After working with people for many years, certain universal truths began to reveal themselves.
We all long for connection.
We all long to be seen, understood, loved and accepted.
And: We are terrified these things won't ever happen.
We feel ashamed. We feel lonely. We feel afraid.
We compare ourselves and our lives to others and we rarely measure up.
When welcoming new people to class, my Zumba teacher often tells them not to worry about what other people are thinking.
"No one is watching you; I promise," she says.
"They are worried about themselves. They are feeling awkward, or trying to get the steps right, or thinking, 'why did I even come here? I look ridiculous.' They are self-absorbed and self-obsessed, just like you are."
Ok, I admit I'm paraphrasing. A lot. About halfway through that was really me talking, but you get the idea.
If we do think of other people during Zumba, we are probably thinking of them as it relates to us. We wonder if they are judging us: how we dance, what we're wearing, how our bodies look, or whatever else is making us feel "less than." This is true in other arenas as it is in Zumba.
Yes, I am literally talking about Zumba class, and it is also just a metaphor.
We can learn a lot about our habitual ways of thinking and relating by being mindful of what comes up in any situation. And, we can use that as an opportunity to experiment with and practice more preferable responses.
fear of others' judgement
Humans are always worrying about what other humans are thinking about them. It can't possibly (we assume) be flattering.
First of all this: Other people are busy living their lives and fighting their battles. They are caught up in actual and self-created dramas. Most of the time (and I say this with tremendous kindness), we aren't even on their radar.
"No one is watching you; I promise."
Any judgment we are seeing in (read: projecting onto) another person is not what it appears to be. Most of the time, it probably doesn't even exist.
Ok, but let's say they are judging us, just a little bit...
Why might they be doing so?
Let's consider the facts:
1. We haven't done anything to hurt them. (Let's assume this is true. If we have done something to hurt them and we know it, that's an entirely different story and perhaps an entirely different post...).
2. They don't even know us.
So why on earth would they be judging us? Well, why do we judge others? Usually because we are judging ourselves.
What we do outwardly, we do inwardly and vice versa. Often it is way easier to judge someone else than to have a look in our own direction. So sometimes, that's just what we do.
We feel "less than" so we find something to criticize in another person. We tear them down in an attempt to feel ok again, or to distract us from our own self-loathing.
Sometimes we project what we most hate about ourselves onto another person so we can hate ourselves in a way that doesn't hurt as much.
Sometimes we judge others for living in a way that we don't feel brave enough to live.
Rather than face our fears and ask ourselves the hard questions about why we aren't living the life we want and what we're going to do about it, we judge the other person.
It's all so tidy.
But it doesn't work. It doesn't make us happy. It doesn't make us feel ok inside (in fact it usually makes us feel worse). And it leads to isolation.
Example: Back to Zumba (I know, I know, but hear me out folks!)
Person A feels uncomfortable in class. Maybe she hates her body. Maybe she feels uncoordinated. Maybe she thinks she's too old for this.
She watches Person B dancing fully and freely. It reminds her of how much she wishes she could be that way, but (thinks she) can't.
So rather than acknowledge this envy as a key to her deepest longing, and consider what it would take to step more fully into her life (scary!!), Person A does what feels much easier in the moment: she judges the person she secretly envies and admires.
"Who does she think she is? Better than the rest of us? What gives her the right to dance that way? She's not really even that good."
Meanwhile, what Person A may not know about Person B is this:
Maybe she's living an unbearably painful life outside that Zumba class.
Maybe she's going through a divorce, or caring for a child with special needs or a parent with Alzheimer's.
Maybe her cancer just went into remission.
Maybe her cancer just came back.
Maybe she's grieving.
Maybe she feels lost, scared, or unsure of herself.
Maybe she hates her body 98% of the time.
But then she comes to class.
She carves out this precious time in her schedule to do something that helps her feel joyful in her body, grateful, alive, and free.
So when she dances, you're damn right she dances boldly.
And radiates with a joy as big as the universe.
In that class, she can momentarily forget her burdens and fears and just be here and embrace life.
And that has nothing whatsoever to do with us.
And maybe none of those things is true about her.
Maybe she just loves to dance and isn't (gasp!) playing by the socially-constructed rules of holding back and being self-conscious. Maybe she is allowing herself to be in the moment doing something she loves.
Or maybe she is feeling self-conscious and self-critical, but is working really hard to push past those limitations so she can enjoy her life.
In any case, let me repeat: it has nothing whatsoever to do with us.
Sidenote: Before it seems like I'm judging you, dear reader, let me say this: I am all over this post.
I have been the one afraid of being judged; the one doing the judging; the one projecting; the one resenting someone's confidence; the one retreating from a painful or stressful life into a Zumba class; and the one pushing through fierce insecurities to do something I truly love. I get it. All of it.
I also know that if we can move past judgment and self-judgment, we can experience what we all long for deep down underneath the layers of self-protection.
Connection. Belonging. Freedom.
What if instead of judging her, or judging ourselves, or judging ourselves for judging her (ugh, enough already!)...
What if we chose to see this as a call to action?
What if we used this as an opportunity to find our own joy and freedom? What if we let her inspire us instead of cause judgment or shame?
What if we let her joy become contagious?
What if we chose to see this as a call to connect?
What if we told her we love her dance moves or her joyful spirit?
What if we said hello or asked her her name?
What if we simply smiled at her with a full moon in each eye?
fara tucker, lcsw
therapist and teacher in Portland, Oregon