The Cure for Social Phobia

At home, Gary told himself there was no point in going out tonight. He was sure to make a fool of himself, and he’d only end up feeling mortified. Walking out of his apartment, he felt like his legs weighed thousands of pounds. The voice in his head kept telling him to turn around. By the time he got to the bar, his heart was pounding. He felt like he was standing outside of himself. Everything around him looked unreal. He was sure that everyone was looking at him, and knowing that he was the one big idiot in the room. He made a bee-line for the bar, and kicked back a double. This provided some relief. He took a deep breath. To his horror, somebody cute came up to him, smiling, and said something clever. Gary’s mind went blank. He knew that somewhere he could speak English, but suddenly he had no vocabulary. He stood there, frozen. In a minute, the attractive person walked away. Inside, a voice yelled in his head, “You idiot!” Proof again that he was an utter failure.

What was going on for Gary? He was experiencing Social Anxiety, or Social Phobia.

What is social phobia? Where does it come from? Why do people have it? How can you get rid of it?

We all know how to “tweet,” “send,” and “post,” but what about connecting face to face with a real live person? This is a source of dread for all too many people. Social Anxiety or Phobia is this overwhelming fear of interacting with other human beings.

People feel this terrible feeling when their body misreads the world. Our body becomes convinced that we are about to get trampled by a mastodon, when we are simply flirting with a human being. Our body reacts as if we are in life-threatening danger even though we are not.

We may not be threatened by mastodons anymore, but many people feel just as terrified as if they were. But the fear isn’t of physical harm. Most people’s biggest fear is humiliation. Though we may believe that our big fear is rejection, very often what is underneath this fear is an anxiety about what we will feel if we get rejected. Very often social anxiety comes from this fear of humiliation. That’s what Gary feared and what he felt in the bar.

People with this kind of fear dread this feeling because it is so painful. People who suffer this kind of mortification so exquisitely tend to avoid any circumstance where they are likely to feel it.

Why do some people feel such feelings worse than others? Usually, the amount of cringing we feel is an indication of how badly we feel about ourselves. The name for this bad feeling about ourselves is shame. Shame is the feeling that goes along with the belief that there is something basically wrong with us.

Where does shame come from? Very often, people feel shame because they have been emotionally wounded in their lives.

Overcoming social anxiety is difficult and takes a great deal of practice, but with a sincere commitment, it is possible. Conquering this debilitating syndrome has three parts.

1. Heal the past. You must become aware of the wounds that led to the development of this shame and work with a qualified expert who can help you heal these wounds. If you have not done this before, just saying these things out loud to someone else may feel embarrassing, but it can really help.

2. Master the present. You need to learn how to love yourself and care for yourself no matter what. With the advice of a good coach, you need to put yourself in social situations again and again. If this feels too difficult, participating in a supportive group can be a great stepping stone to social interaction. With repetition, you will get better.

3. Create the future. You need to envision a life where you love yourself, are comfortable with others and you have rich, fulfilling relationships. Let this vision possess you, and with your good work, that vision will become true.

Feel free to join the conversation and ask any questions you like.

Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business and artist’s coach, and young person’s mentor. He sees patients in New York City, in Mt. Kisco, NY, and around the world by Skype.

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