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Social Anxiety - The Unqualified Common Sense Approach

Updated on January 30, 2009


Up front I have to say I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, anthropologist, or licensed social worker, so if you want clinical advice, I am not your source. However, I started off very socially anxious in life and now I am very socially secure. Following is what I discovered on my personal journey from socially anxious to socially calm.

Sources of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety comes from within, primarily from a lack of self esteem. Suffice it to say that socially anxious people tend to lie awake at night, critiquing themselves: "Oh, that was such a dumb thing I said," or, "How could I have done that?" They do this because:

  1. They had false expectations, or
  2. They were unprepared for the reactions of others, or
  3. They place too much weight on what one other person says, or
  4. All of the above.

Social anxiety stems from the feeling that one does not know how to act and does not know how to learn.

Self Acceptance

My best weapon in defeating social anxiety is self acceptance. Accept yourself for who you are. For example, I am easily overwhelmed by a group of people who can think and talk faster than I can. I accept this about myself. Therefore when I am in such a group, I realize I am a sloop among battleships. I can tack and I can glide, but when the big guns do their thing I'd best not get in the way. Because I accept this about myself, I do not berate myself for not interacting on their level. If you bring a knife to a gunfight, you'd best put it away before somebody notices. And that's okay. The point is to recognize and accept your weaknesses so that you can coexist with them and capitalize upon your strengths.

Instead of lying awake nights, beating yourself up about your failings, lie awake nights planning how the next time you'll know what to do, and you'll do it better. You will begin to learn, and as you learn you will feel the power of your knowledge and your anxiety will fade away.

Sleep then soundly, knowing that a better day will follow.

Acceptance of Reality

You are never going to know for a dead sure, absolute fact what anyone is ever thinking, even if they tell you what they are thinking. You will never be one hundred percent able to predict how people will react to you. Some people will like you and some won't. You might think some people like you when they actually don't, and you may think some people don't like you when in reality they actually do.

The point is, don't sweat what you can't control.. You can't control what people think, so forget about it!

You will not always do the right thing. You are human, and you will occasionally make a mistake. True friends will forgive a mistake; shallow acquaintances will not, and they do you a favor by showing you their true colors before you make the mistake of relying on them.

A lot of social comfortability is the feeling that no matter what happens, you're going to be okay. You're going to be okay because you are not going to obsess about stuff that is completely out of your control. Accept the fact that you cannot change that which is out of your control and you will go a long way toward defeating your social anxiety.

Look Forward, Not Backward

The past is the past and cannot be changed. Accept it and move on, and remember the lessons you learned. It's the only way.

Look instead toward the future. Plan, run scenarios, and strategize. Figure out how you want to interact with others. Implement your plan. Try out your strategy. Put yourself in a new scenario. Make notes. Review and try again. You will see improvement, and as you see improvement, you will feel less anxious.


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    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 9 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Bruce! It's true, one doesn't need an expert to tell them what they already know somewhere deep inside. Any sympathetic person will do.

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Excellent hub, Tom. Great advice. And you don't need to be a psychologist. A while back Stanford U closed its Clinical Psych Dept, when studies showed that briefly trained amateurs did better than the PHD and MS folks. It's true, your bartender and hairdresser are probably your best help-mates, along with your religious/spiritual guides.

      Great one!

    • EYEAM4ANARCHY profile image

      Kelly W. Patterson 9 years ago from Las Vegas, NV.

      Maybe you should be a psychologist...

      I gotta give a speech Wednesday 8^\

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 9 years ago from United States

      Thank you, G-Ma. Nice picture!

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Very well done..."don't live in the past, don't dream of the future..., but concentrate on the present". G-Ma :o) Hugs & Peace

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 9 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Mama D! (not sure how smart I am, tho)


    • MamaDragonfly2677 profile image

      Shannon 9 years ago from New York

      I totally agree with you, Tom. Your so smart! :)

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 9 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Fishskin. I value your opinion highly.

      Zara, thank you for sharing your story.

      I definitely feel your pain. Society wants to make us uniform, but humanity is not.

      When someone insults me in a social situation, I usually take it as a joke, or I deliberately misunderstand them so that they have to either explain or say, angrily, "Never mind!" At which I reply, "I guess it must not have been very important then."

      Name calling in a boss is unprofessional and you can definitely call them on that. Really it is a sign that the person is a bad manager. Say, "I'm sorry, Mr. Smith, but can you be more specific?" When they explain your weirdness, simply say you will try not to do that again, and in the future you would appreciate it if they could label the behavior rather than the person because it would be far more helpful.

      Take pride in responding in a quintessentially professional manner to stupid interactions.

      Work is often not the best place to show individuality, which is a shame, since it takes up so much of our time. They do have a right to require one to act a certain way. If you are getting repeated negative feedback at work, this should be taken seriously to an extent.

      The correct response is to create for yourself a professional persona - basically a character you play while at work. This character is always bland, eager to please, upbeat, and highly professional.

      If I may say so, it sounds a bit to me as if you are taking these negative interactions a little too personally. Remember you cannot control what others think of you, but you can control what you think of you. Positive self image is one of the cornerstones of happiness. Therefore it is wise to foster it in oneself. Good luck in all you do. All the best.

    • Zara Lockwood profile image

      Zara Lockwood 9 years ago from Weston-super-Mare

      hi thumbs up - so what do you do when, by way of reply if some one says you are weird/strange / slow or thick out loud to your face ? - I've had this with work colleagues in many jobs as they can't accept me for who I am.  I'm normally dumbfounded when people come out with such rude/brash statements but I can never deal with it at the time, I never get used to this kind of behavior either - so I tend to do what i was taught at school ignore the bully - but it just gets worse - and I either end up swearing at them and bursting into tears or I quit the job (if it's the boss that is the problem)

    • fishskinfreak2008 profile image

      fishskinfreak2008 9 years ago from Fremont CA

      Great advice. Thumbs up