Self-Consciousness and the “Spotlight Effect”

The term “spotlight effect came out of research regarding self-consciousness some years back by psychologist Thomas Gilovich and his team. As reported by Paul Bloom, The Atlantic, “In study after study, experimental subjects thought that other people would notice them much more than they actually did.”

Nathan A. Heflick, PhD, Psychology Today: “The ‘spotlight effect’ refers to the tendency to think that more people notice something about you than they do.”

Martha Beck, Oprah.com: “…The spotlight effect makes most of us assume we’re getting about twice as much attention as we actually are.”

Amie M. Gordon, PhD, Psychology Today, explains why we probably overestimate the amount of attention paid to us. It’s about “anchoring and adjustment,” she says. “We are anchored by our own experiences and we have trouble adjusting far enough away from them to accurately estimate how much attention other people are paying us.”

Some of the causes of self-consciousness include anxiety disorders, depression, difficult childhood experiences, poor self-esteem, other mental health conditions, and traumatic events (Verywellmind.com).

How can we decrease our level of self-consciousness, then? For one, stop agreeing with your negative thoughts. Martha Beck actually suggests (“The Cure For Self-Consciousness”), “ask yourself the Universal Question.

The question goes like this: “So?”

In other words, when you find yourself doubting yourself, regretting an action, worrying what others will think of you, etcetera, you ask yourself, “So?”

There are endless applications for the Universal Question. I suggest using it every time you feel yourself hesitating to do something that might deepen or broaden your life. The answer to the question ‘So?’ is almost always ‘Well, when you put it that way…’ It pushes us into the spotlight, showing us we can survive there and freeing us to act on our best instincts…

Little by little, you’ll feel and see that the worst consequences of living in the light are less oppressive than the best advantages of hiding in the shadows. And you’ll have little to fear from the rest of us, who will only be inspired by your daring as we sit, blinking and bedazzled, in the private spotlights of our own attention.

Janelle Cox, PsychCentral, lists seven ways to overcome self-consciousness:

  1. Acknowledge your strengths…
  2. Reframe your negative thoughts…
  3. Understand that not everyone sees what you see…
  4. Develop a positive mindset…
  5. Learn to accept your flaws…
  6. Stop comparing yourself to others..
  7. Work with a therapist.

Arlin Cuncic at VeryWellMind suggests the following:

  • Identify triggers
  • Press play for advice on being yourself (links to a podcast)
  • Consider the drawbacks of being self-conscious
  • Develop an outward focus
  • Reframe your negative thoughts
  • Practice switching perspectives
  • Remember others don’t see what you see
  • Change your perspective
  • Practice self-acceptance
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One thought on “Self-Consciousness and the “Spotlight Effect”

  1. Thank you for this inspiring blog on how to get out of our own way. Reminds me of a therapist I had long ago, who used to say, “what if everything is just ok?” Not worrying about how I rated in my/your/their estimation might just leave me time to focus on the interesting things in life….

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