Become acutely aware of your body’s movements — your facial expressions, your hand gestures, your strange physical ticks — and try to counteract them with a forced, almost comical posture and attitude of detached calm. Try to look like you don’t care what is going on, but care so very deeply that you catch your palms sweating and wipe them, repeatedly, on your pants. Laugh just a little too loudly at jokes, than berate yourself internally for having done so. Realize that there are people around whom you will perpetually feel less-than, and that no amount of achievement or happiness on your part will fully erode that, as the source of your inferiority really has nothing to do with them at all — you have just labeled them as “better” somehow, and that is what they’ll be.
Constantly wonder what others are thinking of you, even though you’ve been told a million times that the key to true happiness and fulfillment is letting go of such concerns and living entirely for yourself. Know at your core that those things are true, and that you won’t ever feel the full presence of your joys unless you stop measuring yourself by other people’s standards, but be unable to do so. Feel the weight of perceived judgment like an immense stone chained to your leg, following you everywhere, preventing you from running, from jumping, from even walking in a new direction. Learn to hate certain sounds of laughter — those that come from behind you, from a group of people you can’t see — because no matter how ridiculous such an assumption would be in a room full of strangers, you can’t shake the feeling that they might be laughing at you.
Walk out of the house and immediately dislike what you’re wearing, how your hair is styled, the way you’re walking. Berate yourself when you see the people walking past you, well-styled and with purpose, who effortlessly embody so many qualities you struggle with yourself. Forget that each person walking by is a full human with their own stories — and their own struggles — and imagine them only as various personifications of the things you’ll never be. The professional-looking one must have a good job, the beautiful one must be so well-liked, the athletic one must live such a well-rounded life. Catch yourself in a windowpane and immediately identify a dozen things you would change if you could. Long to run back to your apartment and not leave again for the rest of the day — resent having to be out and about.
Wonder often if everyone feels this way, if there is an internal struggle with who we are and how others think of us existing in every sharply-dressed stranger in the subway. Be temporarily relieved when you hear a friend or colleague going on about the judgment of another, or something else outside of their control — feel a deep companionship with this need for approval, and hesitate to spill your own self-doubt. Don’t do it, though, as that would make you look strange.
Learn to fear certain social situations, even ones you thoroughly enjoy. Be uncomfortably self-conscious on first dates, inappropriately eager when meeting new people, and be wary of alcohol — as a strict amount of self-control is at least one thing that can be counted on. Spend the day after a night out recounting all of the stupid, irritating, or vulgar things you said and wish you could call each person you were with and apologize for having fun. Be peripherally aware that almost everyone does silly things when they drink, but allow memories of a stupid confession or misplaced joke told over cocktails haunt you for years after everyone else has forgotten. Be consumed by social missteps.
Begin to grow into yourself, if only in the slightest increments, and feel the more acute signs of profound insecurity begin to slough off. Feel hesitant but excited at the prospect of being your own person, outside of the harsh perspective of those around you. Realize that, with daily effort, becoming a true adult may mean learning to trust your instincts and being comfortable in mistakes, but find that much harder to execute in practice than you imagined as a child. Understand on a profound level that this hyper-awareness of who you are and deep dislike for even the most benign qualities you have is something that may never fully dissipate, only sink far enough below the surface to live with. See people twice your age who are visibly unsure of themselves, and hope that that will not be you some day. Fear that it might, but ignore the nagging feeling enough to go out and enjoy your evening.