Welcome to Episode #86. I’m Kristi Angevine, and today's episode is all about the habit of microanalysis of other people's responses, and letting them shape your own sense of worth and self-esteem. You're going to learn why you do it, how it presents, and how to start changing it. Let's get to it.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now, here's your host, Physician, and Master Certified Life Coach, Kristi Angevine.
Hello, hello, everyone. I'm recording this episode right after having just kicked two cats and our new puppy out of my office. Not because I don't really love their company but because this new puppy of ours, he is not yet to be trusted.
He's adorable. He's small in size, and small dogs have small bladders. So, I'm not yet confident that he will communicate his bladder emptying needs in a way that I'm able to detect if I'm recording the podcast and he's sitting behind me, cutely. For now, I'm recording this in a pet-free environment.
To introduce the topic of today, I want to reflect back to high school. For me, in high school, the start of every school day was walking into the school, into an area that was called “a pod,” where there were lockers and doors to some of the classrooms. We were supposed to sit down and wait for the bell to ring so that we could all just disperse and go to class.
So, my experience was never much fun. More days than not, it felt like walking into a lunchroom where you don't know where to sit. I would walk into the pod and I would scan the people hoping that I could find one or two people that I was comfortable sitting with, that I had familiarity with.
Now, my family and I, we moved a decent number of times. I'd gone to a few different elementary and middle schools, but this particular high school was one that I started and stayed at. Yet, despite that, I didn't really have a huge crew of friends to call my own. I was introverted. I was really self-conscious. I was really insecure.
So, every morning, I would scan the people that were in the pod trying to figure out where to go, hoping that my one or two or three friends would be there. As I scanned, I observed kids interacting with one another.
I noticed if they looked at me or not. I watched for any sign that maybe they were judging me, talking about me, ignoring me, overlooking me, rolling their eyes at me. All the while, I was trying not to let anyone know that I was watching them.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I was hyper focused on their responses to me, and their perceived responses to me. My mental feelers were scanning for a friendly face, and invitation or rejection, judgment, disinterest or potential ridicule. What I was doing back then was laser focused, microanalysis of body language; tone of voice, facial expressions, and group interactions.
At the time, I didn't know why I did it, or that there was another way to experience the start of a school day. But thankfully, there are other ways to experience walking into a group of people you don't know. For many of you listening, you may still have this type of experience even though you're no longer in the middle school lunchroom.
So, if you ever experienced something like this, say at a professional event or dinner party, while you're at the gym, when you're giving a presentation, when you're on a Zoom call, wherever, there's nothing uniquely wrong with you that causes this, it's actually extremely common. And there's a way to change it.
Now, if you're listening and you cannot relate to this phenomenon, my guess is that you know people in your life who do this. So, this episode is going to help you better understand them.
Outside the classic adolescent experience that I've described, as adults, this kind of automatic hypersensitivity to other people's reactions to us is associated with insecurity, low self-esteem, anxiety, people pleasing, and not knowing one's own opinion. But being very aware of other people's opinions.
Today's episode is an overview of this phenomenon, and it's one that we could probably talk about for a few different episodes. But for now, what I really want is for you to get a general sense of what it, why perhaps we do it, and a practical way to start changing it.
For starters, check and see if any of the following sounds like you: Being very aware of other people's body language at a meeting. Noticing other people's tone of voice. Being very aware of what other people are wearing. Microanalysis of minute changes in facial expressions after you say something to someone. Watching other people interact but trying to act like you're not.
Rereading emails and texts and ruminating on a sentence or a word choice, or how long someone's reply took to get back to you. Perseverating on real or imagined judgment, real or imagined disagreement, real or imagined conflict or tension. Scanning the room for acceptance or rejection, like or dislike, interest or disinterest, displeasure, potential judgment, potential rejection.
Now, this kind of keen attention can be really great in certain situations or vocations. Microanalysis of other people's responses is integral if you're say, a spy, or a professional negotiator, or professional poker player. Or an attorney questioning someone on the stand, when you work in law enforcement, or you’re a psychiatrist or mental health professional. Where your job requires that you read people, pick up on what is not spoken, and detect subtle hints to make conclusions that are meaningful.
But there can be an underbelly to this type of hyper focus and microanalysis of other people's responses. And that underbelly is when you use it to make negative interpretations about your own worth. Then it subsequently bleeds into your identity, your self-concept, and into your interpersonal relationships.
The underbelly of this habit has this particular sequence: You're intensely attuned to other people's body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, or choice in attacks; whatever. Then, you use what you find as proof of a negative evaluation of yourself from that other person. And then, you use that presumed interpretation to shape your own concept of yourself.
So, here's how this goes. Step one, you walk into a meet and greet, or you say something in a meeting, and as you do, you're extremely focused on someone's facial expression; where their eyes go, if they grab their phone or not, and what they say to you.
The second step is, based on what you see, you conclude that they think you're so stupid, and they wish they could be talking to someone else.
Thirdly, you internalize this and you think to yourself, “Gosh, I am so stupid. nobody wants to talk to me.” Notice that when this type of thing happens, it’s lightning fast. This is how you can feel insecurity and shame in a nanosecond, and then want to retreat back to the safety of your own home and never go to another potluck dinner or journal club meeting ever again.
This kind of lightning-fast phenomenon of microanalysis, and using it to shape your own view of yourself, is so rapid. It is really useful to slow everything down so you can see what's actually going on. Because when you understand the mechanics of the phenomenon, then you can start being more aware of when you do it. Which is the main way you start to change it.
So, let's flesh out these three things that happen. First is the microanalysis itself. This microanalysis is it focused on other people's responses or reactions to you and to others. It can be on facial expressions, it can be a focus on body language, tone of voice, eye movements, how somebody says something, what they say. It can be a laser focused attention on how others are interacting with one another.
