And you may find yourself
With a severe form of social anxiety
And you may find yourself socially withdrawn
In another part of the room
And you may find yourself
Being triggered by the people walking towards you
And you may find yourself with an intense fear of embarrassing yourself
With all eyes on you
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
Queue the Talking Heads (and if this didn’t make sense, it’s because I’m getting older than I realize.)
So maybe you know there is a problem. You know you have social anxiety and maybe to the degree where you say “THIS ISN’T NORMAL!”. It may be so severe, as was in my case, that you are diagnosed as having social phobia. It’s extreme and impacts your day to day life.
You could be attending a party in your honor or just a small gathering, going on a date, driving to a party, going to after work happy hour, making a phone call, dealing with a salesperson, or something else. It can be different for everyone but you know those moments that automatically cause you to feel you are going to be judged or embarrassed.
It is so darn frustrating!
Well, how did I get here?
Go from not knowing why you have this problem, blaming yourself, to seeing that you were likely predestined to it to some degree, your parents had a role, your guardians, and the world at large. Now you are in the driver seat and can do something about it in the present.
If you look to what causes social anxiety, all the experts say the same thing, that there is no definitive cause.
You might ask yourself if it really even matters to know.
Maybe yes, maybe no. I did and possibly you do too. You don’t have to know where it came from I guess, but it might help to resolve it or at least understand it better. Maybe you never considered anything caused it, but that it was just who you were. I got a sense of validation when I learned things outside of me could have caused it.
This doesn’t mean I don’t take accountability, which is actually key if you ever want to overcome it. Rather, I was able to look at it objectively and point to what probably influenced me and realized it was not only my doing.
It’s how we were born, raised, influenced, and how we learned to see the world.
We want answers
I’ll be honest, I unsuccessfully pursued an Asperger’s diagnosis for a year. I was looking for that diagnosis outside myself and I felt it would make sense of things. I took tests and spoke to a few doctors and they kept telling me the same thing, that it was social anxiety and social phobia.
I discredited this information, it wasn’t impactful enough to me because I didn’t understand it or realize it was a real thing. I had to come to the realization myself I guess.
Once I was able to connect with the truth, I realized I wasn’t crazy, I didn’t have Asperger’s, and then I could deal with the reality. That I had social anxiety.
The point isn’t to get locked into the past but understand the road that led you to where you are so you can address it in the present. Social anxiety can come from a combination of genetics, how we were raised, and our own life experiences.
Know potentially what may have contributed to your social phobia. Have an idea of those things you can address. Know and accept there are things you cannot address. Share with others, talk to your parents if you can to see if they struggled. Talk to friends and connect the dots if you are needing to make sense of it all.
Let’s get to the bottom of this social phobia!
Nature’s Ruthless Gift
I say this in fun because we should love ourselves and all our quirks and gifts and be grateful…wink wink.
Genetics gives us the building blocks to work with and there is evidence that shows brain chemistry, brain structure, traits, and how we came into this world all matter and play a role in social anxiety.
Here are a few of those factors:
- Biological imbalances, lack of serotonin, lower levels of oxytocin hormone
- Having an overactive amygdala, an increased response rate, which controls our flight or flight response to fear
- Being premature may also contribute
I mean, we haven’t even done anything wrong up to this point. Now comes our parents and guardians.
Our Underhanded Parents and Guardians
I joke here too, usually the parents that don’t want these anxieties to exists may overplay their role in trying to orchestrate too much. They don’t mean it but we may pick up on their anxieties and inherit their traits. Parents may unintentionally teach us to be paranoid people misreading behavior all over the place. Judging others and assuming people are judging us when they aren’t.
Our parents and guardians may inadvertingly cause anxiety by trying to prevent it like when they tell you to not to be nervous, when they argue in secret, or on the other extreme by being too in your face and controlling.
I had a conversation with my mom as an adult, after having overcome a great deal of anxiety and assuming the worst the better part of my life. I was totally comfortable with whatever it was I was going to have to do. She assumed I was and should be nervous and was basically talking to me like a child. Ding, ding, ding. How did I never notice that before? (sorry mom!)
