Efforts aimed at overcoming social anxiety often lead to more social anxiety.
The reason for this has to do with Einstein’s over-quoted quote:
A problem cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created the problem.
Attempts at overcoming social anxiety, as with most self-perpetuating, resistant emotions, often fail, leading you to believe we are stuck with social fear forever. What you actually need to do to solve the issue is so far from the mainstream consciousness that you’re going to think I am crazy when I show you.
And I am going to do more than show you. This post is a guidebook for overcoming social anxiety, with practical exercises you can do.
So, please take your time and let the counter-intuitive concepts and practices here sink in. They really will help in overcoming social anxiety. FYI, in case you’re wondering if this endeavor will be worth your time, the people who are most likely to give in to the ‘truth’ that is revealed here typically meet the following criteria:
• In your life you have suffered from social anxiety for 10 years or more.
• You’ve done a lot of work on yourself, but still haven’t succeeded at overcoming social anxiety.
• You do not know if you will ever be cured of social anxiety and sometimes feel broken.
• You consider yourself an intelligent and insightful person, or even a Smart, Anxious Misfit.
You’ve read books on overcoming social anxiety, been to therapy and tried 100 different social anxiety methods and treatments. And you’re probably exhausted of it all.
All this may have put you in a position to be open-minded to just about anything that hints at progress.
You’ll need every ounce of that open-mindedness here. The path toward overcoming social anxiety is almost as irrational as the problem itself. The Alchemy of Social Anxiety will push your conscious mind to its limits. And it needs to do just that.
Simple problems lend themselves to simple solutions. Complex, self-perpetuating and highly resistant problems (that operate on autopilot and reside squarely outside of conscious control) require solutions that you have never, ever been consciously considered.
Overcoming social anxiety requires a new understanding of the problem.
The algorithm in this post is designed to elevate your thinking so that practical and hidden solutions appear. It’s not magic. When solutions become obvious – so obvious that you wonder how you’ve managed to avoid them for so long – it’s the merely the result of a new level of thought.
Thinking outside the box doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And most of us endure the same old problems we’ve had for decades, day after day, year after year.
Have your attempts at overcoming social anxiety failed?
I realized not long ago that I have ‘alchemized’ my social fears. In other words, my process of overcoming social anxiety turned it into psychological gold.
I’d like to personally walk you through what I’ve been through, and learn from you at the same time. If you’re interested, here’s what you need to do.
Here’s how it works:
I’ve written six questions below. Write down your answers to each question.
But before you get started, please read the following very thoughtfully.
First, I want you to understand how much I hope you find something helpful here. I hope you will take the process as seriously as I do. Not that I’m asking you to invest hours and hours, but I feel OK asking you to be thoughtful and sincere in your responses. It’s important – how else can it have a chance to work for you?
Next, I’d like you to know that I ‘get’ social anxiety. As I mentioned, I’ve suffered with it. At this point, the meaning of the word suffer is a little different than before, but I do get it. I know what a struggle social anxiety can be. It can define your whole life.
Before you write your own answers to the overcoming social anxiety alchemy questions below, please read my sample responses. Your answers don’t need to mirror these. Rather, these answers can show a direction the process can take you.
Answer the questions when you have time and space, peace and quiet. Get into an open frame of mind and really believe that the answers you allow to come into your heart and mind will contain something of immense value for you.
Be open to the process, humble.
Here are the six alchemy questions that help in overcoming social anxiety.
1. For a moment, assume that your social anxiety is the greatest teacher you’ve ever had. What three critical life lessons has it taught you?
I’m not all that. I’m just a person – no better than anyone else. In essence, humility is the life lesson – and personal holy grail that social anxiety has been trying to hand over to me.
When I am humble, other people are people to me – not objects. Their lives are real and I can connect with them better. I don’t have a great gift for connecting with people ‘on the fly.’ My meaningful connections are fewer and deeper. My failed attempts at overcoming social anxiety have forced me into humility. I have not been able, emotionally, to parade myself around or call a lot of attention to myself, which would surely have been my natural inclination.
Without social anxiety and my drive to overcome it, I believe I would have turned out to be a narcissist. I would have wildly advertised my own delusions of grandeur and remained oblivious to the needs of others.
Social anxiety crippled my narcissistic self-promotion and forced me into submission. How could “God’s Gift To Humanity” be a social-phobe?
I needed that. Now, I am generally and specifically thoughtful of the people in my life. I’m capable of co-creating relationships on the principle of reciprocity. I can love another person. I don’t have much to offer on the social scene, and rarely participate, but for the close relationships in my life, I have more to offer than I could have ever dreamed possible.
