When I found out that I had social anxiety disorder (aka social phobia disorder), my life was about to completely change, but I didn’t know it.
I struggled for so many years not being able to figure out why I had such a hard time connecting with people I didn’t know.
Why was I very afraid of meetings at work with people? I didn’t understand why I felt constantly anxious whenever I was outside of the house, driving, or even anxious inside the house, worrying about being uncomfortable when out in public (the infamous “anticipatory anxiety”).
I would say I struggled for at least 15 years, though probably longer. It’s hard to pinpoint how long, when it’s been going on for what seems like a lifetime.
I suffered a lot and tried overcoming my social phobia on my own, without even knowing I had it. I would put things on daily to-do lists like “making more eye contact with people” or “calm down body language”.
I also used to get embarrassed easily and would blush at the drop of a hat (somehow I got over this one on my own). You know the drill.
It was tough, and I’d make some progress, only to fall back to feeling anxious and/or depressed, even if I was able to change my behavior, it was never consistent.
That was because I wasn’t treating the root of the problem – which is a negative perception of myself in relation to other people, thinking I was a social freak, that I could never do things right and people could see it, also perfectionism and fear and thinking that people and the world are against you.
But further at the root I was also surprised to learn that I had a severe lack of self-acceptance, which isn’t only related to social anxiety disorder, but nonetheless is critical to heal it.
All those “social anxieties” I felt all those years could’ve been cured, if I’d only have known what I had. I thought I was just weird, introverted, quiet and just the way “I was” no matter how hard I tried to behaviorally change. It was hard for sure.
But I’m totally different now and sometimes I have to try hard to remember what it was like, because of all the work I’ve done to overcome SA.
So What Causes Social Anxiety?
Psychological research says it is basically some combination of genetic and environmental factors. Actually they are not separate, as there is an entire field dedicated to how genetic predispositions only occur when triggered by environmental factors – this is known as the science of epigenetics.
Often social anxiety doesn’t onset until later in life – I’ve never heard of any cases where people are actually born with it, but rather have a predisposition to get it via pre-wired anxiety neurology/biology.
The good news is that, knowing what caused your social anxiety isn’t really going to help solve your fear of being around people, because the causes really don’t matter when it comes to solving it it.
Sure they can play a role, but too often people think that constantly ruminating over why will help them recover.
It won’t. All that really matters is that you change your beliefs and thinking patterns, which in turn will change your neurobiology via neuroplasticity.
Everyone can be treated with the same basic types of therapy, unless you have a combination of other related or more specific social anxiety disorders.
Usually it goes like this – general anxiety does seem to run in families, like my mother’s side of the family.
Then later in life, some embarrassing and/or emotionally charged experiences happen to this already anxious person in a social setting, and the negative emotions of the perceived bad social experience wired into our system, and you have this equation:
bad social experience(s) + anxious predisposition = social anxiety … OR
BSE + A = SA!
Call me Einsten? I wish! It’s pretty simple and I thought I would simply explain through this silly little equation I made up.
Once social anxiety gets wired in, it generally takes quite a bit of work to undo. However it can happen much faster than you think, if you use the right therapeutic or healing modalities.
I “naturally” have always been a high-energy and anxious person much like my mother was (she passed away in April of 2011).
I’m creative, introverted, curious and going in 100 different directions.
And typically I was very shy as a child too (no longer though, really).
One fateful night in May 2011, I found out I had social anxiety.
I came home after another night of going out to the bars, feeling very frustrated and depressed, I asked myself “why is it so hard to talk to people I don’t know, and everyone else seems relaxed?
Why have I been struggling this for years and why can’t I get over it.“Well that was my perception at least, that everyone else was relaxed.
I thought I was “special” and no one else really felt this way (which isn’t true at all, it is just part of the SA mindset and now that I’m over it, I swear I can spot people with SA, as I understand how they feel).
