The Spotlight Effect

Have you ever been in a work situation where your supervisor, a colleague, or a client asked to meet with you but didn't say what the meeting was about?

If you have, you know how disconcerting that can be. 

Perhaps you're the kind of person who doesn't get spun out by such things, and if so, I salute you.  I am not one of those people, and I've been thinking a lot lately about what that says about me. 

Over the past few years, I've decided that the best way to deal with the anxiety I feel in the aforementioned circumstances is to simply ask people to share why they want to meet.  

This way, I can begin thinking about how the meeting will go, what I might offer, how to prepare for possible questions, etc. 

It also keeps me from spinning about the meeting and what it might be about because I often expect the worst-case scenarios, even when it isn't warranted.  

I can't tell you how many times I've lost sleep over situations like this, only to discover that the person wanted to meet with me to ask for advice, tell me about something going on in their life, or quite simply share something good. 

So where does this come from?  What makes those of us who struggle with this kind of anxiety get worked up about things like this?  

I think it has something to do with a term in social psychology called "the spotlight effect."  

The "spotlight effect" refers to our tendency to overestimate how much others think about or notice us. When dealing with the spotlight effect, we often project our fears and worries onto others.  

And we can also project our own hubris as well.  

The reality is that everyone is so concerned about their own problems/life that they rarely, if ever, spend much time thinking about ours.

But we think they are and often let our imagination run wild as a result.  

As Fr. Richard Rohr once wrote, we tend to see the world "as we are," which can be problematic if we struggle with insecurities or feelings of guilt over the way we see ourselves. 

One of the many things that Jesus taught was that we should look out into the world with "singleness" or, more accurately translated from the Greek, with "openness."  

His teaching was that when our vision for the world is clear, we let in light, and the light within us enables us to have a clearer picture of what God is doing around us.  

When we live this way, we stop worrying so much about what others might or might not say, and we can approach every encounter with another person with a sense of hopefulness and joy.  

And even in those situations where we get blindsided by someone who might say unfair, critical, or hurtful things to us, we can more easily find peace and compassion as we realize that hurting people hurts people. 

Or we might discover that there are lessons that we need to learn in our painful encounters that could help make us better versions of ourselves.  

May it be so for us all.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever.  Amen.  


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