As a non-anxious narcissist, I wouldn’t have anything, really, to offer anyone, other than my own grandiosity. I would have been all about getting social praise – a playboy, a self-promotional fool who’s only interested in personal gain and self-aggrandizement.
I am not humble all the time. I still want to be God’s gift to humanity. The difference is, now I know how absurd this notion really is. If I weren’t shackled with fear, I might have acted as if I were all that (and more) without even knowing it – without self-awareness.
My work at overcoming social anxiety has taught me all about boundaries and my historical lack thereof. When I walk into a room full of people, why do I fear to be the center of attention? Why do I think that they are thinking negative things about me? Believing I am the center of attention in their world demonstrates a lack of boundaries – not understanding that they are separate people with their own lives, feelings, fears, and preoccupations.
Lacking boundaries made me unknowingly presumptuous. This is tough to admit. And I have had to learn to look at others in a different way than ever came naturally to me. I have learned to look at people as separate from me, having no idea, really, who they are and what challenges they face – or what they might be thinking.
I’ve learned that not knowing what’s going on inside others is a relief. It is exhausting to ‘know’ so much.
In a strange way, however, it’s more comfortable for me to assume people don’t like me and believe I am an illegitimate person. It’s more natural to barge into their psyches, take over, and destroy myself in their eyes.
All those attempts at overcoming social anxiety taught me to reconsider all that flawed thinking. When I am clear in my boundaries and do not invade others’ minds and hearts with my assumptions, then I am free. I feel relaxed, open-minded and curious. I am capable now of understanding others in a much fuller way than would have been possible if I had not been given the gift of social anxiety.
Creativity and Flexibility
There I am, driving to a presentation in which I am the featured speaker in front of a large audience. I am panicking and wishing the earth would open up and swallow me whole. What I am going to do? How will I get through this?
I am attending a social function and pretending to be comfortable mixing around with people. I’m not at all comfortable. I’m dying inside. How can I get through this?
They say necessity is the mother of invention – and in my case it is true. I’ve been forced to invent countless creative solutions to get out of a thousand social jams and still accomplish what needs to be done.
How could I do sales presentations, training presentations, weddings and parties without having to manufacture off-the-wall solutions that would save me from myself? I’ve had to do all of the above. After 20 years of barely surviving such shenanigans, fully convinced that each episode would be my undoing, I realized just how creative a person I had become. Then, a life-altering question occurred to me.
If I found a way to survive all that, even though I endured many failures. How can I set my entire life up so that I feel safe?
Over a three-year period, I did just that. My business changed. My relationships restructured. My personal expectations shifted. I stopped working against myself.
Now, I don’t need to hide much because I figured out how my life can work, without putting myself in situations that make me want to die rather than endure.
Summing it all up: Social anxiety has taught me character; to be who I am, allow others to be themselves, and arrange my life so that it works. I am happier and more well-adjusted than ever and would not trade my life with anyone.
As anyone who arrives at this place is lucky, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I’m not fortunate because I never suffer; but because I do suffer. My social suffering is part of who I am and has taught me the most valuable life lessons – so many more than I can mention here. I would almost recommend an inconvenient dose of anxiety to anyone.
2. What would happen if you spent the rest of your life simply building on the life lessons that social anxiety has been teaching you?
Those lessons have never come naturally to me so I cannot say that I would commit to consciously building upon them daily, if I weren’t in the process of overcoming social anxiety. The lessons had to be forced upon me by emotional pain. Anxiety gave me no other option than to learn what I needed to learn and to continue as its student to this day.
If I were to consciously and consistently focus on building more humility, boundaries, and creativity as a daily pursuit, however, I cannot imagine any negative outcome whatsoever. My life would continue to improve, little by little, until my final day.
3. What would happen if you accepted yourself completely – as a socially anxious person?
I am getting closer to a full acceptance, but do not think I will ever be there. I still want to change. I harbor a fantasy that I will somehow ‘snap out of it’ and become a social butterfly. Smooth – and so comfortable – even joyous and full of warmth in social situations of all kinds. I am driven toward this fantasy.
The more I accept who and what I am, however, the more I relax. And the less willing I am to expect myself to do what I do not appear capable of doing. I am learning to stop expecting myself to be someone else.
When you’ve worked on yourself as long as I have and still remain the same in certain areas of life, then maybe that’s just who you are and it’s time to accept it. This thought is a relief – a burden lifted.
