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What Actually is Social Anxiety?
July 8, 2016
Social Anxiety is a topic close to my heart as something I have dealt with for as long as I can remember. I was always shy and introverted, and more concerned with what others were thinking of me than what I thought of them. I remember at three years old in my pre-school class being reluctant to open the lunch my mom packed for me because it might be different from what the other kids parent’s packed for them…and then what would they think of me? This fear of judgment and rejection was enough to keep me quiet and introverted.
Looking back, I give credit to this part of me for helping me to become such a great observer and hone my perception and listening skills. But it has also kept people from getting to know me, and left them with umlimited opportunity to project who I am on to me.
As a therapist, and a friend, what I have come to realize is that I have never met someone who does not have a form of social anxiety. We all feel it from time to time to some degree. However, because the form in which it manifests varies so much from person to person, we get the impression that we are alone in it, which feels even worse and magnifies it.
We often stereotype a person who has social anxiety as someone alone in the corner, withdrawing from life, nervous when speaking, stammering and sweating. But social anxiety may also be what is driving your overly talkative friend’s behavior, and people who appear outgoing, confident, extraverted, attention seeking, and even rude or disinterested.
This is because social anxiety manifests from placing extreme importance on what others are thinking of us. This leads some people to withdraw, and others to overcompensate or create defenses.
You might be wondering: If the importance of what others think of me underlies social anxiety, than the antidote is to not care what people think? Sounds logical, but it is simply not realistic or true.
As human beings we thrive from relationships and connection. The people in our lives serve as mirrors for us to gain self-awareness and to grow. There is no end to growth; as long as you are alive there is room within you to expand your awareness. To walk through the world not caring what others think of you would be defensive and could even lead you to behave in ways which harm others or the planet.
However, what others think or say about you should also NOT be taken as the ultimate truth to determine how you feel about yourself (since it is only one person’s perspective which is always clouded by their mood, issues and life experiences). There is value in caring about how people experience you. What becomes harmful and debilitating is when you ONLY care what others think of you, and you fail to formulate your own opinion about yourself (or about others), which is what matters most.
Placing such extreme importance on being liked, fitting in, or even impressing others is what keeps us from being an honest expression of who we are in any given moment with someone. If we are wearing a mask of trying to please then the unique self that we are gets lost in the mix. And how could we ever really know what others think of us if they don’t receive the real us? Certainly the mask social anxiety can create is safer, rejection doesn’t hurt as bad if it is not the real you being rejected. But walking through the world with a mask on contributes to a sense of loneliness, disconnection and shame, which feels like rejection anyway; it is self rejection.
Try accepting yourself as you are. When you are comfortable with who you are there is no room for social anxiety. Others will be put at ease and feel safe to be who they truly are. They will also get a chance to know and accept the real you which feels pretty good.
I would love a chance to get to know who you really are underneath your insecurities, would you? If you’re interested then lets connect and start this journey together: please email me at Alyssa@AlyssaRand.com.