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:
- public speaking
- going to parties
- meeting new people
- speaking up to authority figures
- eating in public
Anxiety in those with social phobia usually includes physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heart rate, upset stomach, flushed face, and shakiness. The prominent emotions are fear and dread. The difference between shyness and social phobia is one of degree—those with social anxiety have a very, very bad case of shyness that leads to severe limitations in life.
People with social phobia believe that they will certainly be humiliated, embarrassed, or shown to be inadequate. It’s no wonder that those with social anxiety tend to withdraw from others. And the more they withdraw, the more anxiety wins.
Social phobia can be successfully treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Elsewhere in this blog we have written about exposure which is the “B” in CBT. Exposure involves coming face to face with fear, usually done in a planned, systematic way. The cognitive part of treatment involves looking at the way thoughts influence feelings, helping clients identify unhelpful thoughts, and replacing them with more adaptive thoughts.
Self-absorption is a common theme of the thoughts of those with social anxiety. Self-absorption involves paying excessive attention to oneself. It’s like a camera is constantly turned on to you and the picture it transmits is too bright and quite unflattering. Common thoughts related to this theme include:
- Everyone is looking at me
- I might go crazy
- I’m not capable of handling this
- I must look foolish
- I can’t stand to be in public
- I know I’ll sound stupid
So how does one address the self-absorption underlying such socially anxious thinking? Realize that the rest of the world does not focus on you nearly as much as you think. Typically people walk around more focused on their own concerns than on judging you or others.
Start noticing how often you see other people doing exactly what you worry so much about. For example, listen to two people talking at a gathering. Inevitably, you’ll hear a few unintelligible phrases, social gaffes, boring, or grammatically incorrect statements. So what? Do you evaluate others as harshly as you do yourself? Probably not.
If your social anxiety interferes with your life, makes you miserable, or keeps you from doing what you want to do, there are treatments that work. Please seek help and be kind to yourself.
Woman in the mirror photo available from Shutterstock.