That overprotective or controlling parenting really can create the things they are trying to prevent by making it a thing and playing a role in keeping us from learning the social skills we need. Then we are naturally held back from getting out there and gaining them.
Maybe we simply learn the behavior of being shy or anxious when we model and mimic behaviors of parents or guardians who also suffer shyness and social anxiety. If they were anxious, we copied that behavior, get the response from others to it, and then we start that same cycle in our lives.
Again, we take full responsibility, it’s not our parents fault.
Let’s also look to our lives, the other people in them, and our learned responses to them because we are subject to so many factors especially when we are sensitive or fearful to and around them.
Smug Little Bullies
The experiences we had in childhood or adolescence can be what really gives wings to our anxiety. Stress, the environment, and how you responded to them play a key role in which direction you will go.
Once you go down the wrong road, maybe you keep going down that road as it becomes more and more familiar to you. Those embarrassing or humiliating social experiences can really do a number. For some people, this is where the social anxiety gets triggered, whether they are shy or had any problems up to this point.
Being bullied, ridiculed, rejected, or neglected by your peers is a very powerful thing. It hurts so much to be laughed at or made fun of. If we were already paranoid people assuming everyone was judging us, even when they weren’t, now our those feelings get reinforced. Our false and limited thinking is further solidified.
Being abused or suffering a trauma can spark feelings of guilt or shame which can contribute to social anxiety, self-doubt, and perfectionism, and further separate you from the pack.
Again, we are not pointing fingers, rather we are accepting our past, what shaped us, and making a decision to embrace who we are with all those experiences and unlearning the false and limiting beliefs.
So to recap: premature or some other biological disturbance…check. Possibly a history of anxiety in the family…check. Either an overprotective or a controlling parent or guardian…check. A trauma…check, check. Bullied or rejected by peers…check. Overreaction to these things…check.
Now that you know, you can fully accept these things and unlearn what you have learned.
Seek Help to Unlearn the Backstabbing Lies
We must unlearn the thought that we are not good enough. That someone else has to give us the approval to feel entitled to be ourselves, to make our own choices.
Don’t get hung up analyzing everything, including the past. Unlearn and disconnect the things that have nothing to do with one another. People at the grocery store are not judging you because someone threw feminine products at your frizzy hair on the school bus to take care of it (yes, that happened to me once).
Zoom out on your painful experiences, they are not your fault and they don’t define you!
Control what you can and should control.
Helping yourself is not drinking alcohol like the 20% that use it to cope when you feel trapped socially like I did. Getting real help, eating the right foods, finding balance, having faith, and exercising your body and mind can all help. Of course there are many other things that can greatly help which we will continue to explore but a strong foundation is always the first step.
You can get better at dealing with people by trying things and finding what works until you won’t even have to think about it any more.
Ultimately, you also have to work on the things you can control and let go of the things you cannot control, don’t shoot for perfection because you will constantly be letting yourself down.
Accept there are some things that can’t be controlled.
Find entitlement because you are entitled to it all without fear of rejection sabotaging or holding you back from your dreams. If you can see the causes of your problems and strip away the lies you have learned. you will be able to navigate the world with open and clear vision and you can then inspire others.
¹15 million people suffer social anxiety disorder in the US alone. That’s nearly 7 out of 100. Over one third of those people don’t even seek any help for ten or more years. The sooner you ask for help and help yourself, the less you have to suffer social anxiety and the sooner you can move forward to a fuller life. You can help others struggling and not be the cause of more socially anxious people, until you pass down that crazy brain of yours…jk.
I realize this post is a bit sarcastic. I can be sarcastic. I got it from having social anxiety for over 30 years 😉
I intend to continue to share what I have and will learn but the best you can do is unlearn than to add to address anxiety. This site will provide tools to build skills and confidence so subscribe for more below!
¹”Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. N.p., Aug. 2016. Web. 11 Feb. 2017. <https://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics>.
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