Given everything you’ve written and considered, if you could start your life over, and end up in the present having lived your entire life without the social anxiety struggle, would you do it – and take the risk of becoming someone else, for better or worse? Keep in mind that this means it is entirely uncertain who you would become and which direction your life might take.
While I understand the immediate urge to say ‘yes’ to this question, my more thoughtful answer is, no, I would not relive my life without social anxiety and risk what might happen.
There is the risk that I would not have learned to be humble, which is a source of inner peace for me. There’s a risk that I’d be clueless as to boundaries and sorely lack creativity, which is the source of so much inspiration for me. There is the risk that I would never develop the self-awareness and intense interest in personal development, which makes up so much of who I am.
In short, the suffering has been worth it, given what I have gained.
To me, this means that I am closer to self-acceptance than I thought. That feels good.
4. What would you do if you knew that you’d never succeed at overcoming social anxiety?
I’d cry. Somehow, I feel crying would be healing, though. It’s part of self-acceptance. I’d fully respect my limitations at last, which deserve more respect after decades of pushing against them. I would stop pressuring myself to be different than I am.
Part of the crying would be grief. Grief for the fantasy that would be taken from me, which is the fantasy of living in total bliss, free from emotional struggle. No one on earth has ever lived a life of total bliss. Who am I to expect such a life? We’re all living a mixed experience, and hopefully coming to peace with reality a little more each day. Everyone suffers. Everyone struggles with their demons.
So my tears would be a mixed bag of emotions. Relief, sadness, grief and, hopefully, letting go of exalted ideas about myself. As far as I can tell, inflated ideas about myself have never brought peace of mind. Isn’t that interesting?
Most of all, I’d want to teach others self-acceptance and the Neuro-Linguistic Programming principle of “utilization.” Use what you’ve got, including your limitations. This is more than enough. Your limitations, and mine, do not make it impossible to live an extraordinary life. In fact, they hold the keys to extraordinary living.
In short, I want to alchemize my pain and limitations, which is to make the most of them and realize that they are not at all what they seem. They aren’t ugly or unfortunate. Painful, scary emotions are not lead. They are golden – we all need to make it so.
5. If you were moved to approach your social anxiety differently, in light of all the above, how would you do it?
With more grace and fewer complaints. I intend to keep living my life, learning as much as possible about human nature, while becoming the most authentic version of myself that I can. I am no longer a child. I want to make the most of what I’ve got without insisting that any aspect of my life is unfair.
6. What have you learned here?
I’ve taken another step into knowing that I am a human being, imperfect and vulnerable to pain. It’s so simple. I am an average human who struggles; sometimes full of joy and happiness, sometimes full of angst.
I need to allow the bad with the good. I want every experience I have in life – inside and out – to come and go freely, without my getting hung up by expecting more or less of it. For me, this is an ideal way to be – at peace with what is.
If you’ve really answered the questions above, I have a little more for you:
The purpose of the questionnaire was to encourage a self-accepting mindset in relation to social anxiety. Once you have that…then we can explore the idea of change and hold compassionate expectations. Of course, I am not guaranteeing any change whatsoever.
Still, I use a unique approach to working with social anxiety that really speaks to the heart of the issue. It’s a counter-intuitive concept that I have been using with my clients. Can I share it with you and get some feedback?
Here you go:
Once we become more accepting of social anxiety and stop resisting it with everything we’ve got, then we can move on to a more provocative idea that might be helpful.
The idea is this: Part of you wants to be criticized. And part of you loves to criticize. There is a win-win relationship in your psyche between these two aspects of yourself. The end result is social anxiety.
Of course, you and I do not consciously want to be anxious, but some part of us – deep down – learned (long ago) that it is GOOD to feel the pain of criticism. Humiliation, embarrassment and rejection are things to seek out, according to the unconscious logic involved here.
This part of you – over which you have no conscious control – is actively seeking out every possible opportunity to get more of the same.
The interplay of these two parts – the part that loves to criticize and the part that wants to be criticized – has been running on autopilot We do not have control of it. I have always found it helpful to move in the direction of greater self-control. Of course, attempting to influence unconscious processes is quite the twisted venture, because the unconscious mind often operates on twisted logic – old beliefs and attitudes that are no longer relevant to present day life.
At any rate, It all begins with the fact that you have two minds – conscious and unconscious. Your conscious mind consists of the limited thoughts and awareness that you are most familiar with day to day. Your unconscious mind consists of everything else. The thoughts, feelings, beliefs, conflicts and drives that have such incredible impact on who you are and what you experience in life.
