A sad figure is shown behind a window in a dark house while others have fun outside.

Social Anxiety and Atopic Dermatitis

Are you staying home and missing out on good times with friends? Do you let your atopic dermatitis make the decision whether to enjoy an outing with friends or just to stay home? Are you worried everyone will notice that flare, that peeling patch? And somehow think less of you? But do you notice and compare those who have differences? And find them less appealing?  As my mother would say, “Why do you think everyone is looking at you?”  Most of us usually only notice the flamboyant ones who want to be noticed. Or we see a joyful smile and don’t notice the dermatitis surrounding it.

What have I missed out on?

It took me a number of years to reach the point of not letting my social anxiety over my skin keep me from doing the things I wanted to do. Usually, I have occasionally wondered what I might have missed in those early years when I let my eczema and dry skin keep me from joining in. What was it Lewis Carroll said? “We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”

Are people really paying that much attention?

What is it that makes us think someone is looking at us, judging us? Social psychologists use the term “spotlight effect," referring to the tendency we have to overestimate how much other people notice about us. It doesn’t make us conceited; it’s a normal thought process. But it does increase our social anxiety. We shouldn’t stop living our lives to the fullest because someone might think poorly of our outside selves. Someone we may not know or ever see again.

My hand eczema embarrassment

This was brought home to me one day when I was out shopping with a fashionable friend. We were looking at some statement rings we saw in a window. They were both beautiful and inexpensive! As she was choosing her perfect ring, she questioned which I liked. I then admitted I didn’t wear rings as I don’t want to draw attention to my less than lovely hands. Severe eczema as a child has resulted in curved, misshapen fingernails, cortisone has thinned the skin tremendously. Plus the dry skin, the flares, flakes, peeling, occasional lichenification, and now with age, add in arthritis and wrinkles.

She was surprised when she looked at them, as she hadn’t noticed before. Her only thought then was to wonder if they hurt. It’s only when we draw attention to our supposed “faults” that others actually see them as we think they do. People really don’t see what we think they do. But even at my age, I occasionally still need to fight that worry over, "Will I be good enough? Will I fit in? Can anyone ignore that awful flare around my mouth?"

Others aren't our judges

We need to stop wishing that people would see us the way we think we need to be seen. To let them see us for ourselves, just as we are. Flaking skin, eczema flares, and all, although that’s easier said than done. They are not our judges. Why would we give our co-workers, friends, and even strangers that power?  Why do we feel the need to meet others' expectations? If someone is shallow enough to judge us by our skin condition, is that someone we really want in our lives? I’m doing everything necessary to keep my skin and the rest of me healthy, which is what’s important, after all.

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