Cooking with your mate can be a loving and sensual experience. My guy and I usually sizzle in the kitchen but one time our interactions were a little burned and crispy. One sunny morning, I tried a new recipe involving poached eggs and smashed avocado on toast. I decided to go the simple route by foregoing the egg-poaching pan and using a regular pot and simmering water. My man was hanging around the kitchen watching me do the egg preparation. This is normally fine and good but that morning his critical eye surfaced.
You need a different pan for that.
You have too much water in there.
Your temperature is too hot.
He insisted he was not critiquing but nevertheless my movements went from fluid to shaky. I managed to get shells in each of the eggs I cracked. I told my guy he was bugging me (I actually said bugging, I’m not proud) and should go sit down, to which he responded, Wow, you really have a thing about that, don’t you?
That being someone dominating, correcting or taking over or criticizing my work. It is a trigger for my fight or flight response. I am also highly sensitive about doing something wrong. I take it to heart. I feel deeply embarrassed. When I was a girl, all my dad had to do was raise his voice to me and tears would come to my eyes.
Perhaps if you watched from a distance…
Most people have an aversion to criticism and being micro-managed. I have a hyper-sensitivity to it. The minute I know someone is observing and mentally critiquing my actions I fumble. Here’s an interesting twist though, I can perform in front of a crowd easier than in front of one person. I believe the difference lies in the amount of preparation done before the performance and in the amount of distractions in the room. If I am speaking to a group or performing in a play, I have done an infinite amount of prep work prior to the engagement. I know my shit. One on one performance evaluations tend to be more spur of the moment, thus requiring my introverted brain to react off the cuff in a perfect manner. Yikes. If I am working above the crowd (on stage, in front of a classroom), it is easier to tune them out and assume they are paying attention to lots of things in the room (each other, my props, the room decor) as well as myself.
I suppose we could chalk my nervousness up to performance anxiety. As a teenager, I loved being on the pom-pom squad right up until we started competing. Competition meant judges, scores and perfection. Scrutiny. Eeeek!
As an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed playing guitar in my bedroom by myself but when my family requested performances or when I had to play in front of my teacher, I panicked and plucked poorly.
Just last week, during a couples dance lesson, I felt myself getting worked up because I wasn’t doing the steps exactly right. In my mind I was letting my partner down. I knew it was supposed to be relaxed and fun but the teacher’s remarks and the pressure to get it right with my partner, put me on edge. Thank goodness my guy knows how to make me laugh and loosen up.
Waiting on you
In the same vein but slightly different, I also do not like people waiting for me. When someone is waiting for me to pull out of a parking spot I know I take 20% more time to do it than when the action goes unobserved. Every maneuver feels amplified. I get anxious. I move slower.
The same thing goes for a lover being too observant and conscientious in bed. If I feel like a watched pot, the pot will never boil. If I am asked too many questions — Are you OK? What can I do for you? Does that feel good? — my desire/interest/ability diminishes. According to author and couples therapist, Esther Perel, concern in bed kills eroticism. I agree. It works much better if everyone is intimately engaged but not outwardly saying so. If there is too much focus on me I become hyper-aware and can’t get lost in the experience. I feel the need to be awesome or at least boil over and therefore forego the ability to simply enjoy the moment. I guess this reaction would qualify as performance anxiety as well…
Getting beyond the discomfort of being observed and critiqued
Here are a few things I have learned in order to minimize the effects of being noticed:
1. Feedback = good. I have learned to see most suggestions as feedback rather than a put down. Feedback encourages, feels like relief. Criticism conjures up feelings of incompetence. I think of others’ input as a way to make myself better rather than an insult. I now know I have to make mistakes in order to move forward in life. Feedback is the fuel that propels growth.
2. Most people genuinely think they are helping by watching and remarking. They have no ill-will and just want to offer their input so whatever you are doing is done well. Embrace this version of caring.
3. If I was alone I could do the task better. This truth maintains my confidence and fortifies my beliefs about my introverted nature. I CAN do it, just not as well with lots of eyeballs on me.
4. There are Thinkers and Feelers in the world. Thinkers analyze and see the flaws in something first, then appreciate it later. They tend to be task-oriented, indifferent and aware of inconsistencies. Feelers tell you what they like or appreciate about something first, then break it down into its parts later. They tend to be people and harmony focused. Knowing Thinkers are not intentionally trying to hurt my feelings helps ease my mind. Surrounding myself with Feelers makes confrontation less likely.
5. Whenever possible figure out ways to work alone together. It is possible to work with others but preferable to work with them doing different tasks. For example, cooking side by side in the kitchen. Each individual is responsible for a different part of the meal with no one looking over the other’s shoulder. Bliss.
Going blissfully unnoticed
Through years of self-study, I have learned I need freedom to do many things on my own, my own way in order to get good results.
Going back to the poached egg incident, I know I can cook but I felt like a beginner with my man observing and remarking. I was simultaneously annoyed and hurt. When he moved away from my cooking space (space to live!) and started reading a magazine article at the table, my work in the kitchen flowed and I felt infinitely more relaxed. I was able to serve him yummy eggs with a smile. We talked easily about the article he was reading and went back to liking each other a lot.
How are you under scrutiny? What coping mechanisms have you developed to deal with the unease of being observed?