Did you know that most decisions are made unconsciously? Read more about this here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080414145705.htm
The unconscious mind is powerful.
Let’s look at the evidence that your unconscious mind might love to criticize and want to feel abandoned, isolated or rejected.
Who wants to be rejected?
Consciously, no one that I know of.
Unconsciously – millions have already decided to be rejected – long ago – and continue to play out that decision day by day.
Let’s look at some things that could be evidence of an unconscious drive toward rejection.
When you walk into a room, your mind automatically fills with thoughts that people are going to dislike you and you feel the symptom of fear, naturally. Consciously, you know this is absurd. However, thoughts still fill your mind and you feel anxious, as if it were really happening. Consciously, this is a nightmare. Unconsciously, it has become a habit.
Why has your unconscious developed the habit of filling you with thoughts of rejection? You could say that your unconscious mind is broken, but that wouldn’t be that helpful. Why is it ‘broken’ in this particular way?
Because it has adopted the disturbing idea that social rejection is a good thing – and the fear and pain are part of the goodness.
I know, I know. At best I am crazy. At worst, I am offending you. But please bear with me.
The bottom line is this: Your unconscious mind is doing what it believes is GOOD for you. It happens to believe that scanning for every possible opportunity for rejection, then acting as if rejection were the ONLY valid possibility – is a good thing to do. Your unconscious mind has made quite a commitment to rejection. Deeper aspects of your psyche may even find the whole process strangely pleasurable.
That’s right. If the universal pleasure/pain principle is true (we are all motivated toward pleasure and away from pain) then your unconscious mind must have linked pleasure to REJECTION. Otherwise, it would not continually give you that experience. Because of this very, very unfortunate link, your unconscious mind manufactures all kinds of opportunity to feel rejected. Anything that can possibly be interpreted as rejection is interpreted as such. Any potential for rejection – however unlikely – is seized upon and exaggerated.
Consciously, all this is exhausting and beyond frustrating. Unconsciously, it’s business as usual. It’s a well-ingrained habit that is employed automatically and effortlessly. The twisted reward is the rejection itself – the humiliation, pain, embarrassment, isolation and sense of low self-worth. This is why social anxiety has become the norm. Our unconscious minds are seeking it out on autopilot, as if it has mistaken the pain of rejection for pleasure; as if rejection were a good thing.
This makes sense out of the universal law of pleasure and pain as applied to social anxiety. We’re not avoiding the pain of rejection because – well – it is experienced as pleasure, deep down. So, we seek it – even creating imaginary scenarios that give us the experience of rejection where none actually exists.
How does reading this affect you? For me, I feel nauseous after writing it.
To think that I am setting myself up for rejection – playing out 1000 scenarios a day – because I somehow find unconscious pleasure in it – that’s sickening.
Take this opportunity:
Let me know how the above is sitting with you. You can contact me here. If you’re thoughtful in your inquiry, I will reply.
Now for the FUN part….
Social Anxiety Script Writing
Harmonize with the incoming force. Blend with the attack. Then you can learn to control it, as much as it can be controlled. If you remain separate from it, you cannot influence the outcome, and it will control you. – Aikido Principle
If – and only if – you have accepted that you (or a part of you) wants to experience the perpetual rejection of social anxiety, then you may find the following protocol helpful.
This is not a cure for social anxiety. It’s a process that intends to consciously harmonize you with the social anxiety attack. I believe this will be helpful if you do it wholeheartedly.
You’ve heard the saying: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
This is what we’re going to do. Until now, social anxiety – an unconscious drive toward rejection – has been playing out within you as an unconsciously determined mental script. It’s a powerful script. You have not been able to erase it. It’s stronger than you are.
Join it. Social anxiety is not bad – at all.
Consciously, step into that script. Become the scriptwriter. Stop resisting what your unconscious mind is doing and jump in. I’ll show you how to do that right now.
But first, understand that there are plenty of solid reasons to write your own social anxiety script.
Social anxiety has been a great teacher. It has forced you to learn things that perhaps no other condition could force you to learn. Social anxiety has made a large contribution to who you are. So, stop fighting and join it. Consciously take on the role of the part of your mind that loves to be criticized.
And remember, the part of you that loves criticism is not to blame here. It’s not your fault. There is no blame that could possibly be justified for any part of you when it comes to social anxiety.
