Using Honesty to Heal Your Social Anxiety.
Social phobia, essentially defined as a debilitating fear of negative scrutiny, can be one of the most devastating anxiety disorders. We are social animals living in a social world, and people are all around us. If you suffer from social phobia (also referred to as social anxiety disorder) – every moment or future moment contains a potential “threat” of a dreaded interaction that feels completely unsurvivable.
For those who don’t suffer, interpersonal dynamics are merciful – they simply transpire without too much awareness. Much like the body, which is taken for granted until a specific pain makes us aware, social interactions don’t usually claw at our attention. Fluid and natural, these events usually require only our moderate attention before they disappear into the landscape of everyday life.
But for the socially anxious, these dynamics are painstaking. In a world of opposites, light conversations are heavy and burdensome; happenstance meetings are a jolt and a shock; brief encounters feel like an endless eternity; and pleasantries are anything but pleasant. Tragically, social anxiety tramples the hearts of the most genuine and deeply kind, stepping on self-confidence before shattering the sufferer’s remaining self-worth. “What are they thinking?” is perhaps the most repetitious thought in the person’s mind, second only to, “How can I get out of this?” In anticipation of social or performance situations, these are the mind’s unanswerable loops, playing over and over as painful obsessions that can’t truly be solved.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”― Walter Scott.
Perhaps the biggest cost has to do with the sufferer’s self-worth, because the deception that avoidance requires wears on the conscience of this otherwise honest person. Unattendance, excuses, even white lies are person’s primary means of warding off anticipated discomfort. But these control strategies can fail or even backfire, in the sense of raising some red flags. Commitments or plans become derailed by escape tactics, ultimately producing confusion and disappointment in other people. Where negative judgment didn’t appear before, now it actually seems likely. One avoidance begets another, and now there is even more to worry about!
Shaking the Hand of Social Anxiety.
Social anxiety offers false promises to “solve” emotional pain – through avoidance, mind-reading, and obsessional worry. In this way, the disorder convinces sufferers that distress can be assuaged through certain acts of “mental control.” Taking over each present moment, it replaces authenticity with painful self-consciousness. Tainting the future, it marks new interactions with anticipatory dread. Corrupting the past, it stains memories with a negative review. Social anxiety is a predator and a thief, stalking the spontaneous.
Calculating the odds of unending scenarios, social phobia baits the person to produce guestimates about what others might think. And while the person is busy worrying, it creates side bets on shame and embarrassment, making deals in dark corners. It robs authentic interactions, producing a “counterfeit currency” of forced smiles and compulsory exchanges. “How can I get out of this?” leaves the person stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is no place to go, and planning to escape from future scenarios seems just as impossible as leaving a life of organized crime. The handshake was made, and the linchpin of social anxiety just won’t let them leave.
Shaking it Off.
I know how you got here, dear anxious person. You got into some trouble because you trusted the wrong ally. You shook the wrong hand and fell in with the wrong crowd. But it’s time you got out – and I’m not talking about your next social engagement! It’s time you got out of your contract with social phobia. It’s time to shake it off, and to shake things up.
The first order of business is to draw a line between truth and deception, recognizing that excuses and control strategies – the methods you have been using – are essentially manipulative. Wishful thinking, mental rehearsals, avoidance – all of these are covert acts that involve too much scheming. Beside the fact that these tactics are unworkable (you trade short-term relief for a long-term problem) – this approach doesn’t fit you as a person. Being ingenuine doesn’t work for you, in the sense that it doesn’t reflect your integrity.
Deception isn’t going to get you out of your social anxiety, but honesty just might. Your integrity and your goodness are so much more workable, and besides, they more accurately represent who you are. From now on, we’re going to put your sincerity in charge. But before we go any further, let’s break you out of some other traps. These have to do with some faulty reasoning, and the miscalculations of mental control.
©2018 Heather Stone, Ph.D.
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