How to Get Over Your Fear of Being Judged
How you judge yourself is much more important than how others judge you.
I was mired in fear for most of my life, especially the fear of being judged by others. For a long time, I didn’t even realize I had this fear. Once I did, I then realized — I’m going to be judged no matter what. So how about if I get judged for being the actual me, instead of some fake version of me?! If you’re afraid of being judged by others, that can change. I’m living proof!
I was afraid of what others might think of me.
For the first 5+ decades of my life, I was completely blind to much of what I was thinking and doing, as well as what my motives were. Some people call that blindness “denial.” I talk about this type of denial in the last piece I published on Medium so I won’t go into that here. An example of my denial is that I was mired in fear but didn’t know it. The only way I know this now is that the fear is gone and I can tell the difference. I had no idea how fearful I was until I wasn’t anymore.
Most of that fear was about what others might think of me. I was afraid they’d judge me. Being the people-pleasing, codependent addict I was, I couldn’t have that! If you’re anything like I was, here’s how that works.
Managing your image.
You “decide” what you think others want from you, or in you. I put “decide” in quotation marks because this is likely unconscious. You may have never even talked to these other people, and certainly have not asked them what they want of you. You just guess. With people you know, you gather info over time. If it seems like what you’re doing or who you’re being isn’t working, you switch it up.
And then there are people you don’t know. These could be people you’re meeting for the first time and will continue to know. Or they could be people you’ll never see again. You make decisions about what you think they want from you, or in you, or what would impress them. And of course, this is also without ever talking to them, or asking them anything. And then you try to be that. Which is really hard. Or even impossible.
A lot of “you” is up for negotiation. There are certain core elements of you that remain the same for sure, but much of you is “negotiable.” You’re not being the real you. You focus on how you appear to others. Which means you probably get defensive because you don’t want people to see behind the façade. You don’t want them to see who you really are because you’re afraid they’ll reject you.
I call this image management — trying to manage the image others have of you. I did this for decades. We do it because we’re afraid of what people will think of us if they really knew us. If you’re like I was, you’ve been blind to all this. Or you were blind to all this until now. In looking back, you can see it clearly.
Maybe there is no real you. At least no well-defined real you. Not a complete real you. Maybe you drink beer and follow the Giants if you’re dating one person. Then you drink Jack Daniels and don’t follow sports when you’re dating another person. And you drink wine and follow the Cowboys when you’re dating another.
Then there are those inner parts of you that remain the same no matter who you’re dating. No matter who you’re trying to impress. But you’ll be damned if you’re gonna show them to anyone! That idea is too scary, too vulnerable. Which means (again) that you’re really defensive. You don’t want to let anyone in. And this may also be unconscious.
We can’t stop others from judging us.
When we do all this, we act as if being judged by others is the end of the world. We also act like there’s some way we can avoid their judgment. As if we have the power to either turn off the judgment, or at least sway the results of the judgment in our favor. We can’t. Our efforts to avoid judgment don’t work. They also often end up with us not liking ourselves, and judging ourselves harshly!
There’s another impact of this, besides not liking yourself. You’ve got this fake image you’re managing, and you’re defensive about it. If you multiply that by all the fake images you’ve created, there are enough versions of you to be crazy-making. Talk about insanity!
This is different than changing our roles.
These fake versions you’ve created from managing your image are not the same as the various roles you have. It is perfectly normal to have slightly different personas based on your roles. Perhaps you’re an employee, boss, sibling, parent, hobbyist, sports enthusiast or nature lover. We’re not talking about those kinds of roles and the changes that are normal when you switch between them. We’re talking something much deeper: your identity. What you prefer and who you are is up for negotiation when you manage your image like this. Harriet Lerner calls that, “de-selfing.” You remove your “self” from a situation or a relationship.
We’re trying to protect ourselves, but it backfires.
The amount of energy it takes to keep that up is enormous. It’s draining. It’s extremely difficult to sustain if you want to have a well-lived life.
Maybe you got this way because of rejection. In fact, it’s highly likely you’ve experienced rejection. We all have. In trying to be someone no one will reject, you put up these facades to try to protect yourself. You’re trying to avoid pain, but you end up being defensive all the time. You’re probably judging yourself for being fake. Which means you’re stressed out and filled with tension. Certainly not happy, joyous and free. These various façades can lead to feeling fragmented.
Going from fragmented to whole.
So how do you go from fragmented to whole? For me, it started with the realization that all this was going on. This led to the further realization that human beings are judging, discerning creatures. So we are going to be judged. There’s no avoiding it.
Humans have to make judgments to survive in this world. For example, we have to judge whether the oncoming car is going fast enough to hit us, or if we can cross the street before it arrives. There’s no way around judging or being judged. Understanding this led to my big “Aha!” which was how about if I get judged for the actual me instead of some fake version of me?
