When Everyone Else is Perfect Except You
One of the cardinal cognitive distortions of anxiety:- Thinking everyone else is perfect and has it together 100%. Everyone except you. That everyone else in the nearby vicinity's better than you because, well, it just seems obvious at the time. For the same reasons my self-esteem's been dented along the way to wherever I am now. Thinking like that not only increases the likelihood I'll panic, it increases the amount of pressure I put on myself, and the degree to which I'm then able to recognize what is and isn't anxiety talking.
Anxious Thoughts Make You Think Everyone Else Is Perfect
Of course I know not everybody on the bus is watching me, judging me, thinking I wore the wrong coat, I look fat, I'm bothering them by breathing. I'm well aware there isn't a right coat but it sure feels like things like that can be about wrong and right, good and bad, when you're anxious.
Fact is, whether I eat an apple or not isn't a moral decision. It's just whether I eat an apple or not. I'm not Eve so there are probably better things to worry about.
And I totally know that right up until something adds just a little bit too much to my day and my thoughts veer onto an awkward track; Anxiety clicks in and the whole thing seems perfectly logical, complete with its own momentum--
That apple obviously means something, and Lord knows those people in the corner are clearly laughing about something I did. It's the coat, or maybe it's just me. Uhoh, here it comes: panic. A little dizzy here. Help?
Preventing Panic Over Perfection
Trying to outright stop anxious thoughts is problematic, at best, and attempting it can be detrimental to treating anxiety. But early detection and intervention in anxious thinking can change everything.
What I've found most helpful is to consistently and continuously rephrase anxious thoughts whenever I become aware they're creating or increasing the symptoms of anxiety.
Changing Anxious Thoughts
Instead of "I'm 50% frump and 50% moron for wearing that coat this morning. Everyone on the bus knows it," I reframe it; Looking at the thought in my head, flipping it sideways until I can say to myself:
"I am having the thought that I'm 50% frump and 50% moron..."
After a while, as I consider that particular anxious thought with a tiny bit more room between me and it, I can change things a little more. Like the tiles on a Rubik's Cube:
"I am experiencing anxiety because I'm having the thought that I'm not good enough... and feeling judged because I'm thinking everyone on the bus must feel as I do... and therefore they are having the same thoughts."
Which I stir about in my head until eventually it turns into something more like:
"Oh, wow, so I'm pretty sure I haven't the first clue what anybody on this bus except me is thinking. And hey wait, that was my thought, and my anxiety, and it's wild how far that all seems to get before I've even had time to blink.
S'pose I'm not feeling very sure of myself but I do like my socks. At least nobody can see them. OK, brain seems to be diverted from panic central. That's better even. Good."
White, K. (2011, February 7). When Everyone Else is Perfect Except You, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2011/02/when-everyone-else-is-perfect-except-you-treating-anxiety
Author: Kate White
Stabilizing and altering as much as possible in terms of current day behavior. From there you can get into schema models and start to see the cycle of the whole thing, and look at changing perceptions/judgments.
But as you say perceptions are not very amenable to change right up front. Takes a lot of learning new, completely different behaviors before they really do start to change, in my experience.