Social Anxiety is a learned habit.
Every time you avoid a social situation you reinforce this fear and related negative beliefs. For example, how many times have you seen a cute girl and debated whether or not it was a good idea to start a conversation? Even when you share a moment of eye contact, or she smiles, shy guys are intimidated and decide to play it safe by avoiding a potentially awkward scenario.
Multiply these avoidances by the hundreds, by the thousands and you have the recipe for a socially retarded hermit. I don’t mean to insult anyone by this. It is actually quite accurate. Avoiding social interaction retards your social skills. You miss out on opportunities to develop resilience to awkwardness, handle sensitive topics, and even to enjoy a good conversation.
Every avoidance confirms internalized negative beliefs such as:
- “I’m not cool enough for anyone to like me.”
- “I’ll just get rejected if I try to talk to her.”
- “I’m not dressed well enough today to go to a party so I’ll just stay home.”
- “I’m too ugly for anyone to like me.”
These beliefs are actually excuses to justify habits of avoidance. They are backwards rationalizations. You might not know exactly why you avoid conversations with certain people but you make up these reasons to comfort yourself.
There was always a first time. A distant memory, often from childhood when you felt rejected or discouraged from socializing with certain people. Classmates might make fun of a guy for liking a girl. He denied it, but simultaneously denied his own manhood and built a habit of hiding his intentions towards women because it embarrassed him.
Enter your earliest memories of anxiety.
Was someone making fun of you?
Was a teacher scolding you?
Was a parent punishing you?
These are the moments you forced yourself to change your behavior to gain acceptance from others. Ever subsequent confrontation with similar situations pulled you deeper into a matrix of fear as you repeatedly avoided something part of you actually desired.
When I was maybe 7 years old I had lots of friends. I felt comfortable expressing myself. Teachers asked us to sing silly songs. I did it. They asked us to perform in plays and I performed fearlessly. But then a girl I liked ruined my bulletproof confidence. It was in music class. I don’t even remember what we were singing but I sang extra loud or made some stupid joke. Then the girl I admired turned to me and said, “I hate you! I dump you!” I completely closed up.
I didn’t want to speak in class because I was afraid of attracting attention. Every time I faced a crucial moment where I had to choose between expressing myself and hiding my creativity I avoided what I thought was a scary confrontation with attention. Previously, I hadn’t realized that expressing myself could lead to rejection. But now self-expression seemed too risky. My comfort zone began to shrink until several years later when I started to force myself to open up, and face fears.
Many people have similar experiences in youth. The memories are forgotten but the habit of avoidance is still there. People often have no idea why they suffer from severe social anxiety. It’s only because the incidents that sparked their fear of confrontation have long since been forgotten.
To remedy this some people suggest you chill out and dive into your emotional baggage to hunt for your earliest traumatic memories.
When you find these memories, they are often distorted. The memory is never completely accurate after all. Every time you think of your memory you change it a little before putting it back into your subconscious to reaffirm your current identity and world view.
What’s important is the emotional impact the memory made on you. Maybe you had a great sense of humor as a child. You said crazy things, and asked ridiculous questions. Emotionally mature parents would have found it funny and entertaining. But your parents were fuming with their own negative emotional baggage. They screamed at you to shut your goddamned mouth every time you tried to point out the humor in life. Eventually it seemed like the only way to survive and secure the approval of your parents was to become as miserable as they were.
These crucial memories start the process of social anxiety. Every time you avoided expressing yourself or social interaction the fear habit grew stronger.
Look at your own memories.
What were you afraid of?
What did you feel?
Intense social anxiety correlates with a history of avoidance. Avoiding social interaction means you are running away from fear you started feeling a long time ago. When you constantly run from this fear your body isn’t able to regulate emotions properly. It increases stress and other physiological problems, such as issues with sleep cycle and cognition.
All that running away isn’t healthy. Part of you wants to socialize with others, go on dates, and express yourself authentically no matter how many people are watching. But fear of abandonment and rejection keeps you from facing those negative emotions.
To fix this, you need to sit with those negative feelings and accept them. Sit with the feelings you felt in your earliest memories of rejection. Try to understand and accept them. If you see your younger self, give him a motivational talk. Say whatever helps with accepting the feelings. Changing the memory in this way makes it a bit less scary.
Of course this isn’t the only step. It’s only the beginning. Next you have to start facing your fears. You have to accept that rejection is inevitable. You can’t accept everything into your life. You are free to reject people, so they are free to reject you too. It doesn’t make you less valuable as a person.
Start conversations with people you want to meet. When you feel the fear and impulse to avoid approach anyway. The anxious feelings will be inevitable but remind yourself it will be ok. Remind yourself you don’t need this person to give you a good reaction to be happy.
With practice, you will start building a new habit of socializing rather than avoiding. Imagine there are 2 extreme versions of you that exist simultaneously in the multiverse. One is shy and scared to talk to anyone. This shy version is a pushover who can never honestly say exactly what he wants. The second version is very charismatic and has mountains of social experience. He has lots of high quality friends who love him for his authenticity. Every time you avoid social interaction you move closer to the socially anxious version. Every time you start a conversation, accept an invitation, and honestly express yourself you get closer to the confident version of yourself. Wouldn’t you want to become the happiest version of yourself possible?
There is a lot more to overcoming social anxiety than accepting fear from both the past and future. If you want to finally build indomitable confidence then please read my new book: Social Confidence Mastery: How to Eliminate Social Anxiety, insecurities, shyness, and the fear of rejection.
This new book combines Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, Body language and Social skills, Trauma Recovery, and other important philosophies to create an action plan for building social confidence.
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