When you’re managing your image, it means you’re prioritizing someone else’s opinion of you over your own opinion of you. The thing is, you have to live in your own skin! Your opinion of yourself should matter over that of others. Let me say that more gently — your opinion of yourself could matter over that of others.
And then there’s the fact that you’re trying to avoid judgment, but it’s not working! People still judge you. If it’s not working AND it’s making your life miserable — abandon that strategy!
You can’t make others like you.
Not everyone is going to like you. That’s not possible. You can’t make people like you (as much as you may have tried over the years). As the saying goes, “We see things as we are, not as they are.” That’s not only true for things, but for other humans as well. We all have filters that impact our perceptions. About everything. The amount of info that goes into people’s decisions about their environment is enormous. Trying to adapt to get people to like us is a losing battle. Not only do they not necessarily like us, but there is also the additional “cost” of not liking yourself.
Keep the focus on yourself.
Instead of focusing on what other people think of you, try focusing on what you think of you. Keep the focus on yourself. You have to live with yourself. They don’t. If you focus on you, you’ll get to know yourself and your preferences. What do you want, need, think and feel? Try relaxing into being who you really are. If you spend time exploring these things, you’ll eventually come to know, “I don’t like this” or “I don’t want to do that” or “I prefer to do this.” This is the beginning of honoring yourself.
If you don’t like yourself, try this.
If you really don’t like yourself, then at least act like you like yourself. This is a principle I learned in recovery: “act as if.” Act as if you like yourself. You will eventually come to like yourself. Do the behaviors of someone who likes themselves. If you have no idea what that might look like, start treating yourself like you would a dear friend. If you say things to yourself like, “I can’t f-ing believe I did that, idiot!” stop. Stop saying that shit to yourself! You’d never say that to a dear friend. Try something like, “Well, that didn’t work out as planned. Let’s try something different next time.” Cut yourself some slack.
It’s much more fruitful to work on liking yourself rather than on trying to get others to like you. If you put half the energy you put into trying to get others to like you into liking yourself, you’ll be astonished at the payoff. You won’t be so afraid of being judged by others. Once you actually start liking yourself, you’ll start to attract people who like you for who you really are. You won’t be attracting people to some fake version of yourself.
You’re a peach, and not everyone likes peaches.
Brooke Castillo uses the analogy of a peach when talking about this stuff. Let’s say you’re a peach. Some people don’t like peaches. Nobody blames the peach! We understand that some people don’t like peaches. There’s a whole bunch of other people who not only like peaches, they love peaches. You’re a peach. If some people don’t like you, that’s okay. There are a whole bunch of other people out there who will not only like you, they’ll love you! Don’t waste your time on those who don’t like peaches. Move on. Don’t spend your energy trying to turn them into peach lovers. There are real peach lovers out there looking for you! And you’re missing out on meeting them by wasting your time with peach judgers.
You get more energy in your life when you focus on yourself.
When you start to be at ease with yourself, an amazing amount of energy will become available to you. You won’t be putting all that energy and effort into being someone you’re not. You also won’t be putting a bunch of effort into getting others to like you. And defending those facades.
Instead, seek out people who will actually like you. Find the peach lovers! They’re out there! You’ve been focusing on the wrong people — try focusing on you! Once you know what your preferences really are, then you can seek out people who have those same preferences. Maybe you no longer follow sports or drink booze, no matter who you’re dating. Or maybe you do. But you pick your own team, and your own favorite drink. Lo and behold, you find people who like some of the same things, and you don’t have to try so hard!
Honoring yourself honors others too.
When you start to honor yourself by recognizing and acting on your own preferences, it will honor others as well. You’ll be honest and genuine with them. They will know who they’re getting. They’ll know that you tell the truth about what you want, need, think and feel. They’ll know that they can trust you to be who you say you are. You’ll know that you can trust yourself. Which is soooo important.
Here’s what honoring yourself might look like.
A client told me he wanted to join a community because it was “the one” for him. He said, “now I just have to get them to accept me.” I told him he had the order of operations wrong — we decide a community is for us when we are accepted for who we are, NOT the other way around! It’s not, “You’re my community! Accept me!” It’s, “You accept me? Great! This is my kind of community!”
You will be judged, so you might as well be judged for the real you.
My fear of being judged was relieved when I realized I will be judged. There’s no way around it. I might as well be judged for the actual me instead of some fake version of me. There’s a quote I heard years ago that sums this up beautifully. “It’s better to be hated for you who you are than loved for who you are not.” I’m a peach, and some people just don’t like peaches. I’d rather be hated for being a peach, than loved for being a fake apple.
Barb Nangle is the Founder of Higher Power Coaching and Consulting. She works with people who are tired of drama but don’t know how to stop. Her newsletter, “Happy, Joyous and Free” shares examples of how to change deeply entrenched patterns of dysfunctional behavior. Sign up here. She’s also the creator of the podcast, “Fragmented to Whole: Life Lessons from 12 Step Recovery.”