The second piece that occurs is when you take the data that you've collected, and you conclude something negative about yourself. You aren't just scanning the table to figure out who's bluffing in the poker game, you're scanning with a bias for noticing potential scrutiny, disconnection, judgment, and rejection. This is engaging in a form of unfavorable personalization.
This is where you make their furrowed brow mean that they hate you and they think you're dumb. You make the amount of time that they talk to you mean they are super irritated, and they're probably going to go gossip about you later. You make the way other people interact with one another mean that you're unwelcome.
Now, the final and third thing that happens in this phenomenon, is internalizing what you assume others see in you, and then making an equivalent negative conclusion about your own worth or your own self-concept. So, if you perceive that somebody thinks you're stupid, you tell yourself, “I am so stupid. I don't have anything to offer.”
Why do we do this? It's so painful, it's so uncomfortable, why do we do this? Like most things, there's not one answer that's going to apply to everyone. For some people, this hyper focus and microanalysis may have developed in response to situations in their formative years.
Now, there's also a big socialization piece that comes to play. When you grow up in a culture or a family that has the implicit messaging that your value and your success hinges on what others think of you, and whether or not they're pleased, microanalysis and judging your own abilities and worth based on what you think other people think of you is a natural consequence.
We see microanalysis associated with low self-esteem when there are core beliefs like, “There's something wrong with me. They know better, I don't belong and never will. Their opinion matters more than mine.”
So, here's the thing about core beliefs. Core beliefs are like goggles that we wear. We look at the world through them. We look at ourselves through that lens. These core beliefs dictate what we see and what we don't see. And based on what we see and what we don't see, we end up going about our lives collecting evidence to reinforce these core beliefs.
This is because these core beliefs, these goggles, they're also blinders which makes us miss data that goes contrary to the core belief. We not only miss data that is to the contrary, but we will actively ignore it. This is when we have a core belief that there's something wrong with us.
Somebody gives us a compliment and we blow it off, or maybe don't even remember it. Or we don't just ignore it, and will discredit anything that doesn't corroborate our core belief.
So, say we think other people know better. But then, one of these other people comes to us and asks for help or asks for our input. In our mind we’ll say, “Well, they're just being nice. It's just a fluke. Sure, they asked me for input, but it's just because there's nobody else around and the one thing they're asking about, that I know about, is actually something really lame anyways.”
If, as you listen to this, you notice that you do have this tendency for microanalysis, personalization, and judgment, what do you do with all this? How do you start to change it?
The first step is simply to bring awareness to when you do it, and what it looks like to be aware of the hyper focus and then microanalysis itself. To notice when you're concluding other people have a negative assessment of you. To be more aware of when you internalize this to mean something about you as a person. To pick up on that self-indictment about your capabilities.
So, does it happen with text messages? Does it happen at social events? Does it happen in the operating room? Does it happen at school pickup? Does it happen at work? Is it with a particular set of people or one particular person at work?
Or is it more with your partner, at home with your children? Is it with a certain family member but with no one else? Is it when you're doing something unfamiliar? Or is it perhaps more common in the aftermath of making a mistake?
Your work, if I were to assign podcast homework, your work is to take stock of when you do this, and start paying attention to when you do it. Just by preparing to pay attention to when you do this, you're going to set yourself up for noticing it when it's happening.
Then, when you notice it, either retrospectively or you notice yourself doing it in the moment, this is what you do: You pause, you breathe, you notice what you were doing, and then you name it. See, slow down, and notice what you're doing. Take a breath or two, if that helps. And then, you name it.
“Ah, that was the hyper focus on such and such. Oh, I just made a rapid, scathing conclusion about myself based on a look I saw cross somebody's face.: You notice it, you name it, then you get to ask yourself: What else might be going on here? What else might also be true, other than that scathing assessment I just made?
These types of questions help you shift to a more neutral, curious state of being so that you can remove the goggles, so to speak, and assess your situation from a different vantage point.
Let's sum up this habit. This happens, the tendency to have a hyper focus and then micro analyze other people's responses, whether it be in person on Zoom or responses that come in the form of written text or emails, when the habit is to personalize these responses in a very negative way. And then, to use that interpretation as self-indictment. You may include things about your worth, your character, or your capability, based on what you think others think of you.
This habit likely develops as an adaptive habit, and adaptive skill set, that we needed in the past. And it's highly shaped by the societal message that your worth and success is contingent on what other people think of you, and whether or not they're pleased with you or not.
This habit is lightning fast, so the path to changing it starts with identifying when you do it so that you can pay more attention to it. Then slowing way down so that you can notice in the moment when you're doing it.
I hope this high-level overview of this particular habit was really helpful for you to understand yourself better, or understand people in your life who might have this habit better. If you have questions, if you want to share what your responses were reflecting on this, join the Habits On Purpose Facebook group, or join the email list.
If you go to HabitsOnPurpose.com you'll see a spot where you can join the email list, and you can just press reply to any email. If you have any questions, I'll personally reply back to you. The email is Hello@HabitsOnPurpose.com. You will get emails from that email address when you sign up to the email list.
I will see you next week. Enjoy the rest of your week.
Would you like to start exploring your own thought patterns and your own beliefs about yourself in the world? Are you at a point in your life where you're really ready to be deliberate with your approach to life and deliberate with your habits? If so, I would love to connect.
I would love to help you with the exploration and the application of the concepts that I teach. I keep a small private practice panel, and if you're interested in private one-on-one coaching, you can learn more about if we're a match by going to habits on HabitsOnPurpose.com/private.
Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.