One of the main symptoms with social anxiety is resistance to change. The socially anxious person is often preoccupied in protecting him or herself from feeling overwhelmed due to multiple changes happening all at once.
If you struggle with social anxiety, you are probably also highly sensitive by nature. So sensitive that you become easily emotionally aroused by the slightest change in your environment. Most people think in error that socially anxious people are anxious about social situations because they are afraid of people. However, people who struggle with social anxiety, are not afraid of people. They are this way because they are obsessed with control.
This obsession with control often comes from a recurring experience with trauma, leading the socially anxious person to become obsessed with anticipating and accounting for as many variables as they can think of in any social situation. Sadly, this behavior unintentionally recreates the initial trauma to varying degrees.
“Why social situations?” Social situations cause anxiety because most experiences with trauma involve relating to other people. The socially anxious person can become especially wary when interacting with more than one person. Therefore, when changes happen, the socially anxious person will resign from most social engagements.
Change is Constant
The problem with this strategy is that change is a constant, and anyone who becomes obsessed with keeping up with the ever-changing variables involved in social interactions, is simply not going to keep pace. This is where people who struggle with social anxiety become easily overwhelmed. Since they have become committed to keeping track of current rules of engagement, a sudden change is likely to catch them off guard and put them in an anxious mood.
The solution for socially anxious people is to focus on one goal.
When working with clients, I will often have them begin the process of creating a mental picture of an assertive self. This assertive self will have to be relaxed and comfortable in all social situations. I usually will have clients list specific social situations which they have the most trouble with. Next, I walk them through exercises, to help them envision their assertive self being comfortable.
Let us consider an example.
A person identifies being cursed at in public as a trigger for his social anxiety. Then we explore his beliefs regarding being cursed at in public. It is irrational to say, that no one should curse at you in public, but it is rational to say that someone who curses at you in public is rude. The latter rule allows you to develop effective strategies on how to respond to the situation. This is because you are automatically focused on your self-control versus the control of others, which you do not have.
There is an effective solution for the person who identifies being cursed at in a public place. This is to develop a mental picture of how he or she would maintain a calm and assertive attitude in such a situation.
In this way, an ability to maintain composure in all situations can be developed and practiced. First, the visualization of the mental picture. This intent to remain calm and assertive can be transferred to all other situations. Allowing for the development of a newly confident, calm and relaxed you no matter what the situation.
The key to this solution lies in the willingness to surrender all desires to control all external variables to soothe one’s self.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” -Viktor Frankl