Does the thought of introducing yourself to someone you don’t know make you instantly feel nervous and uncomfortable? Ever have the thought that no one will like you anyway, so why should you even try to make friends? Do you find yourself cancelling plans when you do have an invitation to go somewhere, just because the thought of being in a social situation seems like too much to handle? If this seems like you, you might be one of the 15 million people who suffer from social anxiety disorder.
Like eating disorders, social anxiety disorders lie to you.
It gets rooted so deep inside you that you start to think the voice of it is you.
But, it’s not.
Here are 3 lies social anxiety tells you, and 3 ways to help you begin to overcome it.
1. Nobody Likes You
Unless you are literally the meanest person ever, there will always be people who will like you. Your brain will try to give you any excuse to keep you from making those first steps towards social connection.
Assuming “nobody likes you” automatically keeps you trapped and isolated. Plus, it tears down your self esteem.
You do have good qualities, you are worthy of friendships and you are interesting.
Others can see that even if they don’t tell you to your face. It’s better to assume people will like you, than defining yourself negatively before giving others a chance to decide that for themselves.
2. Friendships Should Come Naturally
Well yes, and no. Yes, you may find someone you just click with right away and it works. But most of the time we are trying to establish new friendships with people we know little about or have just met.
Friendships can often take a while to develop, and like any relationship that takes work and effort.
Believing that friendships should simply fall into your lap is simply not practical, especially in this day and age. They require time spent together, learning about the other person’s interests, and doing both mundane and meaningful activities together.
If you find yourself always at the mercy of other people inviting you places or initiating conversation, you probably feel that very few people are interested in getting to know you. But, if you step in first, you are in control. And this assertiveness can also build confidence in your ability to initiate and foster relationships.
3. You Should Just Give Up
It’s awful to lose friends or realize you are not compatible with someone. That experience can be hard for anyone to take. However, if you also suffer from social anxiety the devastation you feel is probably doubled.
Reality is that you will probably not “get along with everyone” and will lose friendships over the course of your life.
Many people with social anxiety have a hard time with rejection. They might tell themselves “If person A doesn’t like me, than nobody will like me!” or “I should just give up, I’m not good enough for anyone”. Or “there is no one out there for me”.
These statements are very black and white and only allow room for either perfection or misery. But there is a grey area where you can have the ability to realize that you can’t please everyone, but know that there are still plenty of people you will click with.
What Can I Do About My Social Anxiety?
1. Establish Structured Social Situations (ex. A job, study group, yoga, classes)
These are activities/places that you can meet others consistently and are structured (meaning that they have time frames and are focused spaces).
Having defined spaces can help you to meet people with similar interests. It is certainly harder to strike up conversations with a perfect stranger on the street, right? Additionally, it is easier to keep friendships if you have to spend time around them and consistently see them regardless of whether you “feel like it, or not”.
2. Seek Professional Help
If you find that your social anxiety is affecting your life significantly or is debilitating (possibly causing depressive episodes, extreme isolation, or even suicidal thoughts), the situation needs to be evaluated by a therapist, presumably one that specializes in social anxiety.
Therapists can help you by teaching you how to talk to others, how to strike up conversations and keep you accountable for following through with social plans.
They are also great for fostering motivation and building confidence.
3. Be brave
The only way to conquer social anxiety is to put yourself in the driver’s seat. You have to make the first move, you have to decide on social activities, and you have to keep yourself motivated.
I know social anxiety can be an absolutely horrible and difficult issue to deal with, but it is also something you can work on and overcome. The more you put yourself out there, you will be surprised by how many people will naturally gravitate towards you.
The world will seem less lonely, less harsh, and less scary. And you will learn more about yourself and your own agency and preferences.
As a very nice therapist once told me:
It is not a matter of your likability. You have just never practiced your social skills.
And she is right. I simply haven’t trained myself to employ social skills into my life. I have spent most of life convincing myself that I am so worthless that I never even really tried to make friends.
If you have social anxiety, these skills don’t come naturally or easily, but you have to start telling yourself that you are capable enough to try them. You never know what can happen if you do.