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This is me. This is me from the day I was born. For so long I felt misunderstood and rejected, even by the people closest to me, because they could never understand my need for solitude, and I had no idea how to explain it to them. Even now that I know more about Introversion and have a more informed understanding of my hard-wired need for solitude, it’s still very difficult sometimes to help my loved ones understand this profound craving for time and space all to myself. This is one of the best…
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Please Don't Watch, Observe or Scrutinize Me:Too Much Attention Makes This Introvert Nervous

covering face

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 poached egg on toastavocado 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.

Performance anxiety

 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.

If I am socializing in a group and suddenly find myself speaking and everyone’s attention directed at me, I sometimes lose my train of thought completely.bashful shy

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.alone together

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? 

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  1. Gr8penut May 22, 2016 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    Hi Brenda,
    I’ve been lurking the last couple weeks and wanted to stop by and say thank you for creating your amazing site and sharing. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to me the last few weeks to understand myself a little better and then start to set limits and boundaries and not feel so guilty about my needs.

    I too get this hypersensitivity to being watched. I really hate it: my hands shake and I make mistakes. I’ll try to keep in mind about being really wanting to be helpful and not critical in cases like this.

    • Brenda Knowles May 23, 2016 at 9:17 am - Reply

      I’m glad you found space2live/ Yes, please do keep in mind most people are trying to be helpful and possibly even learn something from watching you. I still don’t like it but it helps to know their intentions aren’t all negative. Keep setting boundaries and practicing self-care. I’ve found it helps a lot to surround yourself with people who lift you up. We can’t cut out all of the negative Nellies but we can minimize their power over us by limiting exposure and understanding their perspective.

  2. Colleen McCaffery April 24, 2015 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    I am exactly the same way. It’s one part performance anxiety and one part simply not liking unsolicited advice. My in-laws were famous for their “helpful” unsolicited advice. (Yes, thanks for the tips on how not to burn the bread… because of course I didn’t realize the bread wasn’t supposed to be dramatically flaming like that.)

    A funny little story about performance anxiety. As a teen my boyfriend gave me a driving lesson. We drove through my town and all was going just fine until I turned down the main street and ran smack into a parade. To my horror I noticed they had partitioned off the parade with pylons and because I wasn’t yet comfortable with navigating the car through narrow passage ways I started to panic. In actuality it wasn’t a narrow passageway but as soon as my boyfriend “helpfully” suggested I not stare at the pylons because that would cause me to “drive straight into them” I, of course, hit each and every one of them (about 10 or so). By this point the parade had more or less stopped and all the people were watching ME drive into the pylons and really seemed to be enjoying this more than they had the parade.


    So… yeah… I can relate. It’s really tough to be so sensitive to critique because you feel a bit embarrassed by being so thin skinned. I have a really hard time with it.

    • Brenda Knowles April 25, 2015 at 8:37 am - Reply

      You’re a great storyteller! I suggest you use your sense of humor to deflect your over-awareness and sensitivity to critiquing.:) Thanks for sharing your funny stories and letting me know my story resonated with you.

  3. Evette March 8, 2015 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Wow, I can really relate! If I’m parallel parking, I don’t like people to be behind me; I’m able to usually park but if I’m already stressed out/agitated and someone’s waiting behind me, I get “thrown off” (like I wasn’t able to focus and get my car in the space all the way). As for driving, I enjoy driving alone but don’t mind having my mom and/or sister in the car. I previously dated a guy who criticized the way I drove (among many other things) and would yell at me for not doing things “fast enough” or the way he would. Thank God we are no longer together.

    • Brenda Knowles March 9, 2015 at 10:41 am - Reply

      Parallel parking is the worst if someone is waiting! Ugh. It sounds like you wisely shed a guy who would not be good for your personal integrity. No one needs a negative critic. Bravo! Stick with those who give you energy.:) Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  4. Amber March 7, 2015 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this gift. After being with my husband for 13yrs, this is how I’ve felt. But, never knew how to explain and considered it a personal flaw. I love to perform and do community theatre. The one on one scrutiny is often too much though. Please keep sharing. You have many kindred spirits.

