Dan Stelter is a lifelong social anxiety disorder sufferer who now lives peacefully and confidently. He now runs a website that offers a safe place for socially anxious people to get the support they need to relax and find happiness, serenity, meaning, confidence, and freedom. Visit the Anxiety Support Network.
Social anxiety lies. All the time.
Whether you consider yourself having “social anxiety disorder,” or just “afraid of people,” your thoughts don’t tell you the truth.
Do you find this perplexing?
But I didn’t realize it until recently. Even though I’ve had social anxiety disorder my whole life.
Can you relate to this example:
For a long time, my anxious thinking created the boundaries that ruined my life. Years ago, talking to a new person was a daunting endeavor.
Subtly, but powerfully, social anxiety told me, “This is gonna be scary. You’ll be anxious. You’re going to screw up. The other person will see you. They’ll reject you. And you’ll be alone. Again.”
So for many years, I let the power of my anxious feelings define what I did or did not do. When something seemed terrifying or overwhelming, I’d find reasons not to do it.
But it only isolated me. I remained lonely. Anxious. And afraid.
Once I made a consistent effort to disobey social anxiety and its feelings, things got better. At first, it was quite painful. Under attack, my socially anxious feelings actually gained power.
But after confronting each situation, the anxious feelings weakened. Difficult encounters became easy. And social anxiety disappeared in many cases.
I’m rarely afraid to simply talk to new people these days. I run my own business. So, I have to interact with a fair number of people. I have to stand up for myself (still challenging at times). And sometimes, I have to end relationships with others.
But I find it odd that my own mind, through the lens of social anxiety, lies to me. It tells me things won’t get better. It insists the other person has rejected me. It says I shouldn’t try.
In other words, it uses a limitless number of rationalizations to do what is not in my best interest. In fact, social anxiety absolutely destroyed my young life.
So, come along with me as I expose the most convincing lies social anxiety told me. And learn the truth behind them:
1. “Others will think I’m strange when I act different.”
You know you have social anxiety and that others have some awareness of this also. You also know you act differently around those you feel comfortable with versus unfamiliar or entirely new people.
You want to be yourself, the real you. But you’re petrified. Because, those who know you already know the anxious and fearful version of you. If you act differently, others may look at you strangely, and you’ll feel rejected.
Strangers who don’t already know you could also find you unusual.
The Truth: Some will find you strange. Others will like you. 318.9 million people live in the US. Not every person will approve of you. Guaranteed. But many will. Also, guaranteed.
Michael Jackson may have been the most liked pop singer of all time. I never cared for his music. Bill Gates is one of the richest and most powerful people in the world. Many people do not like him. Regardless of who’s president at any time, only about half of the nation likes them.
It’s simply natural that some people like you, while others don’t. What you and those closest to you think of you matters most.
Let go of what you think other people think of you. What they think is their business. Spend your time with those who you connect with the strongest.
Act in new ways. Accept you don’t know what others think. A certain look doesn’t necessarily mean rejection or disapproval. The other person could be surprised because you’re acting differently from the way you usually do. But they might like it.
If you don’t already have strong relationships in your life, you will find them if you keep trying until you learn where you fit.
2. “Social anxiety is too powerful for me to beat.”
The feelings of social anxiety get intense. Some can’t hold a job, don’t have friends, can’t find a significant other, and basically can’t leave their home without paralyzing social anxiety. Signing your name or eating in front of others appears like a monumental challenge.
These overwhelming feelings make it seem as though your social anxiety has won. So, you silently resign yourself to a grim life of misery, loneliness, and failure.
The Truth: You don’t have the power to overcome your fear of people on your own. I don’t know of one person who does.
But with a supportive community around you, and consistent action, you’re almost guaranteed to win. Sometimes, this means limiting or completely eliminating contact with people close to you, like family members or friends who don’t understand and only make your social anxiety worse.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Make the five people you spend time with positive people who want to see you let go of your fear. And make sure they help you feel comfortable and deal successfully with your challenges.
Also, realize that you can win. Or, at least open your mind to accepting the possibility.
I don’t like to use quotes unless they’re spot-on. But, Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
3. “Anxious feelings mean I’m a bad person.”
Have you ever actually found yourself thinking this? Maybe not. But, I realized that I unconsciously believed this most of my life.
When you feel guilty and ashamed, and judge yourself, it’s easy to think feeling that way means you’re a bad person. But if you believe that, you only set your mind up to feed yourself more of the same (and perhaps worse) in the future.
See how deceptive and destructive social anxiety is?
Insidious, isn’t it?
The Truth: You make a mistake when you let your feelings define your self-esteem. Most humans, not just social anxiety sufferers, do this.
It’s a tough, and painful, way to live. Because, your feelings go all over the place. Much of the time they have nothing to do with the facts surrounding you.
So you can’t always trust them.
When those self-judgmental feelings of shame, guilt, and remorse come up, simply acknowledge them. Identify them. Say, “I see you shame, guilt, and remorse. But I’m not going to let you run my life.”
Let them pass through. Realize you’re a worthwhile person, and focus on that thinking instead. Maybe you create an affirmations or gratitude list and work on it at this time.
Eventually, those unpleasant feelings will pass. They always do.
I’ve used this recipe for years. I feel pretty darn good 80-90% of the time. And when those useless and harmful feelings come up, I just let them pass by.
I don’t fight. I don’t argue. I don’t try to will those feelings away. Those tactics don’t work. In fact, they actually give social anxiety even more power.
4. “Something’s wrong with me.”
If you’re like most social anxiety sufferers, you feel deeply flawed, like something’s seriously “wrong” with you. It separates you from everyone else.
