People who may suffer from excessive shyness and social anxiety often have internal beliefs that reinforce their behavior. A common belief at the root of this social anxiety is that deep down we don’t feel like we deserve positive attention.
Instead of speaking our minds, we feel like we should cause as little disturbance as possible. Thus, we sit on the sidelines and aren’t as engaged with social activities. We remain reserved, withdrawn, and trying to blend in with the walls.
We are afraid to take up space – social space.
We do this by keeping our personalities and talents hidden from others. We don’t want people to know who we really we are, because we fear people won’t like it. Therefore, as painful as it may be to keep ourselves hidden, we prefer it – because we imagine that the alternatives are much worse.
That’s the root of a lot of anxiety. We look into the future and imagine all the bad things that may happen if we step outside of our comfort zone. And often we imagine these things as much worse than they would probably turn out in the real world.
Often the worst that can happen during a date or a job interview is that we get rejected or slightly embarrassed after making a mistake. But in our heads we act as though we are being judged by God himself. It’s rarely that serious.
The truth is not everyone is going to like you. You can’t be yourself and please everyone at the same time, and that is something you have to be willing to accept if you are going to let your authentic self shine through. Of course, even with this true, the benefits often outweigh the costs.
One benefit is when you let your personality open up, you are more likely to attract others who mesh well with you. This is far less likely (if not impossible) when you keep yourself closed off and reserved. So even though some won’t see eye-to-eye with you, there are plenty of others out there who probably share very similar interests, passions, values, and goals. The more you let your own interests, passions, values, and goals come through, the more likely you are to discover these like-minded people and begin building meaningful relationships with them. Of course, none of this can come true if you don’t give yourself the right to take up space.
The right to take up space.
As conscious beings, I think each and every one of us has a right to express ourselves. This entails the freedom to think as we want, speak as we want, dress as we want, create as we want, and act as we want (so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others).
When you are at a group meeting, you have every right to share your ideas. When you are at a political rally, you have every right to stand up for your political views. When you are a musician in a band, why shouldn’t you have some say in the music? And when you are at a cafe or bar, why shouldn’t you have the right to go up to someone, say “Hi,” compliment them on their shoes, and strike up a conversation.
You may go through life thinking these things can sometimes be inappropriate, but when you have something valuable to say, you should give yourself the right to say it. That’s freedom of mind.
Ignore artificial social boundaries.
Artificial social boundaries can largely inhibit us from interacting with others in a positive way. We should try to ignore them more often – especially when we find ourselves thinking things like “John is out of my league” or “Teresa is a 10.” People are usually just people. Most of them just want to be respected and enjoy life a little. If you can provide that, you’ll have rich relationships. If you give someone respect, they will often reciprocate that respect right back to you. That’s the fundamental rule to positive relationships – ignore the unnecessary B.S.
The more you get caught in who is above or below you on the social ladder, the more you pollute your interactions. Everyone should have an equal right to be themselves and take up space. And often times you’ll find everyone has something valuable to offer (for more, see how to try to find the good in everyone).
Consequently, when you open up your ears and let others speak, they will often do the same for you. When two people are given space to express themselves, artificial social boundaries (and the social anxiety they can lead to) often evaporate.
The more space you give yourself, the less anxiety.
I believe minimizing social anxiety has a lot to do with allowing ourselves to have more space to express ourselves. The more space we give ourselves to be authentic, the less we tend to worry about what others might say or think. Sometimes we have to be ourselves for the simple sake of being ourselves. Because there is no one else quite like us – and only until we are comfortable with ourselves (strengths, flaws, and all) can we improve on ourselves and express our true value to the world.
In the end, what I would like you to take away from this post is the reminder that you have the right to take up space. So the next time you are at a social gathering, or interview, or your job, or wherever it may be, remember that you are an individual with his/her own personality, thoughts, and beliefs – ones which deserve to be expressed.
Check out this online course by Sean Cooper to learn more about how to face your social anxiety and shyness.