All eyes on you – but are they really?

Have you ever stumbled over your words whilst giving a presentation? How about saying the ‘wrong’ thing during a meeting? What about questioning your choice of wardrobe at a social event?

We’ve all had moments where we have felt embarrassed, and that discomfort increases ten-fold when there are witnesses to our social ‘mistakes’.

When these little incidents happen, we might feel that we have been put under the spotlight where everyone can see our flaws, convincing ourselves we are being silently judged and ridiculed.

But the reality is, no one is really paying attention!

The ‘spotlight effect’ is a term in psychology that refers to the belief that more people are noticing something about you than they actually are. The phenomenon manifests as anxiety that every action we make is under heavy scrutiny of others. For example, that stain on your shirt from lunch; everyone can see it – or at least you think everyone cares about seeing it. In fact, they may be too busy thinking about their own faux-pas to even notice yours. 

The phenomenon is explained as a result of egocentrism, however that is not to say that we are being arrogant. We view our entire existence from our own perspective and experiences, and those experiences tend to shape how we evaluate ourselves and the people around us. We may overthink that slip-up during the crucial part of a presentation, but the people you are presenting to might instead be focused on a question they can ask that doesn’t come across as irrelevant.

Once we are aware of the spotlight effect, it can be easier to acknowledge our embarrassment and let go of the little mistakes we make. The next time you give a wrong answer during a meeting, just shrug it off and resolve to think of a better one next time.

Even something simple as being able to look on the humorous side of our own mistakes is better than dwelling on them for hours – maybe even days – later. Practising self-compassion and being less hard on ourselves can help us bounce back quickly from setbacks in both our professional and personal lives.


About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Prior to this, she worked in a photography studio as a wedding album editor and also attended work experience at a local library.

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