Opinion: My perceived imaginary audience influences my feelings and actions

viv graphic by paige modified cuz i messed upAs a teenager surrounded by teenagers that talk about other teenagers, I feel the need to always look and act presentable. I always feel as if everyone is paying close attention to me, trying to pick out my flaws and remembering me for them. Even if I was alone, I’d still feel like someone was watching.

That someone is my imaginary audience. “Imaginary audience” refers to an egocentric psychological state where individuals, mostly adolescents, feel as if everyone around them is watching closely and evaluating them, feeding into their social anxiety and
self-consciousness. In reality, no one is watching them. It can make one feel unique but also inhibited and paranoid.

My imaginary audience makes me feel paranoid. I may notice one small issue with myself and then remember that forever and think that everyone sees it just as I do. The same goes for any mistake I make.

I always think of what others think of me, whether they hate me and have a negative view of me or not. If I were to walk past a group of people, I’d think they were staring at me, judging each step I took. These thoughts affect me daily and they affect other people too.

There are instances where I’ll do something I’d classify as embarrassing and regrettable and I’d think about these instances for hours and hours, wondering what people thought of me. I’d be scared that these actions would be how they would remember my name. Actually, no one cares about what I do. They’ve probably forgotten about it, most likely caught up in their own imaginary audiences.

I tell myself to not care and others tell me to stop caring. How? I’m clueless on how to not care. I care about what people think of me—family, friends, classmates, strangers— and it feels never-ending.

The people I’ve met that supposedly “don’t care” aggravate me. How? Especially at this age, the need to fit in is stuck in everyone’s minds. I could look up ‘how to not care about what others think of me’ on the Internet and follow their steps, but it wouldn’t change anything. I am jealous of people who don’t constantly overthink.

When I was younger, I always felt that someone was watching me. This person was no stalker; it felt like they were my audience, and I was the actress. Even now, this person watches my every move like they are watching a movie. My parents had criticized the way I’d talk, dress and act, which made me feel as if I should fit everyone’s expectations. I was taught how to act whether people were present or not, which could have allowed for an audience to settle in my mind.

This imaginary audience may fade as I grow older, but now, I am vulnerable to any comments I hear and glances I see.

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