Self help books and social anxiety – can they help you?

self help anxiety books

For starters, I’m a big fan of reading. I sort of had to be, given that most of my life I led the lifestyle of a hermit, rarely leaving my bedroom, either sitting in front of a computer or lying down with a book. As much as I regret all the years during which I didn’t meet new people or enjoy social life the way any human being should, I am still thankful for what books gave me.

But although reading deepened my understanding of the world, developed my curiosity and imagination and probably made me more intelligent than I would otherwise be, it didn’t give the answer to my anxiety.

Of course, I read self help books about anxiety. The first one I bought when I was still in high school, it was about overcoming shyness, described the ways a shy person might misperceive the world and offered exercises to help the reader. I don’t remember its title and don’t have the book any more because I was so ashamed to have it that when it became clear it wouldn’t help me, I threw it away.

Then came other books that helped me understand my anxiety better but didn’t do much to let me get rid of it.

Why didn’t those books help me? Surely, it wasn’t for a lack of good science or factual wisdom. Social anxiety books are written by experts in their field, researchers and therapists alike, people with deep passion and drive to help others. But healing social anxiety is a complicated, prolonged undertaking, and seeing it through to the end may require more than a printed set of clear instructions in the form of a book…

I think there are few reasons for that:

  • In my case leaving social anxiety behind took over two years. It was a rocky period, with lots of self-doubts and uncertainty about what I’m doing and whether I’m going in the right direction. If I weren’t led by a therapist from the beginning whose guidance I could trust, I don’t think I would have made it on my own.
  • The book itself may be a tough nut to crack – if you have 300 pages of material to read, understand, analyze, confront with your own situation and apply in your everyday life, it may just be too much
  • From point 2. follows the difficulty of assessing and interpreting how YOU fit in all that theoretical scaffolding of change – what’s specific to you, what to make of your personal history, how to go about putting old ghosts to rest and accepting the past and the present, so that you can live fully in the future
  • Lack of feedback – how do you move ahead when you experience setbacks and off-days or even weeks? Where to find strength when you have nobody to ask and consult? Books have one fatal flaw – they do not answer questions.

All of the above doesn’t mean I’m discouraging you from reading self-help social anxiety books. They can be an immeasurably valuable tool, by showing what’s possible and outlining how to get there.

But think what’s at stake. We’ve all been given a set amount of time to live on this planet. And every successive month that you spend on half-hearted efforts to deal with your social phobia, gets lost forever and with it all the possible joys and wonderful moments that could have been…

I began therapy when I was 27. What if I had done it at the tender age of 20? Where could I be now, what could I achieve? I will never know but I also don’t want to brood about it. I am immensely grateful for the change that transformed my life and opened so many possibilities and ways to experience the world. In the relatively short time after I had freed myself from the anxiety I did so many things for the first time that if feels like a social explosion.

That’s why I believe whether you read self-help books or not is of secondary importance. Real change will come from confronting your problem head-on, beginning cognitive-behavioral therapy and going out to the world. Because in my case it worked amazingly!

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