You are not a disorder: Social Anxiety is not you; it is a learning in your brain
Your brain learns, from what you pay attention to.
If you pay attention to “I can’t do that, I’m no good” your brain learns, and strengthens the connections in your brain,
making it easier to access bad thoughts about yourself – it becomes a feedback loop; a habit.
What is Social Anxiety?
There are a lot of formal definitions of social anxiety on the internet. I hope to make this page a bit more user friendly, something that you can relate to, and that makes sense!
Social Anxiety is feeling anxious around other people, and feeling anxious from even thinking about being around others.
It involves a lot of “second guessing” yourself; before, during and after conversations with people. For example, you might be in a conversation with someone, and have your own running commentary in your head about how you are doing. If you have social anxiety, the following “self talk” will probably be familiar.
You were not born anxious
- What do I say now
- Oh God, why did I say that
- What are they thinking about me?
- I’m starting to blush – they can see I am anxious now
- They think I’m stupid
- Get me out of here
This type of self talk goes on, inside your head, at the same time as a conversation with another person.
Afterward, the analysis sets in. You could be at home now and are going over and over it in your head – almost as if you had taken a video of the conversation and now you are dissecting it, piece by piece. You might feel bad, annoyed, anxious, ashamed, stupid, embarrassed, the list goes on.
What does all of this self talk do to you?
You are not feeling good. Even though you might be in the privacy of your own home, and alone. These thoughts (the self talk) starts to torture you. But how?
You create anxiety in your brain.
If you are thinking about something, that you perceive to be bad – your brain will give you the emotions that belong with that.
Stop and think about this for a moment, to help you to see what I mean. Has someone ever upset you – I mean, really upset you, and you think about it in your head?
You go over it from every possible angle, maybe to the stage of adding bits on and getting the upper hand, and telling them exactly what you think of them. While you are doing this in your head, have you ever got angry? Really angry or upset?
If you can relate to this, then you can start to understand the power of your thought processes. It is the “thinking” about it, that created the feelings in your body.
Your thoughts create changes in your body.
Try this for a minute to see what I mean. Stop reading this page and look around you, and pay attention to what is going on, and what sounds you can hear.
Maybe something is humming in the background, a clock ticking, dogs or children, traffic, people talking. Now that you are paying attention to them, they become real to you.
They were all there a few minutes ago, but if they did not have your attention, they, in effect, did not exist in that moment to you.
Your attention brings everything to life.
If your brain is paying attention to all the things you said, all your ideas about what people may be thinking about you, all your negative self talk about yourself – this is what is real in your life.
The more you pay attention, the more you feel the symptoms of anxiety. It becomes a habit, so to speak. When I say habit, I mean that these thoughts and feelings start to occur, whether you want them to or not. This is not your fault, it is just how your brain works.
It becomes like a “script” or “program” in your brain, ready to download anytime and anywhere. It is most likely to get activated in situations that you have had it before. (I am over simplifying what happens in the brain, but you get the picture.)
This means, if you are supposed to be going out, or doing something at the weekend, your brain can think “we have done this before – run the social anxiety script” and without any effort on your part, all the thoughts and physical feelings are there.
Hopefully you are beginning to see it is just how your brain works for you.
Keeping you anxious socially
Each time this ‘script’ runs, that is, each time you feel anxious around others, your brain starts to pick up little signal about you. It is easy for your brain to pick this up, as it has a lot to do with how you dissect what is happening; how you think.
If you keep thinking, “I can’t go out”, “I can’t do this,” “I will make a fool of myself,” “I’m not good enough,” this will become your ‘default.’ It becomes real, and you think this is just how you are. You accept it.
What if, ‘how you are’ and how you have accepted yourself, is not correct?
I see this time and time again when I am working with people. It is not usually obvious to the person at the start, as it is so much part of them, that they cannot see it.
We do not question our thought processes properly. Yes you might analyze everything single thing that you say, but if your ‘default’ is wrong, then your analysis is based on knowledge about yourself that is more than likely, not correct.
If you come to see me, you will probably be able to talk at great length about how you mess up, and how you perceive yourself, both socially, and just as a person. I would bet, quite a lot of this is negative.
Maybe some of this is familiar to you
You might think other people seem to have it all worked out, or that they are better than you somehow.
You might think that you have to try really hard to get accepted or for other people to like you.
You might not even be aware that the people around will allow you mess up from time to time and still want to have you in their life.
These are thoughts. Before you can decide if they are correct or not, you need to play detective as see if they have any basis or not.
Everyone is usually okay, not perfect, but okay, and that will include you, regardless of what you think of yourself in your head.
Have a think about the people around you. Do you have any friends? When answering this, watch out, for a quick “yes” and then dismissing it by thinking. “yes, but not as many friends as others”, or “not as good friends as I would like”. I just want a yes or no answer, so let’s try again!
Do you have any friends? One is enough.
Okay, don’t let your mind run off.
How long have you been friends for?
A lot of people that I speak with have had friends since childhood or college. If you have one person in your life (and you don’t have to see them every day, it is okay if they live in another country!)
If you have one person, this suggests that you not only have the ability to make friends, but that you can maintain the relationship.
It also means that, that one person, likes you just the way you are!
That is a very important point. You might think “If other people saw me as I really am, they wouldn’t like me,” or recognize that maybe other people think that you are okay, but it is not really true.
If that one person sticks around, that is a piece of evidence that does not match up with your thought processes about yourself. The reality is then, someone else, who knows you well, seems to like you just the way you are.
Try reversing it, what do you think of your friend? Would you stop calling them and never see them again this very second, if you thought they worried what other people think? Probably not. If you found out that they had the same thoughts as you inside their head, you would probably be the first person to tell them, they are just grand the way they are.
What I am trying to do, is to get you to start looking at yourself through a ‘reality lens’ as opposed to your own view of yourself, which might look something like this!
You really are okay the way you are
It is quite common to want to be different from who you really are. Say, in school or at work, if there is someone who is loud, talks a lot and popular, you might well think that you should be like that.
If it were me, I am a really quiet person by nature. If I did a test on myself, I would be well on the introverted scale. You might find that funny as my job is working with people! But I am quiet by nature and I do not like to draw a lot of attention to myself. Maybe you can relate to that. If you can, and you also compare yourself to others, maybe you also compare yourself to more extroverted people. How about considering that you are okay exactly as you are?
Again I will use myself as an example. If I automatically thought that in order to be good enough, I should be more extrovert.
- I would have to change who I am
- People that are already in my life, may not want to spend time with me, as it probably suited them that I was quiet
- When I would look at myself as this new extrovert person, I might not like my new self 🙂
Those are important points and hopefully give you some food for thought.
Further reading on anxiety