Mirror mirror on the wall, why is everyone always looking at me? Some people believe that others are always looking at them and judging them quite harshly. It’s like there are mirrors everywhere and they all reflect imperfections.
People have social anxiety when this feeling becomes overwhelming and interferes with daily life. Symptoms of social anxiety include fears of:
Many of the clients I see express the need to be perfect. They fear making mistakes and feel horrible when they mess up. Some of these folks even berate themselves for making trivial, largely inconsequential mistakes like parking a few inches over the line of a parking space or making a few typoss on a blog (NOTE TO EDITOR: please don’t correct my typos in today’s blog!).
Some clients with sever obsessive compulsive disorder rachet this concern up to the point that they spend hours reviewing everything they right to insure a complete absence of errors. Others re-read passages from books over and over again to be sure that they remember every single detail. Still others consume large blocks of time arranging everything in their closets in perfect alignment with identical spacing between each item.
If you’re a perfectionist, I strongly recommend that you get a grip! Stop viewing all mistakes as terrible. I can guarantee you that I’ve learned more from making mistakes than I ever would have if I didn’t make them.
I’m sure you know what selfish means and it’s not considered a particularly lovely trait by most people. But what do I mean when I suggest that you become self-less? Typically, the term selfless refers to people who put other people’s needs before their own. Selfless people typically have very little concern for making money, becoming famous, or obtaining a prestigious position.
But that definition doesn’t quite fit what I mean by self-less (note I put in a hyphen to distinguish the term from selfless). I think people can and probably should have at least some concern for their own needs in terms of finances, relationships, security, and so on. And sometimes your own needs may even have to take precedence over the needs of others.
But people all too often seriously mess themselves up when they become overly concerned about themselves and their egos. They experience exquisite concerns with how they look, what they say, mistakes they make, who likes them and who doesn’t, et cetera.
People who worry a lot about their egos judge just about everything that they do. Their internal dialogues consist of an endless loop of self-hate and vitriol with thoughts such as “How could I be so stupid?,” “I hate myself,” “No one could be this dumb,” “I’ll never amount to anything,” “Nobody could ever like me,” and on and on. It’s pretty difficult to feel alright with thoughts like those.
John wakes up this morning instantly anxious. He tossed and turned most of the night, waking and worrying. He stands in the shower until the water begins to get cold, once out, he experiences a terrible cold even though it is warm in the house. He notices his hands trembling while he brushes his teeth. His stomach is upset, he feels no hunger.
He makes himself a cup of coffee hoping the caffeine will help him stay focused. His mind is racing; thoughts tumbling over each other. He feels like he can’t catch his breath. He tries to settle himself by thinking calm thoughts and taking deep breaths. Finally, he puts on his jacket and heads to the door, chanting, “One foot in front of the other, one step at a time.”
A couple of days ago, we wrote about exposure. The opposite of exposure is avoidance. We touch on the topic of avoidance fairly often in this blog, but it’s been years since we focused on the topic exclusively.
That’s too long because avoidance is arguably the most important thing for you to understand in order to successfully battle anxiety and OCD, or for that matter, most types of emotional disorders. Humans have an understandable desire to avoid feeling distress, anxiety, sadness, and upsets of all kinds. If you’re like most people, when you experience these feelings, you’ll do almost anything to get rid of them. Common strategies include:
We have been writing this blog for a few years. When we started, we decided to call the blog Anxiety and OCD Exposed. It’s been a long time since we have discussed why we decided on that title so we thought that new readers might want some explanation.
The term “exposed” may bring up a lot of different thoughts such as:
• Finding out that a politician was cheating on his wife
• Discovering a dumping ground of toxic waste
• The feeling of your hands when you forget to wear gloves in cold weather
• A politician taking opposite positions in the same campaign
• Not noticing the piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe
• The most effective treatment for anxiety and OCD
Research says that overall the best treatment for anxiety and OCD is a method called exposure. When people are afraid or anxious about something, they tend to avoid it. The more they avoid what they fear, the more fearful they become.
Exposure helps people face their fears in a gradual way. Most people find that after being exposed to their fear or OCD triggers, over a period of time, their anxiety decreases. The goal of exposure is not to eliminate all anxiety, but to make anxiety manageable.
When people you care about or love have problems with anxiety, the most natural thing in the world is to help. You may find yourself wanting to reassure them that everything will be OK. That sounds good, but in other blogs, we’ve discussed how reassurance can boomerang and easily make things worse. No doubt, we’ll write about how reassurance works in more blogs down the road because people fall into that trap all of the time.
Alternatively, you may want to coach your loved one through the problem. That strategy actually works sometimes, but it’s very tricky and we recommend professional guidance for both yourself and your loved ones if you want to become their coach.
Coaching, like reassurance, can easily backfire, cause arguments, or be perceived as criticism by people you’re trying to help.
Most people, who have more anxiety than they want, work hard to rid themselves of their anxiety. They try relaxation training, meditation, medication, and more, all in a desperate attempt to conquer uncomfortable, distressing feelings. And who can blame them? After all, isn’t that the goal of therapy—to rid yourself of anxiety, uncertainty, doubts, and discomfort once and for all?
Well, yes and no. Of course most therapists would love for you to be able to feel calm, relaxed, and peaceful all of the time. However, that goal isn’t possible for anybody. Life is full of unpredictable, often random, dangers, hassles, and perils. Therefore, if you have the goal of eliminating these things, you will almost certainly fail.
So, Laura responded to my blog on Six Reasons for Not Treating Your Anxiety or OCD with one of her own blogs that may have helped you rethink your “treatment interfering beliefs” in a more productive way. If so, you’re ready to move ahead, right? Well, not quite.
I think it’s also wise to take one more important step. Specifically, I’d like you first to consider accepting where you’re at, problems and all. That’s right; evaluate yourself as acceptable and OK as you are.
Realize that you didn’t ask to have problems with anxiety and OCD. Rather, you have these problems for lots of good reasons. You may have had genes that tilted you in this direction. Or perhaps you experienced one or more traumas. Maybe your parents were overly critical and overbearing. On the other hand, maybe they couldn’t provide the structure you needed as a child. Perhaps you grew up in an unsafe neighborhood. People acquire anxiety and OCD for these reasons and many more. They pretty much never become anxious because they “wanted” to have these problems.
Yet, many clients judge and evaluate themselves very harshly just because they have some problems that they didn’t ask for in the first place. They see themselves as weak, incompetent, and horribly flawed. Thus, they tell themselves that they absolutely MUST overcome their problems. In addition, they should do so quickly and completely.
You read blogs all of the time exhorting you to get treatment for anxiety, OCD, and other emotional problems. But have you heeded that advice and gotten treatment? For many people, the answer is that they haven’t.
You might wonder why that would be the case. After all, if you have a problem, you should venture out and do something about it, right?
I’d like to suggest that if you’ve had significant problems with anxiety or OCD, yet avoided getting treatment for years, you’ve probably done so for some pretty good reasons. And it makes more sense to take a look at your reasons for not seeking treatment than to beat yourself up for not having done something about your problem. There are six major reasons or beliefs we’ve heard people give for avoiding treatment. See if any of these apply to you: