If I asked you, right now, to make a list of all your flaws… how long would it take? Most of us are far too critical of ourselves. We remember all the embarrassing things we’ve done, all the mistakes we’ve made. Our triumphs, too, but let’s be real: the bad stuff sticks with us for a lot longer. Unless you’re a straight-up narcissist.
For folks with obvious disabilities or medical differences, that feeling of hyper-focus can be even more all-consuming. I have rosacea that makes my skin flare scarlet as a stoplight, and someone always feels the need to point out how red my face is.
Here’s the key difference: Although I will probably spend a lot of time thinking/worrying/hating my skin that day, the person who made the comment probably doesn’t even remember it. They noticed, and even felt the need to remark on it, but it’s unlikely that they spent any more mental effort ruminating on how much my bright-red nose reminded them of Rudolph.
Everyone’s #1 Favorite Topic
We think about ourselves a lot more than anyone else does. That’s because everyone is focused on their personal stories–whether it’s a comedy, tragedy, or romance. Multiple studies over the years have shown that we are hard-wired to think about ourselves and center the world around our experiences.
We talk about ourselves more than any other topic, and even when we’re alone, every single person on this planet is basically just binge-watching a reality show where they’re the star.
That’s not to say we don’t judge other people. But those moments are relatively fleeting in comparison to the sheer amount of time we think about ourselves. Even when our thoughts are focused on someone else, it’s often to wonder what they are thinking of us.
If you assume you know what someone else is thinking about you, you’re probably just projecting your own thoughts onto them.
In short, we all have an inner Instagrammer posting endless “felt cute, might delete” pics and waiting breathlessly for the comments.
Why This Is Actually a Good Thing
This might sound depressing at first, but it’s actually a secret superpower. Once you realize that everyone is some degree of myopic, self-obsessed narcissist, then you also realize that no one really cares that much about your flaws or your mistakes. At worst, they’ll turn out to be shallow people who only identify you by your most obvious difference. But they’re not worth your time anyway. Don’t let them live rent-free in your head.
It also means that you can notice when you’re projecting negative thoughts and assumptions onto other people. This is something that takes a lot of practice (and, if you’re struggling, therapy) but eventually you can notice when you’re doing it. She’s mad at me. He’s judging me for that thing I did. Everyone thinks I’m stupid. Those toxic thoughts can get stuck in our heads, and then we hear their echoes and think that it’s reality.
Maybe she’s mad at you, or maybe she’s just thinking really hard about what to eat for lunch today. He might be judging you now, but in an hour he’ll have forgotten about it. Everyone does not think you’re stupid. They’re too busy thinking about themselves.