4 Lies Social Anxiety Tells Us — and Why We Should Stop Believing Them
As far as I could tell, the people I was on my way to meet had no immediate plans of killing me. They were perfectly normal, non-violent, actually quite lovely humans. But they were humans I felt the need to impress and that alone made me feel like I was going to die.
I pulled up to the coffee shop and attempted to talk some reason into myself before walking in. And after a few seconds had passed, I realized no reason was coming. Just panic, mainly. I took a deep breath, flipped down the mirror, and to my shock and dismay, saw my heart pounding visibly in my neck. No better way to make a first impression than to look like you just swallowed a marching band.
I considered fleeing the scene—just riding off into the sunset in my Honda Civic and never looking back. After all, I was a victim. How can one make new friends while in a state of panic? The two aren’t very complimentary activities.
I walked in anyway. The marching band and I were in full swing, but I’m happy to report that no one ran away screaming or asked when the half-time show would be over. Quite oppositely, I was welcomed with so much warmth that it brought almost immediate peace—and even calmness of neck.
And wouldn’t you know it? That afternoon turned out to be the most enriching I’d had in a long time … and I had almost missed out. In the days to follow, I set out to uncover the lies that were fueling my social fears and continually robbing me of the richness of community.
Here are four lies I believe those of us with social anxiety should stop believing.
1. If people know I’m anxious, they’ll reject me. One of the biggest things social anxiety made me realize in the last few years is that I need to give people a lot more credit. Assuming others will reject me for showing weakness can also be like assuming they are shallow, judgmental and incapable of empathy. Believing my fear will lead to rejection will cause me to hide it, and that only makes social situations exhausting, inauthentic and downright unbearable for me.
Try admitting your fear when you feel it overwhelming you. You might be surprised at how gracious and understanding most people are—and in fact, they might even like you better.
2. I should “click” with everyone. Here’s the thing: clicking with everyone is impossible unless you are willing to change your personality on a regular basis. The reality is that sometimes you’re going to have awkward coffee with people who don’t have the same sense of humor as you, or who haven’t read the same books, or who—heaven forbid—just don’t find your interests that interesting. This is never a comfortable situation for anyone, but it will be much less anxiety-inducing when you stop carrying the responsibility to create a magical clicking moment with everyone. Furthermore, just because you don’t feel a deep connection with someone doesn’t mean your interactions weren’t still meaningful and worthwhile.
3. If it’s awkward, it’s my fault. I’ve come to believe our generation has a bit of an awkwardness phobia. It’s actually becoming awkward how many times you hear the word awkward in a day. Everyone is afraid to be the awkward person in the room. But listen. Awkwardness is like the tango—it takes two, baby. So when you feel an awkward situation coming on, remember, it’s because at least one other person is contributing. And there’s a good chance they are feeling just as self-conscious about it as you. Awkward moments are just a normal part of life and they can be far more bearable if we can laugh them off instead of shouldering all the blame for them.
4. No one understands me. The particularly debilitating thing about weakness is that we all tend to think ours is the most appalling, which leads us straight into shame and isolation. This only confounds the effects of our weaknesses. The truth is, most people do understand social anxiety, at least to some extent. Almost everyone fights feelings of inadequacy and fears of rejection. Even though social anxiety isn’t a debilitating fear for everyone, it’s rare to meet a person who can’t identify with it at all. If you’re willing to be honest about your struggle, you might be surprised to find out many people will respond with a liberating, “Me too!”
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