That Social Problem

Recently, I figured out a long standing problem I have been having. It turns out that I have social anxiety. As it happens, it’s a pretty mild and it isn’t in any way debilitating. But it does affect my life in some profound ways.

This is how it works: There is a little voice in the back of my head, and it tries to tell me that I’m not worth knowing. If a joke falls flat, or I say something that doesn’t quite come out the way I intended, the voice says something like “and that’s why people don’t like you.” It analyzes everything I do, and puts the worst possible spin on things. Given the opportunity to go out to some gathering where I don’t know many people, the voice tells me that there is no point in going since no one likes me anyway, or that I have nothing of value to offer. The voice has a comment for every situation, eroding any confidence I have managed to build.

And its there all the time. I can’t escape it. It’s there when I walk down the street, it’s at work, it’s in casual conversation. It follows me everywhere. Its as though my own mind is constantly urging me to just shut myself away to spare other people the difficulty of dealing with me.

And the worst part is, that I know its not true. My rational brain says that its not that bad. That other people don’t find dealing with me painful. And yet, that’s the first thing my brain says to me when I enter a social situation: “this is why people don’t like you”.

I am not writing this for pity, or to lament my lot. No. I’m writing this in defiance of my social anxiety. Because I am not going to let it be the way I define myself.

I started the podcast to force myself to approach and meet knew people. It’s a small thing but it’s a start.

The next step is in large groups, which is where that voice really has a field day. But here is the thing: I taught myself to accept imperfect writing when working on a first draft. I learned not to self edit. Is there any reason I can’t apply this to life? It used to be when I wrote, my inner critic would tear apart what I was writing as I wrote it. It was more than a little debilitating as far as writing goes. Because you can’t write well, when you think everything you write is shit. This has helped me to write more. I have allowed what I write on the first pass not to be completely amazing because I know I will fix the problems when I revise it. But I have managed to give myself permission for the writing to suck when I write a first draft. I allow it to be less than perfect, because I know I will fix it later. And I have learned not to listen to the voice of the inner critic.

The inner critic used to be a voice saying similar things to my anxiety voice. And I learned to put that voice in a box, so that I could get on with the things that mattered. So why can’t I do that with this?

So, that is my goal for the next little while. To learn not to listen to that voice.

Have you ever tried anything like this? How do you deal with social anxiety?