassionate boundaries. Let people know you’re not willing to share certain information.
If they try to press you, repeat something like, “I don’t feel like talking about that.”
You don’t have to defend your choices to anyone who doesn’t understand. You are allowed to have boundaries. As long as you are not causing harm to yourself or others, you can live your life in the way you think is best.
Dr. Brene Brown researches shame and vulnerability. She talks about how shame needs three things to take over our lives: “secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
By keeping silent about our shame, it grows. But by daring to be vulnerable and talk about the things we feel shame about, we might discover we’re not as alone as we thought. As we learn to open up and share with empathetic people in our lives, our shame and fear of judgement fades away.
Think about something you feel shame about. Try talking about it in a conversation with someone you trust, who you consider kind and compassionate. If you’re not sure you have anyone in your life you trust enough at the moment, consider trying to join a support group.
You’ll find people who are sharing openly about different topics that you might have thought you were alone with.