Your perception of an experience is going to produce a set of feelings. If your perception of social experiences is terrifying and anxiety provoking, you are going to experience feelings that are consistent with your expectation.
This is good news because it means that your condition of social anxiety is not permanent. It means that with some courage, you can begin a journey of exploration of your perceptions. You can find out if your perceptions are accurate.
This brings me to the real purpose of this post.
What if your issues with social anxiety are based on real fears? What if you actually do have bad experiences socially at times? Then what? Does this mean that you should live a life of fear? Does this mean it makes sense to become habitually anxious and withdrawn? Should you shy away from the potential to engage in new experiences?
Cognitive distortion and overgeneralization
This calls to mind the thinking error (aka, cognitive distortion) overgeneralization, which is where we come to a general conclusion based on a single or handful of experiences.
It’s like we tell ourselves that if something negative happens once, it then becomes the norm. While we are wired to remember negative experiences more intensely, it is important to know this is to prevent us to repeat negative experiences.
So, if you find yourself in a situation where your fears in regard to a social situation are real, see it as a call to action for you to learn what you can about that situation. A social situation that results in a negative experience can mean that you were in a place where you were not welcome. It could mean that you unknowingly associated with a person or persons who did not care for you nor did they have the best of intentions towards you. Or it could mean that you unintentionally acted in ways that the group considered inappropriate.
A change in perception
Regardless, if you have had a negative experience with a social situation, taking a break from that situation does not mean that you take this attitude to all social experiences.
Understandably, for people who have struggled with social anxiety for most, if not all their lives, they will not have other frames of reference for which to compare to new social experiences which they find to be negative.
From their perspective, it will just be a continuation of a series of bad social experiences in their lives. In such circumstances, they would benefit from the objectivity of a therapist who can help them analyze these experiences, learn the lessons they need to learn from these experiences and help them forge new healthier and happier social experiences.
If you find that your fears are real, your goal will be to understand the specifics that made these fears real and focus on using your thoughts and behaviors to create specifics that make social experiences more pleasant for you.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach. If you are struggling with social anxiety and you would like to learn more, you are welcome to call and book an appointment or fill out my contact form and click Send. For those living outside Tucson, AZ, Ugo Offers Online Counseling.Please share this post!