Question: what do you do when you feel like people are looking at you? How do you behave, how does it make you feel?
Sometimes, we all feel like other people are looking at us or judging us because of how we look. If you have CMN, that might involve being worried that people are noticing your birthmarks. Or, you might even have thought you saw people starting or talking about them. When that happens, it can make us want to hide away or avoid talking to or looking at the person.
People might react differently to those with visible differences (including CMN), and this might include:
- Unwanted questions and/or comments
Why might people act like this?
Our minds are trained to assess anything we haven’t seen before as a potential threat (remember the fight or flight response?). Because CMN may be new to someone, they might do a ‘double take’ or look for a longer period of time to make sure this ‘new’ thing isn’t a threat to either you or them. If they realise that they have been staring, they will likely feel embarrassed about their reaction.
Understandably, these reactions from others can make people feel uncomfortable, awkward or worried about social situations.
If we feel worried about these problems or about the way that we look, it can cause us to appear anxious, self-conscious or distracted when in social situations. For example, we might be quiet, avoid eye-contact and have closed body language (like having our arms crossed or looking down). When this happens, we can appear unfriendly or uninterested to other people.
Other people might misinterpret this as us not wanting to interact with them. In turn, this might make them worried about interacting with us too. Because of this, we might think that the person doesn’t want to interact with us because of our CMN, when this might not be the case. However, it can make us feel more self-conscious and underconfident.
Remember the Hot Cross Bun/CBT model? Take a look below to see how this interaction might take place. If you want to find out more about the hot cross bun model, please click here.
Alex, who has CMN, has noticed someone from another class, Rachel, looking at him. Take a look at the Hot Cross Bun below to see how this might have affected Alex.
Rachel has noticed Alex show some closed body language and that he is avoiding looking at her. Look below to see how Rachel has responded.
In this scenario, both Alex and Rachel have ended up feeling uncomfortable. Alex is understandably worried because he thinks Rachel is thinking badly about his CMN, and Rachel feels anxious because she thinks she is being ignored by Alex. This interaction might make Rachel and Alex more likely to avoid each other in the future.
A lot of the time, people will match the same energy as you when you’re in a conversation. If Alex is shy, people are likely to leave him alone. If Alex acts aggressive, he can expect people to be defensive or aggressive back. But this also works in a positive way; if Alex communicates with energy and is friendly by smiling using open body language and making eye contact, people will be more likely to be happy and friendly in return.
What can be really helpful in these situations is to know what to do to appear confident, friendly and put others at ease. It can be a bit tricky at first when we feel shy and self-conscious, but with a bit of practice it becomes much easier.
REACHOUT is a technique developed by Changing Faces, a UK charity that aims to help people with visible differences to cope with difficult social situations.
Putting someone at ease and making them feel reassured can go a really long way in breaking the ice and making social situations more comfortable. If you are meeting someone new and can sense that they feel awkward around you or don’t know how to act, try addressing your CMN using a sentence such as ‘If you’re wondering about this, it’s just a birthmark. I was born with it’.
Energy, enthusiasm and effort
Making an effort to communicate with energy and enthusiasm is a great way to make any social interaction positive and friendly. Try waving at people, smiling, asking interesting questions and think of some fun topics to start discussions about.
It’s really important for everyone to set boundaries and let people know what they need and how they feel. This can be especially important for someone with CMN, because people might not know how to act around you. This means they may get it wrong and overstep the mark sometimes.
- If someone is staring at you, try to catch their eye and smile and they will normally look away.
- If someone says something that you don’t like, try to let them know with your body language, e.g., give them a firm look, or tell them that they shouldn’t say that.
Try to use a calm tone of voice and don’t get aggressive – it could cause people to be rude and aggressive back.
Try to be confident, even in difficult situations.
Confident body language:
- Maintaining eye contact – if it feels intimidating, try focusing on a point close to their eyes instead.
- Stand up straight – uncrossing your arms and legs and straightening your back makes you seem much more confident.
- Keep your chin up – try not to spend long periods of time looking down at the ground or at your phone.
Courage also refers to having the confidence to do things you are worried about. See ‘Fear Ladders’ for help overcoming situations you are anxious about.
Seeing the funny side of things is always a great way to break the ice, make people feel comfortable, and gives you control over the situation. Some people like to use humour to show others that they are happy to talk about their CMN and that is not something to worry about.
- Be kind – don’t make jokes at the expense of others
- Make sure you aren’t taking the brunt of any jokes either (i.e., don’t let people make jokes at your expense). Let people know if they have overstepped the mark.
Sometimes, people can appear to be very distracted when you are in conversation, or they might be asking questions or drawing unwanted attention to your appearance. Distracting is a great way to take the attention away from your CMN and onto something different.
Sometimes in the moment it’s difficult to think of ways to distract people. Try to have some go-to examples so that you can use them. For example:
- What have you got for lunch today?
- Did we have any homework due in today?
- What is everyone up to this weekend?
- Has anyone seen the latest [film, tv show, music]?
Many people don’t know how to act in situations with people who may look different. Sometimes, they may feel worried that they will say or do something wrong, and this might make them uncomfortable and be the reason for any awkwardness. It’s important to remind yourself that it is unlikely that they are trying to be unkind or make anyone else feel uncomfortable. Sometimes people can’t help but ‘double take’ if they haven’t seen CMN before, and they might end up embarrassed about this reaction. If you can remind yourself of this, it will help you to feel less defensive. Also, being understanding can help you approach someone and get to know them more.
Things don’t always go exactly to plan. If you are struggling with anything, try again. Practice makes perfect! If you need more support with these techniques, please discuss with a parent/guardian or see the home page for information on who to contact.
Download this sheet to keep on your phone or print to take with you if you need reminding of any of these skills next time you feel that you are in a difficult social situation.
REACHOUT was created by Changing Faces (Partridge, 1994).
How do I deal with bullying?
If you feel that someone is deliberately targetting you, there are things you can do. Always report cases of bullying, whether it’s towards you or other people, to an adult that you trust. Please click here to find out more.