As someone prone to self-consciousness and social anxiety, I find it useful to remind myself that the people out there, the people around me, are simply that: people. They are human beings with issues, worries, stress, fears and hopes – in essence, no different from me. This is not intended to be some sort of hippy point about the Brotherhood of Man (or whatever the non-gender-specific equivalent is) but a handy reality check for those times when interacting with people is causing problems, one way or another.
When I feel let down by someone, I always try to look at what’s happened from their perspective. This is not about being saintly (although there’s no harm in attempting saintliness!); I do it because I feel better if I can reduce the size of the insult I have instinctively felt – or even eradicate it – by rationalising the perceived slight.
We all have a tendency to slide back into our old patterns when the going gets tough. The more depressed and vulnerable I feel, the more demanding I become, as my perfectionism kicks in and the standards to which I hold myself and others get more and more stringent. In this state, I hide from the world and brood on how hard done-by I am, how nobody cares about me. Transgressions committed, particularly by my nearest and dearest, get blown up out of all proportion when viewed through the prism of my insecurities. In these cases, I find it both normalising and comforting to remind myself: I don’t have to be perfect and neither does anyone else. Look at the big picture: this person likes (or even loves) me and, OK, they have failed to answer my text/declined my invitation/forgotten my birthday, but they’re allowed to make a mistake without it compromising our relationship. If I did whatever it is to them, it wouldn’t mean I didn’t care, just that I was embroiled in something heavy, got distracted and made a mistake. Cut them some slack, let it go, it doesn’t matter.
Another context where I find it very helpful to remember I’m not the only one with stuff to contend with is when I’m out in the world and feeling tested. At an interview, for example, it’s ridiculously easy to assume the interviewer is the one in control, the one with all the power, but this is not true. A friend of mine was on the other side of the fence recently and told me she felt really flustered: she had never interviewed anyone before and didn’t completely know what she was doing. She made what she considered to be some glaring errors and blushed several times, assuming the interviewee took her to be an incompetent fool. What an interesting piece of role reversal – and yet there is every bit as much pressure on the interviewer to get it right as there is on the interviewee. This is another thing I find it normalising and comforting to remind myself: I may be feeling insecure but that doesn’t mean nobody else is. Once I start thinking about what their worries might be, I soon relax and remember that we’re all just people, doing the best we can in an imperfect world.