If ever you have struggled with social anxiety I don’t need to tell you how debilitating it can be. A few years ago it brought me to my knees.
The sheer panic at the mention of any social event, dread on the run-up to any need for social interaction, avoided calls, emails, texts. Frequently moving home without telling anyone, changing phone numbers.
Needless to say, it took over my life which was odd because had you have asked anyone they would have told you that I was the life of the party. Every description ever written about me since I was a child would say ‘bubbly, outgoing, funny and friendly. In fact, this is exactly how I described myself, it was truly who I thought I was.
At the time I wasn’t aware that what I portrayed myself to be and who I actually am are two different things.
It sounds stressful just thinking about it and this is where my story begins because I am hoping that my own insights may just help you.
To cut a long story short (I go into more detail within the video), I started keeping a journal and reflecting on what was coming up for me when my anxiety became overwhelming. Other than acknowledging how I felt I had never really delved into a deeper understanding of why. I would often feel irritated, angry even when cornered into a social interaction that I of course wished to avoid. I would dread upcoming events with an inability to think of anything else. I accepted that I felt that way but never really considered why other than giving it a label and deciding that it was just my personality. I began to list out what worries and concerns were coming up for me without trying to understand or justify what did. (In the picture below). Looking back at what I wrote I could see the same things crop up. I found living up to expectations exhausting.
I felt that to be liked and accepted I needed to wear a mask.
In wearing a mask it felt as though I created very superficial connections
which I found draining.
The dreaded the overthinking, berating myself over what I did or didn’t say.
All of the uncertainty!
On reflection I came to realise many of my fears were one and the same.
I was scared that I am not good enough – translates to I need to people please in order for everyone to like me. I need everyone to approve of me. I must avoid being disliked by anyone. Being disliked makes me unlovable, unacceptable, unworthy.
How I feel about myself is based on what others think of me.
I was scared of uncertainty and I had come to believe that not being certain of an outcome was bad to be avoided.
My biggest fear was that I could not trust myself to ensure that my boundaries were honoured. History suggested that I could not be trusted.
You see I feared conflict, I hated to make other’s feel uncomfortable no matter whether they were as considerate of my feelings or not. I was a people pleaser, a yes woman that allowed people to say and act inappropriately and inconsiderately and I would betray myself time after time. And so rather than deal with this need to people please I just avoided people.
I was able to identify my fears so that I could work on them one by one and in doing so heal much more than my social anxiety.
This is my recommendation to you. To begin keeping a journal.
If you aren’t keen on writing I recommend the Otter app.
Jot down all that comes to mind. Your thoughts, the emotions, delve into what your fears may be.
Reflect on interactions that you have had, especially when you are telling yourself off.
What are your fears behind this? For example behind much of my overthinking was fear of judgment, fear that I hadn’t demonstrated who I was trying to be. There was a real lack of self-acceptance behind my fears.
I have popped some thought prompts here however I recommend writing with little thought or prompt at first as it’s surprising how much can come up.
To go into much more depth on overcoming social anxiety with clear steps for you take a look at the video workshop that I created below.