Social anxiety is a learned response to traumatic experiences;
For example, as a child your parents may have yelled at you to “shut up” when you were talkative in public. This can be extremely traumatic because you depend on your parents for survival.
To ensure your survival and the love of your parents you reluctantly hide that talkative part of yourself and pretend it doesn’t exist. But it still does.
What are the consequences?
You start to hate that talkative part of yourself.
Social pressure from teachers, classmates, friends and others discourages various personality traits. Maybe you tried to share your opinion but classmates teased you. The rejection caused you to fear sharing your real ideas with anyone.
Social pressure is great for society because it ensures people aren’t free to cause irreversible chaos. But for individuals it can lead to years of suffering from repressing discouraged traits.
To maintain a minimum of social approval they start avoiding social situations. However, every time you avoid an interaction you reinforce negative beliefs in your own inadequacy.
How do you Overcome Social Anxiety?
Every time you face a social interaction you have the choice to either avoid or engage others. Every time you choose to avoid people you are investing in negative beliefs and feelings that constrict your comfort zone.
Imagine how limiting that comfort zone will become after thousands of interactions avoided, each time reinforcing the mistaken belief that people are terrifying.
Logically you may realize this isn’t true, but it’s too late. You’ve already trained yourself to believe people are much more threatening than they are.
The only way to reverse this is to invest in the opposite behavior. Start engaging people in conversation when you feel tempted to avoid interaction.
How to Overcome Social Anxiety
This can be very challenging for people who’ve lived their whole life crushed under the weight of social pressure and have little reason to believe in their ability to confidently interact with others.
To help you overcome these fears here are 3 useful tips:
The parts of yourself you are ashamed of need as much acceptance as the positive parts that receive social approval. Acceptance of anger doesn’t mean you need to become violent.
Acceptance of intelligence doesn’t mean you need to become an arrogant know it all, and Acceptance only means you give permission to these parts of yourself to exist.
The socially anxious are often afraid of being judged for the personality traits they’ve suppressed. Because they don’t accept these traits within themselves they don’t expect others to accept them either.
The socially anxious often worry they won’t know what to say to impress people and win their approval. Instead you could be using all that wasted energy to allow your creativity to flow in an engaging, enjoyable conversation.
2. Accept the Fear and Do it Anyway
Every time you have a thought similar to “I want to (talk to a cute stranger, go to a party, perform in front of others, etc.)” this may trigger your fear response.
This is a crucial moment where you are forced to vote on becoming either more confident or more socially inhibited.
Every time you avoid doing something you actually want to try, you inevitably reward the fear and make it stronger. You are rewarding yourself for not doing what you actually want to do.
How insane is that!?
By accepting this fear response instead of resisting it, you can begin to build the momentum to engage others instead of avoiding them. Feel the fear and take action anyway.
Accept that the fear is uncomfortable and stay in social encounters as long as possible.
3. Don’t Chase Confidence
If your goal is confidence you may think you need to memorize an encyclopedia of social skills to function without awkward mistakes. As positive as all this effort may seem, it actually only reinforces the belief that you lack confidence.
By saying you want confidence, you are simultaneously saying you don’t have it at all.
Some people get addicted to positive messages about pursuing confidence and happiness. If you can let go of this desire to be confident and socially acceptable you finally won’t be paranoid about behaving perfectly.
You are already enough, don’t reinforce the idea you lack confidence by chasing it.
Accept that it’s ok if not everyone loves and admires you fully. The truth is you will never be loved by everyone in the world. You also don’t need to accept everyone into your life. We are all free to reject each other.
If you hide your real opinions and desires for social acceptance you are only preventing others from getting to know you. The risk is that if people really knew you, maybe some people wouldn’t like you. But that doesn’t matter. There will inevitably be people you can connect with who love exactly what you have to offer.
This is what’s meant by the phrase, “just be yourself.” The socially anxious often complain that this advice is unrealistic. Confident people are naturally themselves.
They don’t constantly filter every word and action to make sure everyone can accept it.
The socially anxious however have developed a habit of hiding their authenticity under a layer of social conditioning and bad habits.
Here’s a quick recap on the 4 tips to overcome social anxiety:
- Accept the fear & do it anyway
- Don’t chase confidence