We can all feel insecure sometimes at parties or when meeting new people in general. And there are some of us who prefer to socialize a lot less than others. This is quite different from the intense self-consciousness and fear that is typical of Social Anxiety Disorder. Struggling with this condition means that these intense feelings are present more often than not in social situations.
What is the Social Anxiety Paradox?
If you suffer from social anxiety, you likely want to relate to other people, but are just not sure quite how to connect. You may try to act how you think others would like or expect you to, but this leaves you feeling like you aren’t being your genuine self — which in turns makes it even harder to really connect with others in a real way . You fear that if you are yourself, people will reject you. This puts you in a lose–lose situation where no matter what, you aren’t cultivating the type of relationships that you need.
The only true way to connect with others is to be yourself, and being yourself is the one thing that you are convinced will drive people away from you. This is the social anxiety paradox.
Not being yourself sets you up to have the same unsatisfying pattern of relationships. You wind up being stuck in a role that matches the other person’s expectations of you. Over time it gets harder and harder to be okay with this situation. You may hide your anger inside and feel stress or depression or you may lash out one day because you can’t hold it in anymore.
Sometimes to get out of this bind, people withdraw and isolate. They don’t want to have these relationships anymore, yet they do not believe that they could have any other type. The more they isolate themselves, the more anxious they become when they are in social situations, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that they are never going to be able to make relationships work.
How to Break the Cycle
When I work in counseling with people who have social anxiety, I talk about finding the edge of your comfort zone. Who is someone in your life that you could risk being a little more genuine with and maybe go against their expectations of you? If it is in group therapy, I encourage people to take these risks during our group sessions.
The goal is that over time you can start to show yourself that generally your worst fears do not happen. When you are yourself, people respond even more positively to you than they do when you are trying to be what they want. And the people who don’t? They are likely people who would only want to be in a relationship with you if you act they way they want you to. In other words, if you don’t connect with those types of people, you are only losing the kind of relationships you are tired of being stuck in anyways.
And you'll be well on your way to transforming those lose–lose situations into a win–win — and you'll be truly happier as a result. This happiness in turn will make it easier for you to continue to be yourself in social situations. And all of a sudden, a much brighter self–fulfilling prophecy can begin to take hold.