Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Taranaki New Zealand.
Hi Chocolatte, welcome to the forum. I am going to apologize in advance because this is going to be a pretty long winded post and I also want to apologize if some of my ideas seem a bit woo woo or flakey
I would like to say that I feel your pain regarding social anxiety - anxiety has been a huge factor in my life, one could say that it has been been behind the wheel for more years than I care to think about - and it is a terrible driver! I have been dealing with this particular demon for a long time and have gained a lot of insight in how to put this beast in it's place.
First off, I believe that people that are prone to anxieties of any form are very sensitive people. By this I don't mean inclined to deliberately take offense where none is intended and rather than say anxious people are 'too sensitive' I believe that people with anxious tendencies are actual Sensitives - people who come into this world with a heightened sensitivity to other peoples emotions. It takes very little for a sensitive to begin to become hyper vigilant as they are bombarded by other peoples emotions. Things that begin to create anxiety can be a sibling that is a bully, a narcissistic family member. Because it is emotions that define meanings for sensitives it becomes very difficult to not be effected by things that are water off a ducks back for those less sensitive. If a family member is angry and lashes out it is the intense surge of anger that cuts us deeply, for the family member it may just be a flash in the pan, a moment of frustration quickly released and forgotten. They then go along on their merry way and then get impatient when you are still effected by the eruption and are fearful of it happening again, now you are 'too sensitive' and need to get over stuff. For a sensitive person emotion determines meaning and when someone is angry, hurtful and unkind, in that moment we know they mean it!
Now, we know that people have the full gamut of emotions - and rightly so. Every single one of is allowed to be human and that means we get to be angry, frustrated, unreasonable and stupid sometimes. We can not change other peoples behaviour, we can only be responsible for ourselves. The answer for those who are sensitive and anxious is not to only go where people are always nice and kind and pleasant because that would mean that we would never go anywhere - which is how we end up with people with extreme phobias. The answer lies in three strategies Acceptance, Allowance and Focus.
Acceptance: learn to accept that people are people. As long as you are telling yourself that you can never be happy or safe as long as people are mean, angry and unkind then you are affirming an unhappy life. You can not base your happiness on the behaviour of others because there lies a black whole that can never be filled. Accept peoples right to be who they are - you do you, let them do them.
Allow: as you accept that people are going to do what they do, allow yourself to begin to see yourself as separate from them. When those feelings from other people begin to overwhelm you, when you can feel that someone is grumpy and cross ALLOW them the right to do so and separate yourself from their experience. Consciously make the effort to rationalize those feelings "oh Sarah is angry today I wonder what has knocked her confidence that she is feeling so defensive?" Allow the feelings that you feel coming from other people to be about them and make the conscious decision to - even though you can feel them - not let them be about you. Ask yourself the question would this person still be grumpy if I wasn't here? You will be surprised at how often the answer will be yes.
Focus: most importantly of all FOCUS your attention. There is a saying "where your attention goes, your energy flows." You are hyper vigilant of other peoples emotions, you have learned avoidance to be safe and you do it because you are trying to be responsible for your own welfare. Unfortunately as a coping strategy - it sucks. Once you can accept that people are going to be people it is now time to change your focus to things that give you purpose and power in your life. Remember you can not change other people but you can change yourself. It is time you began to experiment with ways that make you feel strong! It is not other peoples behaviour that is the problem for you it is the fear that you can not cope with others strong emotions. Find things that empower you, find ways to tap into your own strengths - they are there! The world is not going to get safer but by golly you can get stronger!! You can come to realize that you are strong enough to cope with anything the world throws at you!
Take a good hard look at yourself and decide what you can do to turn yourself into a warrior. This is easier than you think - but also harder. You need to get physical, start moving your body, start looking at physical activities that you wish you could do, that make the people who do them look like gods in your eyes. Horse riding can be your end goal but find an activity that will build your confidence in your own strength. Work out what sort of activity you could do that would make you feel proud of yourself. Look at things like martial arts, cross country courses, cross fit, boxing, weight training, bouldering - anything that when you look at it, it makes you think "man, if I could do that I would be so darn proud!" You don't actually have to go out and do these things immediately, just entertain the idea that you are actually a lot stronger than you think and that you can achieve great things if you focus your mind - after all, look at how good you are at being anxious, imagine if you put that same amount of energy into being brave and bold! Start with a walk, a push bike ride, do something that makes you proud of yourself.
Focus on building the true strong you, you have the power to create the life you want through action and conscious thought - less reacting more acting with intention. At the moment you simply have a bad habit of using your power unwisely but you can do things differently if you are determined enough. There is help out there but ultimately it is your life and it is worth living well.
I am so sorry for the epic post.
A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.D Adams