Why am I socially anxious?
One of the things that I have been noticing in my practice is how often people come to see me for social anxiety problems.
I also have been aware of how reports seem to indicate this malady to be on the rise in recent times in the western world.
So what can we make of this? I have started to question how much of this excessive amount of anxiety is societal and how much is learned behaviour coupled with a genetic predisposition.
Even without delving into how our societal values vastly influence the importance of social status and its representation through social and traditional media,
and even putting aside personal history I am starting to think that a fundamental part of the problem comes from being stuck in the teenage developmental error of assuming and believing that while everyone else is worth knowing and/or has a wonderful life we are not.
This makes us feel insecure (and deepens our preexisting insecurities) and puts us in a position of being at -1 in social situations.
Let me explain: if we all realised that we are in the same boat and that everyone is as 'messed up' and as fundamentally OK as everyone else the way we relate would change. We would stop trying to impress others or being impressed by their seeming social success and we would relate to them as equals; as a result, when talking/meeting a new person we would both start at level 0, not level +1 or -1 (better or worse than them).
The first step to beat social anxiety
Step number one then would be to question the fundamental assumption that others are better than us and decide to take a position of fundamental equality. Every time you realise you are putting yourself down when comparing yourself to someone else ask yourself:
Question your own values. What makes you worth knowing is not how much money you have or how thin you are (among other common concerns) but the unique flavour of the way you experience the world. There is no right or wrong way to experience it.
There is only genuine communication of your experience and genuine interest in other people's experience. When we genuinely tell others how we feel about anything we connect as equals, it is easier for others to accept us and as a result, our anxiety assuages.
The bottom Line : Contempt is at the heart of both arrogance and shame.
Everyone has inherent value as a human being. The idea that someone is superior or inferior to anyone else is a dangerous delusion based on the idea of contempt. If you think of contempt as a light you can either shine on yourself or others you begin to understand how shame and arrogance are just two extremes on the spectrum.
When you indulge in contempt for others you feel superior and you become arrogant. When you indulge in contempt for yourself you feel inferior and you become full of shame. Both come from low self esteem, the difference being that it feels good to blame others and feel superior, whereas it feels bad to blame yourself and think of yourself defective.
The solution lies in building healthy self esteem. If you suffer from a sense of inferiority literally pull yourself up and remind yourself that you are as good and worthwhile as anyone else.
If on the other hand you find yourself feeling superior to others and avoiding them or treating them with contempt literally pull yourself down. This is a defence against feeling shame and it will poison the atmosphere around you and make relationships very difficult because you cannot be intimate with another if you think you are better than them.
While you may have less or more skills than others, essentially you have no more or less value than anyone else. This is a something you must choose to remember many a time before you come good at it. Stay patient and persevere.
A practical exercise to overcome your fear
Think about someone who seems at genuine ease with others. What are they doing? Model yourself after the positive qualities you wish to acquire. And when in a difficult situation ask yourself: what would this person do? Now take a leap of faith and do it. Notice what's different. Persist. Change takes time and effort. You will get out of it as much as you put into it.