I have an unfortunate habit of internalizing other peoples bad behavior. I witness an objectionable, selfish act and it immediately triggers a full body/behavior scan to evaluate if I am guilty of said behavior.

I am very easily embarrassed on behalf of others – strangers, acquaintances, TV actors – doesn’t matter. For years I couldn’t watch an episode of Happy Days because the characters embarrassed themselves every other minute and it killed me. I would get up and leave the room. When I’m exposed to very bad acting in a theatre and can’t escape, I count all the lighting instruments and trying to calculate the number of seats in the house. This distraction has saved me more than once, and since its dark, no one notices my face is blazing hot in sympathy for the self-indulgent and/or ham sandwich acting I am witnessing.

When a situation or performance gets uber bad tears leak out of my eyes completely against my will. People usually think I am incredibly moved, but a few, like my husband, know the truth. It’s a defense mechanism to keep me from dying of someone else’s shame.

There have been people over the years whose behavior has had an extreme Pavlovian effect on me. A knee jerk reaction to crush every attention seeking impulse I have had or ever will have. I am sure there is an archetype that would define them but I just think of them as “A Horror”, as in horrified. Every interaction with them feels self-aware and calculated as if they live their life being filmed for a documentary. Their own private movie and we are the audience.

From ironic t-shirts to Eurotrash eye glasses they have progressed in their hip, hipster lifestyle making me cringe every step of the way. Every funky/retro piece of clothing, every wry, self-congratulatory explain-a-brag makes me scan for comparable insincere choices and opinions on my part.

“Oh my god – do I do that? Do I sound that way? Do people think I’m fake and self-conscious? I need to Not Talk Ever Again!” And thus the line between objective and subjective is blurred beyond recognition.

I know I have a problem with this but I have also met too many people who live their life as if they are under the lens. Maybe it’s a symptom of a post-Orwellian (or post cold-war?) belief that someone is always watching. Maybe it’s a symptom of the reality TV mentality for which we have Survivor to blame. Or maybe the Truman Show.

There was a movie I saw in the last few years about a TV talent show with a callous British host. Obviously sending up American Idol & Simon Cowell, it had a contestant who was completely aware that she was self-aware who was the perfect reality show participant and ultimately the host when the mean British man is killed off. Can’t remember the name of the movie, but I remember thinking “I know people like that.”

Self-conscious exhibitionists hoping they are living in a world of peeping toms. Celluloid at least separated the wheat from the chaf. I blame equal opportunity digital filmmaking and YouTube for my continual discomfort on behalf of the world.

I retreat to the 1970’s