I have social anxiety in very particular situations, usually things like approaching people to ask for help or similar, things where there is a significant chance of failure. This applies to the usual stuff like asking people on dates and extends as far as trying to use a coupon or asking questions about certain offers/services of cashiers, or even suggesting a place to eat when out with friends (I can manage that, but I have to frame it as a joke). It does not however apply to things that happen to me like if somebody dropped a bucket of paint on me or I slipped and fell over. It also does not apply to things where I feel I'm in a defensive position, like if somebody punched me and ran off I'd have no problem shouting them down in the middle of a busy street.

This is a bit weird I think, but still fairly usual social anxiety.

The problem is that the typically suggested remedy for this is more exposure. Force yourself to be in social situations that put you outside of your comfort zone and you'll eventually adapt to it. This makes sense to me (and it works with other things I'm afraid of) but it does not work with this. For me, a successful social interaction has very little or no effect. I feel no more able to do it the next time and there does not appear to be any improvement in my confidence. There could be a slight improvement but it doesn't seem to have done much over 10+ years I've been aware of this problem.

A bad social interaction however, has a very strong effect. I am constantly assaulted by unwanted memories of past social failures/embarrassments that never fade even when relaxing away from other people. They still feel extremely unpleasant and embarrassing, even going as far back as ten years ago. At the time of occurrence, they're even worse. A typical example was when I walked into a restaurant before its opening hours and tried to ask the staff for a table at the same time as they were trying to tell me to get out. I had been to this restaurant many times before and all of my experiences had been positive. Despite that, afterwards I spent an hour or more wandering the streets aimlessly, completely drained of all energy and will to do anything, experiencing a pain so strong it bordered on being actually physical.

So while positive experiences might be slowly pushing me forward, negative ones are definitely sending me back and I fear that increased exposure will actually lessen my ability to function in every day life. What do I do about this?

  • Do you replay negative interactions in your head often? – apaul Jul 31 '17 at 22:37
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    Welcome! I'm not sure whether this is on topic here or not. It seems like you're asking more of a psychology question than a IPS question. If something is affecting your everyday life to the degree you're saying, that seems like more of an issue to work out with a professional. – Catija Jul 31 '17 at 23:05

I think you should aim to internalize the idea that nobody cares very much about you. Okay, that sounds kind of harsh, but its a true idea. Your failures on a daily basis, even in social contexts are pretty short lived, nobody remembers what someone said a few days ago and nobody forms their perception of someone from a few of their blunders. People make big mistakes all the time and its totally normal to do so. Mistake was the only tool evolution had to get where it is today.

Now I acknowledge that this is a psychological issue and is more difficult to overcome than through a few sentences, but in terms of ways to address it, I would suggest the following:

  1. Put yourself in social situations - but not necessarily stressful ones.

    If you trust your friends/family enough, make it clear to them that you are in a difficult position so that they do not prompt you to do something you really don't want to and so that they don't expect you to act in a certain way. If it is difficult to do so, try to tell one friend and ask him to pass the message along. I believe that if you are in a social environment where you are not being expected to do something, slowly you will find yourself getting comfortable, when you are in the knowledge that you will not be asked something. Then you can begin to participate at your own pace.

  2. Use close friends

    If you have friends who you really trust and who know you well, try to be social with them first, because the degree of anxiety will inevitable be lower with people you are comfortable with. Baby steps are key, first become more and more active and social with friends that are close. Once you become comfortable suggesting places to go eat, for instance, you may move on to trying to tell stories and so on and so forth, until you are rather comfortable. Afterwards you may find it easier to move on to speaking to strangers.

I really wish you the best of luck as I understand how difficult it can be to be in fear of your own behavior. I hope you can find a way that is comfortable to you to overcome this difficulty and hope to encourage you to not give up and shut yourself away from others, because this will not make you any happier.

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    "Your failures on a daily basis, even in social contexts are pretty short lived" It's good to keep this in mind. Just imagine how you would feel about someone else messing up. It wouldn't really matter to you. – Evan Chen Aug 1 '17 at 4:01
  • "I think you should aim to internalize the idea that nobody cares very much about you." That is so important. People don't mean you ill; but the things you do that seem like horrible blunders usually aren't worth a second thought to the people around you. – Ask About Monica Feb 23 '18 at 0:23

I'm familiar with this feeling. Negative interactions are your fault, but positive interactions are because of something else (the other person has good people skills, you got lucky, etc). In your own mind the problem is clear: you have bad social skills and you are unable to interact properly with people, so you must force yourself to practice and become better. But the idea that you're a social inept is so deeply rooted that even the most simple interactions become awkward. Soon any social interaction becomes unbearable because all you get is negative feedback, but it is your own thinking habits which magnify the negative and minimize the positive.

This is problem is best addressed with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness meditation. Having a constant meditation practice might be enough. In myself, I found that forcing myself into interactions that I don't want to have is like trying to recover from anorexia with food you dislike. It was only when I was relaxed and happy that I would approach anyone for small talk, then my interactions felt much more pleasant and natural.

Regarding embarrassing memories that pop up time and time again, once you detach from the emotional baggage (through meditation) you notice these things are not relevant at all. You could go in the same restaurant and say "hey remember the time I came here asking for a table and it hadn't opened yet? It was so embarrassing to me". They will either playfully laugh it off or not even remember. In either case it is good self-therapy.

I think I used to be very close to your own issues, and through meditation and self-acceptance I've come to a much better place. Let me assure that your experience of social life can be much more pleasant by addressing the root problem (negative self-centered thinking) instead of the manifestation (awkward interactions).

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  • thank you for your insightful answer. What meditation practices did you use to combat social anxiety? (e.g. how did you meditate and for how long and how often?) I wish to use meditation as a tool to cure my social anxiety but am afraid I might lose part of myself in the process. – College Student Feb 24 '19 at 2:52

Sometimes simply changing the narrative that plays in your head about particular negative experiences can help. It sounds silly, but if you can shift how you talk to yourself about experiences, you may find them easier to manage.

Using your restaurant example, where you wandered around afterwards, I'm sure you replayed the incident in your head over and over again trying to figure out how it went so wrong. What I'm suggesting is that during that replay, try to change the words.

Rather than "Oh my god, how could I have done that" remind yourself that it's a very minor thing. "Hmm, that was unfortunate, but it's not a big deal" Or better yet, try to disregard it completely "I guess I should look for something that's open"

I know it feels like a big deal in the moment, but forcing yourself to use softer language when you think about these things can help.

Another method that works for me is derailing the train of thought completely. I find jokes and music work well for me. Funny music is a personal favorite. It just gives my brain something else to chew on till the anxiety passes. Try Schaffer The Darklord, it really helps when I just need to think about something else for a moment or two.

I know it's different for everyone, but try to find something else for your brain to do till it passes and try to be nicer to yourself.

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