    • Brenda Knowles March 8, 2015 at 8:33 am - Reply

      Aw, thank you! I want to do community theater. It sounds so fun and there is something about playing a character and memorizing lines that frees me from the worry of being observed.
      Your sensitivity about being watched is not a personal flaw. It’s simply your way of being. So you can’t stand being observed intensely. Do your thing in the environment that works for you and be honest with your loved ones about the way you perform best. It is how you are wired and that’s OK.:)

  5. Simi March 7, 2015 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    Great timing! My friend does this to me regularly but sometimes her comments aren’t as polite and just make me even more clumsy.

    • Brenda Knowles March 8, 2015 at 8:28 am - Reply

      I know! Depending on others reactions, the clumsiness can escalate. Bleh! You are not alone and I bet you’re still awesome! 🙂

  6. smiley883 March 7, 2015 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Hi Claire Bear

    I just read this article from a great website I subscribe to. It is perfect for what we were talking about and puts into words how I feel – and I think how you feel too.

    If you get a chance check out her other posts – they are really cool and make so much sense.

    BTW – Did you read Kristin Fontanna’s predictions for this week – WOW! They are Bang On!

    Have a great day[?] – xxx

    *Fleur Le Plastrier*

  7. Catherine North March 7, 2015 at 10:34 am - Reply

    I can completely relate to this! I really dislike being watched while cooking, cleaning, typing, using new equipment, making phone calls, etc etc. I also don’t respond well to criticisms or even observations on the way I do these things :). Also, if someone asks me to tell them a joke or a story, my mind invariably goes blank!

    If I’ve got a good relationship with the other person, I can explain to them that I have performance anxiety, and that it’s best to give me time and space to carry out the task myself. But I find it much harder with strangers or colleagues. Thank you so much for your helpful suggestions.

    • Brenda Knowles March 8, 2015 at 8:27 am - Reply

      We are so much alike! I forgot about the ‘on the spot’ requests for jokes or stories. My mind goes blank as well. I try to have a reserve of short stories in my repertoire for just such occasions. I’ve learned over the years to be prepared. I will never be the life of the party but I’m good at getting others to tell their stories.:)

  8. Jessica Nelson March 6, 2015 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    I had no idea such a thing as an egg poaching pan even existed.

    I understand completely. I love driving, but I hate even doing that with anyone else in the car. They don’t even have to criticize me. It’s enough for me to be aware that they could.

    • Brenda Knowles March 7, 2015 at 8:25 am - Reply

      Oh my gosh yes! I love driving by myself but dislike driving a crowd somewhere, especially a group of adults. I am OK driving my kids because none of them drive yet, and they think I am a good driver (by some miracle). Thanks for giving me another example of this ‘being observed’ hangup I have.;)

  9. Terry March 6, 2015 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    I’m a Thinker, not a Feeler, but I totally identify with your dislike of impromptu criticism while I’m performing a task. It’s not so much that I’m embarrassed or nervous, as that I don’t want to be distracted by having to evaluate the commentator’s expertise relative to mine (i.e. is he authorized to criticize?), followed by an analysis of the accuracy of each comment. It harshes my mellow. 😉 The rule in my household is that whoever is actually doing the work gets to decide how it’s done, and everyone else needs to Butt Out.

    • ilona fried March 6, 2015 at 9:47 pm - Reply

      That is a great rule! It also helps me to tell people that I’ll request feedback if I want it. And friends have learned to ask me if I’m open to feedback before offering it. Usually if they ask, I feel I’m more receptive.

      • Brenda Knowles March 7, 2015 at 8:21 am - Reply

        Exactly! Feedback can be awesome if delivered when we are ready.;)

      • Terry March 7, 2015 at 4:49 pm - Reply

        Yes, commentary before or after is great, but not during – that’s when I’m the Red Queen: “Off with [his] head!”

    • Brenda Knowles March 7, 2015 at 8:23 am - Reply

      Nice! Love that rule and will implement it in my house.:) Thanks for reading and commenting.

  10. unexplainablyme March 6, 2015 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    I can completely relate with this article. I have a hard time “performing” while one on one or with a small group. I feel very much like I’m under a magnifying glass. Yet, put me in front of a large group of people and it comes much easier to me. With or without extra preparation. Go figure. But it was nice to hear that I’m not the only one. And that there is an explanation for me being the way I am. And also some good coping techniques to get me through the sticky moments. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Brenda Knowles March 7, 2015 at 8:20 am - Reply

      ‘Under the magnifying glass’ is a good way to put it. 🙂 I do not like to be too exposed and magnified. Thanks for reading and commenting and commiserating.

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