The 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.
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.
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.”
Thanks so much for writing, Charlotte. I wish you the absolute best.
Big hug and love,
image credit: Kinnéidigh Garrett