Monday, 18 February 2013

Secretly worry people don’t like you?

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Ever walked into a party and immediately felt judged?  Or a meeting?  Or a conference?  Or a gathering of someone else’s friends.

As you looked around the room, you somehow knew everyone was thinking about you, “What are they doing here.  They shouldn’t be here, they’re far too …”

“far too old”

“too young”

“too posh”

“too poor”

“too badly dressed”

Which is the one you hear people think?

Ever wondered how you know thats what people are thinking?  Here’s the thing.  You don’t.  You think you do, but actually you don’t.  Because they’re probably not thinking this negative thing about you – they probably haven’t even noticed you to be honest. 

In fact probably only one person is thinking this negative thing about you.  And that’s … You.

Psychologists call this projection.  This is how it works.  You walk into a room, and feel that everyone looks better dressed and seems better spoken than you.  You feel inadequate and think “I’m not classy enough to be here.”  But your brain doesn’t like you thinking this negative thing about yourself.  So instead it projects this negative view onto everyone else. 

Rather than accepting that you think you’re not classy enough to be there, your brain decides to believe that everyone else is thinking this.  The great thing about this is that then you can disagree with them, reassure yourself that you are perfectly classy and then judge everyone for being so judgmental.  You might feel unwelcome but you’re reassured that you’re perfectly classy. 

The one trouble with projection is that it makes you less likely to trust people different from you.

In Divided Britain, projection matters.  It means that if we want people of different ages, incomes and ethnicities to trust each other more, we can’t just organise a short meeting or party.  We need new institutions that bring people together on an ongoing basis.  We need to redesign schools and nurseries so that people mix and meet repetitively.  Or at least long enough to realise that those negative thoughts are not the other group judging you.  They’re your own brain tricking you.  

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