Ellen had everything going for her. She was young, intelligent, beautiful and highly educated. She had success in her career and lived in an interesting city. “I could be completely happy with my life,” she told me during our first session. “Yet, as soon, as I am logging into Instagram or Facebook and see my friends going to fabulous events, travelling or upgrading their relationship status, I get a pit in my stomach and I panic. Suddenly, my life seems small and meaningless. Why didn’t my friends ask me to hang out with them – and why do they have such amazing lives and I don’t? From there, it is a straight shot to feeling lonely, unlovable and like a total loser.”
Another client of mine, Jim, was tortured by the fear of getting attention, especially the “wrong” one. Sitting through meetings at his office or Sunday dinners at his in-laws were excruciating for him, because he constantly tried to strike the delicate balance of being perceived as pleasant and acceptable without standing out too much. As he shared with me: “Somehow, I want to be like a paper towel holder; everybody knows that it is there, but nobody loves or hates it.”
Whether you are afraid of not being invited to a party, or speaking up in front of your co-workers, you are not alone. The fear of missing out (FOMO) and the fear of standing out (FOSO) are some of the most pervasive forms of social anxiety. Although FOMO and FOSO may seem quite different, they have two things in common: they are both rooted in the fear of rejection and abandonment. And they both emphasize fitting in over pursuing the natural desire to discover our authentic selves. Instead of wondering who we really are and what we truly want, we only ask ourselves: Who do we need to be in order to get the acceptance we are craving? In other words, we give our power away, rather than using it to grow into the best versions of ourselves.
While we are desperately trying to fit in, we may not realize that by denying ourselves the opportunity to explore and express who we truly are, we cause us much greater pain. So how can we choose authenticity over conformity – without feeling unsafe and isolated?
Most of the time, we automatically react to our fears in two ways: First, we buy into them; then, we avoid whatever caused them. If you struggle with FOMO, you believe that other people’s experiences are more interesting and rewarding than yours. To avoid regret and feeling less than them, you feel the need to stay constantly on top of what your friends are doing, and thus you spend more time scanning through the virtual world than engaging in your real life.
If FOSO is your challenge, you buy into the belief that you are only conditionally acceptable and that, who you truly are needs to be hidden. As a result, you dare to show only the sides of you that appear pleasant and agreeable. Therefore, the first step to breaking through these fears is to be able shift from unconsciously reacting to consciously responding to them.
Contemplate the following questions with the intention to refocus on yourself, on who you are and what is important to you – and thus on taking your power back:
- Am I really in danger when I don’t fit in or blend in?
- Does my sense of security and well-being truly depend on others’ approval?
- What is the price I pay for holding on to the fear of missing out or standing out?
- What will happen – and what won’t happen, if I continue have these fears?
- What do I want to be more important: To fit in, or to be my authentic self? To avoid being rejected, or to share my unique gifts and purpose with the world?
- How would the completely confident and self-assured version of myself handle situations that trigger FOMO or FOSO?
While answering these questions can interrupt your fear patterns, there are additional steps necessary for you to completely outgrow them – which are part of the topic of the next episode of Empowerment Radio. If you have been dealing with the fear of missing out or standing out, join me on Thursday, May 2nd at 9AM PT / Noon ET and learn effective ways to heal and overcome these fears for good.