During my teens and most of my 20s I lived with social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD and depression. For most of those years I was on strong antidepressants and during the worst of it, medical disability benefits due to my fear of job interviews.
I believed I had a genetic fault in my brain and I was born that way. I had totally given up on myself and was convinced I would never get over social anxiety. That brings me to the first lesson I learned on my journey to overcoming social anxiety and shyness:
- Social anxiety is not a life sentence
Like most people, I grew up believing the narrative we are sold by society. You were born confident or you weren’t. You were good with people or you weren’t. You either have it or you don’t, and I certainly didn’t. Better luck next lifetime.I believed my shyness and social anxiety was out of my control. Because of this, I never made an effort to change it. Everything changed for me when I met someone who had overcome social anxiety and crippling shyness himself. He went on to tell me it was my limiting beliefs, poor self-talk, and avoidance behaviors that were contributing to my social anxiety, not some bad gene or something out of my control.
Realizing it was in my control all along was the first step to healing for me. Only then could I go about analyzing my own behaviors to find the real causes.
- No amount of beating yourself up over your flaws will ever make them better
I used to believe the way to improve myself was to focus on my weak points and feel bad about them until they became strengths. As counterintuitive as it sounds, I’ve since come to realize that no amount of beating yourself up about your flaws ever makes them better. Focusing on your weaknesses and neglecting your good points only leads to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and low self-esteem.I began to make a list of all the things I like about myself and read it every single day. This practice helped me tip the scales back in favor of the positive, and remember I do have good points.
- My stories were keeping me stuck
Are you more interested in overcoming social anxiety or defending why you can’t?I couldn’t wait to tell everyone how bad people were to me growing up. I was looking for sympathy and I got it, but no matter how much I got, other people’s sympathy didn’t heal me.
We must begin to realize that our past stories of hurt are not helping us heal and grow. They are keeping us stuck in a victim mentality. I’m not saying what happened to you in your past wasn’t terrible, but dwelling on it and blaming others takes your own power away.
You have a choice. Are you going to keep living your life looking through the rearview mirror? Are you going to keep holding onto the stories and excuses that are keeping you trapped? Or are you going to move forward into healing?
Today is a new day. No matter how bad yesterday was, today you get a blank slate. Today, you are free to choose a new story for yourself.
- Perfection is an illusion
Somewhere along the line, I formed a belief that I had to be perfect to earn people’s love and friendship. I had to always be nice, smell nice, look nice. I thought if I ever come across as awkward, weird or selfish, people wouldn’t like me anymore and I’d be rejected.Perfectionism is caused by not feeling deep down that you’re enough as you are. You’re always striving to win acceptance, both other people’s and your own. Perfectionists tend to think in terms of black and white, good or bad, without leaving any room for grey areas. It’s either amazing or terrible; the best or the worst.
I have since come to understand perfection is a myth. There are gray areas that apply to almost everything in life. I have also learned I don’t need to be perfect to be loved or wanted, just like I don’t need others to be perfect to love them.
No matter how bad things seem right now, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I know because I was once where you are and I made it out. I hope I have given you some hope by sharing my story and some of the things that worked for me.
Shy guy photo available from Shutterstock