Can You Get Over Social Anxiety?
If you suffer from social anxiety, you have likely spent a lot of time reading about it, wondering, “Could I ever get over social anxiety?”.
Countless methods, treatments, and even triumphant testimonies of people completely overcoming social anxiety. And you try to be happy for those who have overcome it, but inside you want to scream, because you have tried and tried practicing this method and that, to little or no avail. And, in fact, you have quite often felt more discouraged afterwards than you were to begin with, and feeling as paralyzed as ever.
Do I Have Social Anxiety Disorder?
First of all, from here onward I will not refer to it as a disorder! The first step to getting over something, in my opinion, is to begin to learn to envision yourself free from it. Not seeing yourself as a prisoner by adhering to titles like disorder, or syndrome. It is not something you are stuck with, despite how hopeless it seems!
If you have social anxiety, you very likely know it (by the way, social anxiety is sometimes also referred to as social phobia).
For anyone who does not suffer from social anxiety, or has never experienced social anxiety to any consistent degree, let’s define it.
If you have ever wondered, “Do I have social anxiety disorder?”, ask yourself if you have a few or all of the following “beliefs”:
- I’m not like other people.
- Something is wrong with me.
- I don’t measure up.
- People don’t like me and are out to get me.
- People are mean and can’t be trusted.
- I need everyone’s approval.
- I could never be loved.
- Everyone is judging me.
What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety stems from one, or a series of traumatic experiences in your past – likely as a young child.
At the time of the traumatic event, your subconscious devised a “survival mechanism”, intended to protect you from the event ever happening again. From now on, it will perceive a danger or threat (whether it exists or not) and fire off a response to it. This response is known as fight, flight, or freeze (FFF), and is a function of the Limbic system of the brain.
The Fight, Flight or Freeze Response
You are then so concerned with dealing with the aftermath of the fight, flight or freeze response that you can’t deal with the question of what triggered it to begin with. It then becomes virtually impossible to completely overcome your social anxiety until you can address what activates your FFF response in social situations.
Social anxiety is a conditioned response to the perceived danger in a social environment, stemming from experiences in the past.
Two Types of Beliefs and Where They Come From
I spoken above about a “traumatic” event or experience.
In the case of someone suffering from social anxiety, the event or experience usually came in the form of something humiliating. Shame or ridicule, likely in some kind of social setting. And, of course, rejection.
There are two types of beliefs, concerning all of this:
1. Surface beliefs (I believe you would be quite upset if I stole your car and drove to Alaska)
2. Deeply ingrained beliefs (I believe that this person is judging me; just waiting for me to say something stupid and then they are going to point and laugh, because people are mean).
The first type of belief is logical, at least to a high degree. We know that if somebody stole our car, we would be quite peeved, so it is reasonable to assume it would be the same, if the tables were turned.
The second type of belief is not so reasonable. You don’t even have to believe a deeply ingrained belief with your logical mind. It is like you believe it in some place deeper than your mind… like it has been poured in and tamped down and covered with cement. So how can you get over social anxiety when this is the case??
It is possible, just please bear with me.
Deeply Ingrained Beliefs Have Diverse Sources
Painful life experiences are one source of deeply ingrained beliefs about ourselves, and often came via words said by others. But they also come from other sources, such as being rejected, abandoned, or sexually abused. We can develop these false beliefs about ourselves as a result of any and all of them.
If you were frequently criticized or ridiculed by a teacher every time you put up your hand to answer a question, you might grow up believing that you are stupid, or have nothing valid to say that isn’t ridiculous.
This could cause problems socially, couldn’t it?
We talked about the limbic system of the brain, and how it has “resolved” to protect us from further shame, rejection, humiliation, etc. In a social setting, even though you actually believe you are an intelligent adult, with many great and important thoughts and ideas, these deeper, cemented over beliefs about yourself have the final say, every time!
Now. You first have to believe that the cement can be cracked. Well, honestly, it will be more of a slow, chipping away…
How to Relieve Social Anxiety…?
If you do suffer from it, you have no doubt spent a great deal of time toiling to figure out ways to relieve social anxiety, and learned some tricks for dealing with it. Because in the woozy, whirling colosseum of a social situation it certainly does seem impossible that you could ever actually be free of it. When you’re sweating, tense and dizzy, and your mind goes blank worrying about what you will say when it is your turn to talk…
Your heart is beating, your thoughts are racing, and you feel like everyone in the room is already judging you, before you even speak. In these moments, you think of all the times you’ve been alone and wondered, I wonder if I could ever get over social anxiety…? And now those glimmers of hope you remember just seem completely naive.
If considering how to relieve social anxiety seems naive and ridiculous, how astronomically out of the realm of logic would actually overcoming social anxiety be?
So, Can You Get Over Social Anxiety?
Overcoming social anxiety may seem out of the realm of fathomability. But now that we know what actually causes social anxiety (social situations are just the trigger!), we can begin to get a handle on fixing it!
This is why you can’t beat social anxiety by fighting it. That would be like trying to fix your car engine by putting electrical tape over the engine light!
I have heard it said that, “a belief is nothing but a thought that feels true”.
So how do you overcome social anxiety? Well, you have to get to a point where this paralyzing belief no longer feels true, yeah? So how does one go about doing this, you are probably asking, with a tinge of annoyance, by now.
Well, knowing that a false belief is false hasn’t seemed to work, thus far. The survival mechanism in our mind that was introduced for the purpose of protecting us has actually trapped the lie inside, and so we either need to find a way to set the lie free, OR…
Social Anxiety and Neuroplasticity
So, now that you know what causes social anxiety, how do you overcome social anxiety and live a normal life, free of it’s terrors, which lead to isolation and the loneliness that accompanies it?
Would you believe me if I told you that you could “turn off” the socially anxious part of your brain, by re-training it?
I know it sounds like I’m about to sell you something, but I assure you, I’m not. I decided to write this little exposition because it is close to my heart. I do not want to be just another person telling you all about the knowledge I have that can help you with your little problem, without having any experience of my own with the matter.
I am not here to tell you my life story, especially at this late stage. But I can tell you that I know all about it, all too well! In fact, as far as I have come, I still have a ways to go, and researching for this article has helped me, just as I had hoped it would.
Ok. What Exactly Is Neuroplasticity, and How Do You Overcome Social Anxiety with It , Already.
You can refer to an article I wrote awhile back: https://un-pharma.com/what-is-neuroplasticity-can-you-change-your-brain/, but in essence, neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to form new thoughts. It allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.
It is what the scholarly call “re-wiring your noodle”.
Of course, it gets harder as you get older, so don’t lollygag about it. Trust me on that. I’m not as olde as you probably think, now that I’ve used the word “lollygag”. But olde enough that I very much wish I had gotten to working on the issue of social anxiety, and learning about neuroplasticity a lot sooner than I did.
Anyway, as I mention in the neuroplasticity post, if your brain can shape itself around horrible lies that you have believed about yourself in the past, it can surely bend back towards truth.
With that, I will leave you with an amazing video starring the lovely and brilliant Caroline Leaf, who is the real guru on neuroplasticity and matters of the mind.
*Before I got this far along, I said that I was not doing this to sell you anything. Well, that is still pretty much true, but I have since discovered a young man whom I would very much like to promote here. You don’t have to buy his program, but if you do suffer from social anxiety, I think you will find his video very hopeful and comforting.
As always, please leave your thoughts and questions below, and I will respond, gratefully.