What awaits you on the other side of anxiety?

on-the-other-side-of-anxiety

The most amazing aspect of freeing yourself from social anxiety is the fact that you have no idea where this process will lead you. You might have expectations of being able to say Hi! without stuttering or building a small circle of friends, because those are the realistic dreams of a social phobic.

When I go back to how I envisioned myself without social anxiety, somehow it looked just like me at the time, only without turning red and feeling anxious for no reason. Strange as it now seems to me, I thought that without SA I would still be reading at Saturday nights and spending lots of time with my sister, the only difference being that I would feel good about myself.

I had only vague idea about how social life may look like, because I had none. I could theoretically picture other people having a night out and enjoying themselves, but I couldn’t imagine myself in such circumstances. If your personal experience contains zero instances of having a good time at a party, it’s almost impossible for you to imagine yourself in just such a scenario.

It’s funny – for all the imagination, dreams and plans that fill our heads, we seem unable to picture ourselves with new qualities, developing new characteristics, coping with novel situations. The most we can do is to interpolate crudely our mental and emotional status quo into the direction we envision, but it just distorts our existing traits without telling us anything.

How can you tell how being self-confident feels like, if you’ve never felt that way? How can you imagine the joy of joking with a group of friends, if that prospect terrifies you? In my social anxiety days even my sexual fantasies weren’t about me – I couldn’t picture myself in an intimate situation with a woman, because I had no such experiences. Me, sex, closeness, paying attention to the other person? Those things just didn’t go together, all I could imagine was the emotional firestorm that would be raging in my head during such an encounter.

Nevertheless, you can try to peer into the future (the future of no more anxiety, of course!) with a simple trick. Just think about some situations form your life when you felt completely safe, having a great time with your family or closest friends. We all have a few people (mostly our families) around whom we feel completely at ease, not thinking about our behavior and not fearing any judgements. For me those persons were my sisters, I could always take a mental rest around them, all the negative stuff going on in my head just came to a stop. I would loosen up then, laugh, fool around and for a short while forgot about the internal critic and negative thoughts.

And this was the real me! Under layers of anxiety, shame, anger and frustration there was a playful, smiling guy, curious about the life and people. And this positively crazy, sociable guy became the norm, once the anxiety was gone. This is who I am now, and this is who I have always been deep down, I just didn’t know it.

If you have any doubts about which of your sides is the true one – the sad, anxious one or the happy, “family mode” one – I can assure you, it’s the happy, relaxed one, even If it rarely comes to surface.

How can I know that?

BECAUSE ANXIETY IS NOT YOU.

surprised face

Really, it’s not me? Yes, I’m being serious here.

Anxiety in social phobia is a reaction that’s got out of control, warning system that broke down and is sending alarm signals all the time. It distorts your reality and puts enormous pressure on you, killing your spontaneity and creativity, taking away the joy of being alive.

Under such conditions you are NOT YOURSELF. Don’t you have the feeling that people don’t really know you, that they judge you wrongly? Exactly! That’s because most of them have never seen your true personality.

Ok, so we’ve established how you can expect to behave around people when you get rid of anxiety – in a manner reserved right now for your closest family.

Is that all you can expect? Absolutely not!

Once you break the chains of anxiety, you start to question the beliefs you’ve held about life, self-development, your capabilities and the nature of change.

For me it meant realizing that everything in life is a skill. It’s a very important realization, because skills are something you can learn and get better at with practice. Most of my life I believed that some things just weren’t for me. For example, if I sucked at small talk, I drew the conclusion, that I just wasn’t one of those people who are good at it, that it’s not my strong point and I should focus on something else (like shutting up and being a wall flower, probably…)

But guess what? I have LEARNED to be good at small talk! I have put in countless hours, had hundreds of conversations with strangers and in the process acquired what I had previously thought to be a character trait – I became sociable. I can now strike up a conversation with anybody, I don’t have to think about what to say, because I know that saying anything is enough – it’ s the way you speak that matters and not the content, saying the most trivial things in small talk is perfectly ok.

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