What is the “Spotlight Effect” and How Do I Overcome It?

4.5 min read|900 words|Categories: Education Center|
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Since the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of us have changed. Those long periods of isolation, quarantining, social distancing, working from home and limited gatherings have surely had an effect on our individual and cultural social behavior.

While self-consciousness was surely rampant before, feelings of insecurity may have grown in the past year or two. Our limited exposure to interactions now puts more pressure on the times we do go out, go to work in-person and converse with new people.

This tendency to focus on flaws and assume another’s perspective of them is called the spotlight effect, and in this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about overcoming this phenomenon.

What is the spotlight effect?

The spotlight effect is a relatively new phrase for a familiar sensation— the feeling that everyone is focused on your flaws (in both appearance and behavior) and is passing judgment on them. This tendency to overestimate negative attention from others can cause severe and crippling social anxiety in some people.

Like the name suggests, the spotlight effect makes it feel like there is a spotlight on you and everyone is looking. It feels like your flaws have been highlighted, your negative qualities are bared for all to see and every single person has noticed.

Publicly making mistakes is part of life, but the spotlight effect can induce incredible fear. People who have severe social anxiety may even go to extreme lengths to avoid the possibility of something humiliating happening. If social anxiety has caused you to: skip a presentation at work, pass on important family functions or bail on dates, you may be experiencing the spotlight effect.

What is the psychology of the spotlight effect?

We all could cite anecdotal evidence that supports the truth of the spotlight effect, but there’s also science to back up the prevalence of this experience. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology set out to determine the extent to which we overestimate the attention others give to our own appearance and behavior

Three studies were conducted. In the first two studies, participants wore a shirt with a flattering or embarrassing image and predicted the number of people who would be able to recall the image. In each study, participants overestimated the number of observers who would remember the design on the shirt.

The third study included a group discussion in which participants shared positive and negative remarks. Again, participants overestimated the effect these remarks would have and the other group members’ ability to recall them.

Further, a study in the Journal of Social Psychology studied the behavior of 23 university students. This study assessed three areas— appearance, athletic performance and their skill with a particular video game. In every case, participants overestimated the extent to which others would judge their appearance and achievements.

How does the spotlight effect psychology? The study of university students concluded that individuals are likely paying less attention to other’s behavior because they are preoccupied with their own performance, appearance and success.

Overcoming the spotlight effect

The spotlight effect can disrupt your life. It can make work a nightmare, stall your romantic life and make public outings feel suffocating. You deserve to live a full life. Don’t let yourself get short-changed by social anxiety. Here are some things you can do to overcome the spotlight effect.

1. Accept that your perspective is unique

We often find ourselves insecure because we anticipate other people’s perspectives. We place undo importance on things we think others will value, like perfect hair or the right wording of our opinions.

In reality, people don’t focus as much on the small nuances of our daily lives as we do. Even though you notice the difference between 10 minutes spent on your makeup and 30, your co-worker won’t. If you stumble over your words in a conversation, it’s not going to phase your friends as much as it phases you.

Acknowledging that your own expectations of yourself are different than the expectations of those around you is the first step to having a more positive self-perception.

2. Learn constructive self-talk

“Self-talk” is a psychological term that clinicians often use to describe the messages we send ourselves. Learning to dismantle negative thought patterns and replace them with positive, affirming ones can help us to overcome the spotlight effect.

3. Do some exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is the practice of coping through uncomfortable situations, and it’s one of the most effective frameworks for overcoming social phobias and anxiety. Although this can be uncomfortable, the idea is; the more you are exposed to supposedly awkward social situations, the easier they will become.

4. Start professional counseling

The best way to overcome the spotlight effect is with the help of a mental health professional. Counseling can help you address the origin of your social anxiety and find ways to manage those uncomfortable feelings.

Not only will you be able to cope through embarrassing moments, but you’ll learn to manage your own expectations and have a realistic self-perspective, because people aren’t judging you as much as you might think.

Pyramid Online Counseling can help you overcome the spotlight effect and start living a life that isn’t held back by worrying about what others think. If you’re ready to grow in confidence and feel at home in your body, call 833-525-3077 today.

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