A Request for Help with Social Anxiety (Q&A)

socialanxietyThe letter below and my response are compiled from a correspondence of several emails with a lovely woman, Charlotte, who was asking for help with social anxiety. The suggestions I offer here would apply to anyone who experiences fear and self-judgment. Note: model in the photo is not Charlotte.

Dear Gail,

Since the age of 16 (I am 29 now) I have had a very long and I have to say extremely tiring and draining experience and relationship with all kinds of emotions and feelings, fear and depression being the two that I find the most distressing and hardest to live with.

I have severe Social Phobia. I feel such intense fear and self consciousness when I’m around people, even my family and several close friends I have, that I can’t think straight, my mind goes blank and I literally can’t form proper sentences.

There’s a part of me, and I think that this is going to be my key to recovery if I can ever summon up the strength and courage, that is sick of letting the stories my mind tells me run on about being too ugly and not clever or good enough, stopping me feeling good about myself (a seemingly impossible aspiration at the moment) or creating a life I want.

If you have any suggestions as to how I can deal with this problem without beating myself up, which I know only makes it worse, I just get so frustrated at not being able to express my true self in front of others. I would be so so grateful.

Warmest wishes,

Dear Charlotte,

So much sweetness oozing out of your emails. Whether you know it or not, your light is shining – you can’t help it.

A couple of points:
First, you have a great deal of insight into your problems. This can help to some extent, but I have found that the “why” question – why am I like this – doesn’t lead to real change. You can know why zillions of things have happened, but that doesn’t mean you are going to change. Which brings me to my second point:

You know what needs to happen, which is taking an honest look at the stories you are holding on to and letting them go. Strength and courage? You have them. You are describing quite a difficult life, and you have survived this far. You absolutely have what it takes – I have no doubt.

As you contemplate your next step, be completely kind to yourself. I heard how difficult this is for you, but I suggest gathering up all the kindness you have ever experienced in your whole life and directing it toward yourself.

I heard all the challenging things that happened in your childhood. You might take out a piece of paper and write down all the kindnesses that were ever expressed toward you (including how animals have loved you and kindness you have expressed toward yourself). Jump into that pool of kindness and let it surround your every cell. Then begin to investigate the stories. Take baby steps, and when you notice you are harsh toward yourself, remember kindness. This will help you also as you welcome in the fear.

Once you learn not to have your fear as an enemy, and to hold it lovingly like you would your favorite dogs [Charlotte loves dogs], it won’t have so much power over you. So next time you feel afraid, take a few minutes by yourself. Take the love that you give to the dogs and pour it into the fear. Do this over and over, and the fear begins to not be so horrifying.

Your mind may negate this method, but just sit down and do it…then do it again and again, no matter what your mind says. For this to work for you, you will need to be very diligent, doing it every day or several times a day and not giving up. Whenever the fear is evident, just pick yourself up and start again – every time.

You are trying to counteract learning that is very strong in you. I often say “your willingness to be free needs to be stronger than your willingness to suffer.”

Also, take a look at the Q&A on the inner critic. And you might be helped by this post, especially the part at the bottom about self-soothing.

Thanks so much for writing, Charlotte. I wish you the absolute best.

Big hug and love,

image credit: Kinnéidigh Garrett

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  1. says

    Hi Gail – Lovely site you have here. I’m a first time visitor and was struck by not only the wonderful suggestions you gave this reader, but also by how kindly and lovingly you presented them to her. I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. I wrote a post about transition and wanted to talk about being kind to ourselves when in it, but ran out of space. So it’s nice serendipity to come here and read your words. Thanks.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Patty,
      Thank you so much for visiting and for your sweet comment. I love serendipity! Somehow we get exactly what we need.

      And we can’t be too kind to ourselves. When difficult feelings arise, and they are asking for our attention, it helps so much to receive these experiences with a supremely loving heart.

  2. says

    Hi Gail. I have always had social anxiety, severe as a teen and mild as a senior. These are some ideas that have been a great help to me:

    Make a permanent pastime of reading self-help topics. Record a series of ideas that you find helpful and review them regularly.
    Picture vividly scenes in which you are performing very successfully.
    Use affirmations. They like me and I feel good. I am doing everything calmly and am relaxed and breathing deeply. I feel confident about this.
    Don’t be too careful about what you are going to say – just say it. Or don’t say it, it’s ok.
    Don’t be too critical of others or yourself.
    Relax, let your muscles go limp and loose like a soft towel.
    Be happy being you! It is much better than to pretend to be someone else. There is only one you, unique and deserving of a good life, so feel good about yourself just the way you are.

    I have made such a record over a lot of years: 32 Keys about life.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Dear Ken,
      What a fabulous list of commonsense strategies! Thank you so much for offering them. Your ideas target the body, mind, heart, and behavior – all aspects of our experience that can benefit from our loving attention. Your 32 keys are so beautiful, and you articulate them so clearly.

      I appreciate that you see coping with social anxiety as an ongoing process. It’s not about fixing it – rather managing it as it happens. It sounds like at some point you accepted the problem and the fact that you are responsible for your own well being, then developed a can-do attitude. You are a wonderful role model: it is possible to approach all of our “problems” like this – with great results.

      I so appreciate your comment, and I’m sure it will help a lot of people out there.

  3. says

    Thanks for your kind words Gail. I’m sure you find that posting to your blog is very uplifting for yourself, as I am sure it is for your visitors. Best wishes, Ken.

  4. says

    Hi Gail – I also just discovered your site (followed it from Urban Monk) and am looking forward to continuing to explore it.

    Your advice about being kind to oneself is so important. I know for me I treat myself much more harshly than I treat others.

    I have social issues as well, and have struggled with the sense that even when I do get out there and try to connect, connection doesn’t seem to happen. In these cases, it’s so hard to be kind to myself, forgiving of myself and others, and not take it personally when, as just happened this morning, I’m not invited to an event that a friend is invited to, that kind of thing.

    I will take your advice and take refuge in self-kindness and self-compassion! Discovering this particular post was very soothing to me, today.

    Thanks again-


    • Gail Brenner says

      I’m so glad you stopped by, Melissa. Welcome to you!

      It is always helpful to take refuge in self-kindness and self-compassion, especially allowing yourself to lovingly receive whatever feelings you might be having – not wanting anything to be different, simply allowing the feelings to be present without resisting them. This is the ultimate self-kindness and is the antidote to any challenging reaction. It helps us to untangle the emotional hook that certain situations can have. Rather than getting caught in the story of what happened, we simply allow the feelings to be.

      All situations can be our teacher. A thought comes to mind about yours: If you were not invited to an event, maybe there is something about yourself that you are not inviting in. If so, can you be a loving host and welcome everything?

      You have my full support along the path.

      Love to you…

  5. Liv says

    Hello Gail. I have come across your site today looking for answers to my feelings of lack. Thank you for he heaps of wisdom shared. I’m looking forward to sitting with them your posts in my quiet time.

    What i’d like to know from this post is… How? How do you pour love into fear?

    Thank you

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Liv,

      When you see fear for what it is – mostly physical sensation with a story attached to it, and you make friends with it and let it be – rather than letting it rule your life, you are being loving toward yourself. As you probably know, I’ve written a lot about fear on this site. Get to know fear so well that you recognize it when it appears. Then you can make a choice that supports your happiness and well being.


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