The Spotlight Effect

People who are victims of the Spotlight effect feel that they can not have a visible defect, or make a mistake, because others are constantly looking at them, only to judge and condemn them.

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The Spotlight effect is the name that has been given to the tendency to oversize any defect or error, however small they may be. Who is a victim of this problem, feels as if everyone is watching him and will judge even his smallest mistakes. It is typical of teenagers, but there are also many adults who feel that way.

A person afflicted by the Spotlight effect will feel terror if he sees a pimple on his face. Imagine that everyone will be attentive to that little imperfection and will look for the moment to criticize him from behind. In this type of people come together two seemingly contradictory situations: they have low self-esteem and, at the same time, they feel the center of the universe.

“Only if I feel valuable for being the way I am, can I accept myself, can I be authentic, can I be true.”

-Jorge Bucay-

Advertisers know the Spotlight effect very well. That’s why you’ll see countless commercials in which someone goes wrong with everyone if they do not use a certain product. They show scenes in which someone is signaled or rejected by everyone around them when they do not carry a particular brand, or do not perform certain action. Those who are so obsessed with the opinion of others are easy prey to manipulation.

This is the Spotlight effect

To give a more precise definition, let’s say that the Spotlight effect is the tendency to overestimate one’s own characteristics or personal behavior. This occurs because the affected feels that any error, difficulty or mistake is extremely striking for others. He has not realized that the majority of humanity does not care if we have a stained shirt.

It could be said that the Spotlight effect is one of the faces of paranoia. The paranoid feels special, different, chosen. It is not that he has excess narcissism, but that he feels guilty about something that he is not aware of. Project that guilt on others and for that reason it seems to you that everyone is constantly judging you in a severe way. In turn, it compensates for the feeling of guilt by feeling falsely superior.

This type of people want to maintain that image of theirs that they are better at something and therefore end up becoming extremely dependent on the opinion of others, in two senses. On the one hand, they need to captivate others in some way. On the other, they feel fear of others, because they see them as implacable judges.

A revealing experiment

An experiment on the Spotlight effect was carried out at Cornell University. The study consisted of gathering a group of volunteers and asking them to choose a shirt that they considered shameful. They had to carry it for a day and then calculate how many people had noticed that ridiculous garment.

After completing this first part of the experiment, each was asked the number of people who had observed them in a failing way. Likewise, a survey was made among the observers to compare it with the responses of the volunteers.

The result was that many of the volunteers were significantly mistaken in calculating the number of people who had noticed them. The figures showed that less than half had repaired the garment.

Overcome the Spotlight effect

The recommended to overcome these types of difficulties that reside in our unconscious is to perform psychological therapy. However, there are also some measures that can be taken in the short term and that are effective. Some of those measures are:

  • Check the validity of the assumptions. It is worth repeating the Cornell experiment, to scale. It is valid to make a mistake or get something ridiculous and then ask the others to see if they really noticed this.
  • Analyze the reasons for shame. It is good to think why that error or defect is as serious as perceived. What is the terrible thing about it? What could be intolerable to others?
  • Remember the virtues. It is advisable to oppose a reflection on your virtues, when you feel that others are judging you, whether it is true or not. What makes you valuable?

Why does a pimple on your face or a stain on your shirt detract from your value?

It would be interesting to examine why you feel so insecure about who you are. The Spotlight effect takes root in those who have not managed to accept. Maybe there is something you deeply regret, but you can not know what it is. Think about it, go to your memory, with an attitude not to whip you, but to genuinely recognize you.