You deserve to be alone and isolated. You’re different. So, you have no good reason to try and lead a successful and healthy life that makes you happy.
The Truth: Everyone has challenges that affect their mind. Some moreso than others. Many people do a great job of controlling their external appearances so everything looks good. But it only covers up their real issues. And even makes them worse.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Bernie Madoff was “…[A] nice guy back then,” referring to when he knew him in the 1980s. You’ll recall Bernie created a Ponzi scheme that stole anywhere from $20 – $65 billion, and he’s now on year six of a 150-year prison term for it.
So, appearances aren’t what they seem.
Believing something’s “wrong” with you means you’re judging yourself. Just let go of that thinking when it arises.
Work on having a more realistic attitude. Simply say, “Yeah, I’ve got social anxiety disorder. But that doesn’t define me. It simply makes me human. Just like everyone else.”
After all, social anxiety disorder is simply an unhealthy way of thinking. Since everyone has their patterns, this simply makes you a member of the human race. You have a challenge to overcome, just like everyone else.
That’s it. Nothing more.
5. “More things would go my way if I were a better person.”
Easy to think this, isn’t it?
Social anxiety wreaks havoc and robs you of many of life’s joys. Things like friends, jobs, romantic relationships, and money rarely seem to pop into your life. Stuff everyone else takes for granted because it comes with ease.
So, it’s easy to look at yourself and say, “You know, if I were a better person, I’d have all these things everyone else gets.”
The Truth: Comparing yourself to others is a dangerous trap that only sets you up for failure. When you ask other people about how they got married, found their dream job, or finally saved enough money for a house, you’ll often find they didn’t have a straight path.
Knowing others as you know them now makes it seem as though they’ve always been the way they are. Your socially anxious mind tries to convince you that you will be happy if you only have what everyone else does.
But, the truth is all those things come with their stressors too. Jobs, spouses, friends, houses…they all have their flaws.
What you have in life isn’t under your control. No one else has control over what they get, either.
Paris Hilton didn’t become a celebrity because she’s such an amazing person. She was rich, spoiled, and heir to the Hilton hotel empire. That granted her access to the Los Angeles club scene, where she made a name for herself.
So, express your gratitude for what you do have (even if you think it’s not much). Focus on your own life only, and let go of the desire to compare yourself to others. Think of the next right thing you can do to make your life healthier, and do that. More will come your way as you learn and grow.
6. “I’ll just fail anyway.”
Social anxiety compounds the impact of perceived failure by a hundred times. Having someone say, “No,” feels like an elephant just sat on you.
Every time something doesn’t go your way, you judge yourself. “I should have said this. I should have done that. I never get what I want. Seems like everyone else does. Who cares? I’ll fail anyway. So, why try?”
And to a certain extent, this belief does have truth. Social anxiety ruins your confidence. When you’re unconfident, things have a lower chance of going your way.
I’ve experienced it hundreds of times.
The Truth: True failure involves not trying. That’s it. Living life happily means consistently taking risks and making mistakes.
Do more of what works. Less of what doesn’t.
When something doesn’t work out your way, simply learn from it what you can, and move on.
When I graduated with a Master’s in Social Work in 2009, the Great Recession was well underway. I applied for 123 jobs and went to 14 interviews. I tracked these in a spreadsheet. So I know they’re accurate.
I didn’t get a job.
Finally, I became a self-employed copywriter. I like the work. And it bought my wife and I a decent house.
Speaking of her…do you know how many women I attempted to date prior to her? I don’t either. But I interacted with at least 50 or so.
So, most things don’t work out precisely the way you (or I) would like.
No need to judge yourself as a bad person for not getting what you want. Shrug your shoulders. Learn what you can.
You only fail when you give up completely.
7. “See how that person looked at me? I can tell they don’t like me.”
Isn’t this the most common lie social anxiety tells?
A simple look. That’s it. Enough to make you a “bad person.”
A frown. Confused look. Narrowed eyes.
It’s hard to deal with how others react to you sometimes.
The Truth: …But it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. In fact, I found out in sports that a high school coach who rode my case all the time actually liked me.
I dreaded my time around him.
Truly, you have value simply because you’re alive. Everyone, including social anxiety sufferers, deserves respect and love.
And this, no matter what’s going on in your life. Whether you’re doing superb…or everything’s falling apart.
You don’t know how the other person thinks or feels about you. So simply let that go and focus on the next right thing in front of you.
Usually it’s nothing big. Maybe it’s just listening to what the other person says.
Work on finding your self-esteem in the fact you’re alive. You’re you. And no one else.
You’re unique. You have your own strengths. You may not have found them yet. But that’s okay.
You deserve to feel positive about yourself just like anyone else. Not better. Or worse. Just an equal human being ready to perform valuable service in the world.
Next Time Social Anxiety Lies To You, Call It on Its Bullshit
Every human being thinks in ways that lead to self-destruction. So, you’re no different with your social anxiety.
The trick involves learning what types of thoughts take you down bad avenues. Recognize them. Share them with others.
And realize your social anxiety lies to you.
Then you can say, “I see you social anxiety. I know you’re completely full of bullshit. So instead of fighting or arguing with you, I’ll simply let you pass through. Go on your way. I’m not allowing you to define my life anymore.”
Social anxiety creates an almost infinite number of lies and distortions of reality.
You know 7 common ones.
And you have the skills to overcome each and identify any others that come your way.
Armed with this new knowledge, your future only gets brighter.
Love this? You’ll also enjoy this free, 11-part email series that boosts your confidence, happiness, serenity, and connection: 11 Breakthrough (And Proven) Strategies to Keep You Forever Free from Social Anxiety.