This buried part of you that loves to be criticized – it learned that it had to embrace criticism. It was forced to adapt, to tolerate and familiarize rejection. This just goes with being born and raised – and being subject to boundaries and discipline, as well as bad parenting and the painful experiences that are so common in the world.
There was no way for you to handle the overwhelming process of growing up without doing something with the constant perception of rejection. Eventually, rejection became – deep down – a norm. It became comfortable and familiar.
All of us love comfort and familiarity.
Have you heard of the mere exposure effect? It’s a proven psychological phenomenon that demonstrates the power of exposure. The more we are exposed to something, the more we find ways to like it, even when we do NOT like it to begin with.
Read more here: http://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/2009/mere-exposure-effect/
I’m suggesting that the mere exposure effect has a lot to do with perceived rejection and social anxiety. Social anxiety is the continuation of an old script. The script was written at a time when you could not do anything with the rejection you experienced other than make room for it. And the mere-exposure effect took over. Rejection became – deep down – something strangely desirable, something to embrace and anticipate.
You hate and fear rejection, consciously, as do I. Yet, your unconscious mind continues to dish it up like a favorite meal. Please be clear about the split between the conscious and unconscious mind.
Consciously, rejection is to be feared. At least, it is not pleasant.
Unconsciously, rejection is one of those old, familiar experiences that is so close to home that you can hardly separate yourself from it. To your unconscious mind, rejection is who you are, what to expect and – again, strangely – so strangely and subtly – pleasant.
Can you open your mind – way open – and feel any subtle sense of pleasure around being rejected?
It doesn’t matter right now whether you can or can’t. Either way, consciously getting involved in your rejection script is an intelligent move.
Are you ready to step in as your own social anxiety scriptwriter?
It’s a risk, I know. But you know what? The social anxiety is going to be there whether or not you consciously acknowledge or join it. You can remain a passive victim of this script that harangues you with projected self-criticism, or you can step in as a conscious scriptwriter.
Eventually, you may get so good at writing your social anxiety script that you’re able to write something new and different for yourself.
Best of all, you may discover something profound within you. You may open up to deeper feelings. And you’ll gain the opportunity to understand yourself at a whole new level.
Let’s get to it. Remember, you are consciously joining your repressed desire to be rejected.
There are two scenarios to script.
The first is to be done as a kind of meditation:
Recite the script to yourself, then turn your attention inward and notice what happens. Here is the script (you can change the wording to suit you):
I love to be criticized. I find pleasure in feeling rejected. I like being an outcast.
You are now harmonizing yourself with social anxiety’s attack. It should feel strange. It may make you sick to your stomach. You may feel grief or sadness. You may feel devious. You may feel relieved. You may laugh out loud.
I don’t know what you’ll feel, but any reaction is a good one. Say the script, turn inward, pay attention. Do some journaling.
Do this regularly and you’ll be on a growth path. Healing insights will come.
The second scenario involves goal setting. Rest assured, this will be the most bizarre and twisted goal setting exercise you will ever engage in! Yet, your unconscious mind does have a goal to feel rejected. That’s why it plays the rejection script over and over – and over.
Next, write down and recite a rejection goal:
Today, my goal is to feel criticized and rejected as many times as I can. I’ll scan for every opportunity and every possible way to interpret the world as rejecting me.
Then, throughout the day, notice how many times you achieve your goal. Catch yourself interpreting others and circumstances in a way that leaves you feeling less than. When you do catch yourself, say, “I met my goal.”
It’s nuts, I know. But do it. You’ll learn so much about yourself! You’ll be consciously living from your unconscious perspective and drive. When you do, your perspective may turn inside out – and your psychological world may turn upside down. It can be a wild ride.
How long do you need to write and recite these scripts?
The only answer I can give you is this: It’s not magic. It’s a deep intervention and will take time to assimilate. Your whole life and identity may be organized around rejection and your fear of it. It can take some time to sort out. Dealing with it so boldly tends to intensify the process, but it still takes time.
Don’t be impatient. Stick with it, especially if the process stirs emotions and gives you any insight – any new thoughts or feelings at all. I find with my coaching clients that it takes a few weeks to kick in and make a significant difference.
And keep in mind…underlying all chronic social anxiety may be a negative psychological attachment. If you really want to dig in and learn how your psyche got all twisted up, then you definitely want to read my book, Your Achilles Eel. This book is unlike any personal growth book you’ve ever read, I promise. And it explains very clearly how our deeper minds get programmed to seek out the negative.
Your Achilles Eel is required reading for my clients. You can get it on Amazon.