But this time when I asked myself the question I really was asking why from a place of curiosity, of non-judgement. From a place of “there’s got to be a way to get over this thing, I just don’t know how yet.”
I wasn’t whining or complaining or beating myself up, I was truly curious and felt almost neutral about it.
So what did I do?
That’s right, I did what any Internet addicted person would do – I searched Google! And lo-and-behold, the first result that came up was the Social Anxiety Institute and I read all about Dr. Richards fantastic program, Overcoming Social Anxiety Step-by-Step.
I was pretty wary at first, as you know those sites that have big, huge landing pages that are 10 miles long, saying they can CURE you of your disorder, with fancy videos and all of that.
But as I looked through Dr. Richards site, I could tell there was no big-hype marketing agenda behind it, and I found a page of descriptions of people who have SAD and what they feel like.
It wasn’t some silly test, just simple accounts of what these people feel like.
I read it and my jaw freakin‘ dropped! THESE ACCOUNTS WERE PRETTY MUCH EXACTLY WHAT I FELT AND EXPERIENCED FOR ALL THOSE YEARS! I was awestruck, it was like someone knew what it felt like to be me, I got chills up and down my spine.
I was so excited that this even existed and I didn’t know it did, because maybe this was the very thing that could solve my suffering.
So I started using Dr. Richards’ program based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), doing exactly what he said, and then some.
However, I knew because of all the struggling I had experienced with SA, that there just might be something to CBT. And boy, was there ever.
I did the daily homework religiously along with some other practices to support myself, and learned how to first become aware of all my negative thoughts, then how to begin to resist and fight them, eventually how to squash them and rewire socially normal thoughts into my brain, and more importantly, learn to love and accept myself.
Now I know some of you reading this have tried CBT, and with probably mixed results. I have never used a therapist, but from what I understand, many therapists, though they might be versed in CBT, may not understand social anxiety very well.
Also some may have tried CBT but not kept up. Some may have done the work, but still need to do more. No, it is not easy to get over social anxiety, but it can absolutely be done, I did it and so have others.
My Dissolve Your Social Anxiety home recovery system is based heavily on mindfulness therapies like ACT and MBCT. I find them to be more effective and powerful than traditional CBT.
How Did I Get Over My SA?
I got over my social anxiety because I had already done some work “on my own” without knowing it was SAD just trying to increase my social skill (behavioral work), but much more importantly because I used Dr. Richards program religiously, really dove into understanding why something like CBT works in terms of neuro-biology (see my post on “The Science Behind Getting Rid Of Social Anxiety“, and also along with certain other practices of meditation and affirmation/belief change work.
Once I found the SAI program, it was like an exponential acceleration and awareness and then destruction of my SA mindset.
Dr. Richards also highly recommends that people join a CBT group for people with social anxiety, which is often very, very difficult to find in one’s local area. I was fortunate to have a foundation of other practices as well, which I still do this day, everyday, though in a much less rigorous fashion and no longer use CBT per say.
But I believe continuing to support oneself is critical to maintaining and expanding your social expression and to live a fulfilled life.
Also, check out my post and video on “The 4 Keys To Overcoming Social Anxiety“.
SPECIAL NOTE: Also here’s a link to a YouTube Video series on James, who worked with Dr. Richards to overcome his SA. I am posting his because I relate most to him out of all the cases, I also do not have fear of public speaking.
Check out the other videos in the YouTube sidebar of Dr. Richards’ former patients that have overcome their social phobia. You will probably relate to one or more of them.
I don’t have a fear of public speaking because I am a singer and guitarist from a young age, and my love for playing music always trumped any nervousness I had.
I equate it to when I’ve given the power or attention in a room, I do very well. But I am on the same level as others, I would totally close-in, avoid eye contact.
Even if I got done performing as soon as I got off stage and people would come up to me, if I didn’t know then well I was incredibly socially awkward to the point people thought I was “a jerk” or “stuck up”.
That’s the end of my little guide on the basis of social anxiety disorder, how I came to know I had it.
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