The room goes quiet. Suddenly everyone is looking at me. I start to feel my face flush.
My insides begin to squirm. I want to be anywhere but here. The feeling of all those people looking at me, expecting something.
My mouth goes dry. I swallow. Will myself into saying something. Anything. As long as it is appropriate.
For many years, I would do anything to deflect attention from myself. Ask a question back. Give just the shortest of answers.
Never make eye contact when a question was asked of the room. Hold my arms tightly by my side.
When I started training as a therapist, I had to put that side of myself under great scrutiny.
On the very first morning, with a group of strangers, each of us had to sit in the chair in front of the room and declare our greatest fears about the training.
Well doing that, was one of them for me. I felt so knotted while I waited my turn.
My breath was shallow. I was agonising and dreading the experience.
I continued to find groups immensely challenging. I did my best to put myself out there.
Now I have a new perspective on what was happening, but more of that in a minute.
First a quick detour
I know this experience is not uncommon amongst those who’ve grown up in a narcissistic family or with emotional neglect.
I hear it time and time again from clients as well as seeing it in my own story.
When you grow up in an emotionally volatile environment, this happens:
You start to learn to read the signs of when things are going to be safe or not.
By the way, that’s why I think so many people who grew up in this way would self-classify as highly sensitive or as empaths.
It becomes a matter of survival. How well you read the climate at home. And know whether you can stick your head above the trench or need to withdraw and keep yourself safe.
Some moments, days even, it can feel fine. But you know in your bones that it can change at any second.
Waiting until the storm passes
Then it’s time to hunker down and make yourself as small as possible until the storm passes.
You start to embed deep beliefs about how safe the world is.
As a rule, being the centre of attention is never that safe. It exposes you.
Keeping with my battle metaphor - I guess with the 100 year anniversary of the end of WW1 that’s in my psyche - why on earth would you stand in the middle of the battle field when you can be ‘safe’ in a trench?
You just wouldn’t would you, unless you’re forced to? And for ‘forced’, as an adult, you can think of social pressures, work pressures, relationship pressures, self-inflicted pressures that put you back in that place.
The map is not the territory
Now here’s the thing. You think it’s a war zone. Because that’s what your early life taught you.
It’s as if you carry that map of that scary territory throughout your life.
The war may well be over by the time you’re an adult, but you’re still navigating life as it’s raging around you.
But it’s just a map. It’s not the territory anymore. You’ve navigating by something that is completely out of date.
A world created by our thinking
I’m starting to see things differently now. That my world is created by my thinking, not the other way around.
That I live in the feeling of my thinking. In other words, all my feelings come from my thoughts.
When I have those moments of hating being the centre of attention, that is my thinking going off track.
The feelings in my body are telling me that my thinking is insecure.
We are all luminous souls, beings of equal value, made of the same stuff.
My insecure thinking can take me into endless stories of not deserving, or shame when I’m the centre of attention.
If I follow that thinking, I check out from the experience at the earliest opportunity.
The result? Loss of connection. Loss of meaning. Loss of experience.
Equally my thinking can tame me into a deep ease with my sense of shared humanity. Each of us a source of love and connection.
Both are creations of my thinking. But only one feels like the truth.
Nothing to change
That said, there is nothing you need to do. Nothing to change.
As you start to see how you live in a reality created by your thinking, your mind starts to quieten.
You start to see the stories you tell yourself for what they are. Just stories.
When that happens, you begin to be able to change the story.
With your free will.
How amazing is that?
When you start to see that you get to decide whether being the centre of attention is ok or not.
How would life change for you if that happened? I’d love to hear…
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