Taming Social Anxiety
I spent a good amount of time working on the title for this post. What verb did I want to place before “Social Anxiety”? Was it something to conquer? Handle? Manage? Defeat? Vanquish? Accept? Words have power, and I wanted something accurate, truthful, and telling. Something that aptly described my long relationship with this beast.
Beast gave my vocabulary a jump-start. It inspired me to think of the word “taming”, which instantly clicked. It was a perfect match.
There is a lot of dangerous misinformation floating around the web. Many people think that all obstacles are things to be challenged, fought, and demolished. Although this aggressive, tough love methodology definitely is justified for certain things, I’ve found it to be extremely counter productive when dealing with social anxiety.
Social anxiety is a coping mechanism that’s formed in our childhood years -usually through bullying, abuse, or trauma. It is a symptom that capitalizes on the archaic part of our brain called the limbic system. Interestingly enough, the limbic system is something we share in common with other animals, such as dogs.
Watch the following video from the 1:57 mark onwards, keeping in mind the dog’s sensitivity, fear, irrationality, and aggression. Note how they are strikingly similar to the symptoms of fight-flight response us socially anxious folk share:
What I have found to really work for me is to visualize and personalize my social anxiety as a scared, fearful, abused puppy that lives inside of me. Rather than forcing this poor puppy into dangerous and hostile situations as a way to “man up!” and “overcome!!” my fears, this metaphor reminds me to be gentle, patient, and work on slowly desensitizing myself through positive accomplishments. The same things that worked in the video above. Framing my social anxiety as taming a wild and abused puppy is the most effective metaphor I have found in my own struggles. This personalization also helps me realize that I am not my social anxiety; it doesn’t have to define me. It is just a part of me.
Just like the dog’s behavior is not its fault, your social anxiety is not your fault.
Remember: Not All Courage Is Created Equal
Courage is the ability of taking action, but not all action is productive. Courage can be both foolish and wise. Take action, but take wise action. Don’t thrust yourself into high risk situations thinking it will help you with your social anxiety. If the dog above was tossed into a room full of humans trying to bear hug it, it would probably go berserk. Jumping into things too quick might actually end up making things worse. Take the process slowly. Slowly build back your trust and confidence. Be patient, but always move forward. A thousand small acts of courage are better than one overdramatic, grand act.