PH.D. holder, Ellen Hendriksen really succeeded in putting into words what I had felt all my life, apparently there is even a name to describe it : Social Anxiety. In her book, Hendriksen describes what it is, but also gives strategy to fight it or rather embrace it.
I must admit, I have learned so much that it is going to take me a while before succeeding to implement all that. However, understanding how social anxiety works and why it arises, really helped me rationalised the fact that no, I was not weird, I am just scared.
Even though, you need to go through the first 60-80 pages where Hendriksen need to prove she did her research, I mean I think I can believe anyone who puts P.H.D. next to their name. Although research are not delivered in a boring and plain way, it still makes the first few pages tedious, but after that Hendriken just fires good advice. I could nod many times while reading this book. Everything that has ever happened in my head was put on paper, it blew my mind!!!
First of all, you will learn that social anxiety is essentially being scared. Scared of what? The reveal! This means we are basically afraid that any of the flaws we think we have gets revealed, and therefore we must conceal it at any cost. Even though, those flaws might be imaginary or they might exist, but nobody actually cares about them enough for them to be that important, and for us to want to hide them. The truth is nobody cares because everyone is focused on themselves.
When we are with people we trust, we do not think about those flaws, we can be ourselves. However, the fear of the reveal appears in a public context and this is why, it is called SOCIAL anxiety. This anxiety arises only when other people that you do not know or do not know well are around and this makes us start to doubt ourselves. This means we are already stressed before going to a party, talking to our boss because our Inner Critic is whispering to our ears that everything will go badly, and everyone will witness that. The Inner Critic is saying you are not good enough.
Thankfully, Hendriksen is there to give us some tips because the Inner Critic is not as strong as one can imagine it to be. (The author even says it waffles more than a Belgian politician, as a Belgian, I was so offended by this joke, hahaha, humour of a doctor, anyway…).
When your Inner Critic kicks in ask it what’s the worst that can happen, and be as specific as possible. Then ask how bad that would really be?, what are the odds?, and how could you cope?. The purpose here is to have this conversation with yourself and to really think to each answer. You will probably realise it is not as horrible as you had thought. For me, I am really afraid to be lonely and to end up all alone. If it was really happening, this means I have the freedom to do what I want. I do have friends and family so it is unlikely to happen. And if it really happens, I could cope by travelling like never before because travel always revigorates me, even when I am travelling alone.
You need to change the way you think because thoughts can be changed or even simply watched. A good way to do that is to practice mindfulness by saying for example instead of I screwed up, I have the thought that I screwed up. You detach yourself from it, you look at it from outside.
Now that we learn how to make our Inner Critic weaker by asking him the fourth questions, it is time to replace and embrace. You will want to ask yourself when xxxxxxxxx (put a social situation where you feel anxious), it would become obvious that I am xxxxxxxx (what my Inner Critic says is wrong with me). Now take that answer and ask yourself, how bad would that really be?, What are the odds?, how could you cope? All the ressources you have can be used, family, friends, chocolate, saturday night on the bed doing nothing but watching Netflix, you name it!
After changing our perception, it is time to embrace our Inner Critic and Social Anxiety. To do so, try to talk to yourself as you would a friend. (You can even write it on paper if you wish). Remember your Inner Critic is there to protect you from dangers, but it does not do it in the best way, so you have to learn to reason with it.
Once it is done, you can challenge yourself. Did you want to know how to get comfortable talking to strangers? As an introverted, I definitely want the secret recipe, but I must warn you, I did not really like the answer. So here it is, the secret to talking to strangers and being comfortable doing so is talking to strangers while we are uncomfortable. Also known as fake it till you make it. Just start and after thousands or hundreds of conversation how will not end up as bad as you think, you will get comfortable. Now I am just preaching Hendriksen’s words and the word of people she interviewed and who did it, but I am far from there to be honest. However, I think it is good to plant a seed in your brain and to go for it and let it grow and bloom when you feel ready.
Just like with everything, you have to practice being confident and do it before you feel like it. Think of when you feel before a workout? You just do not want to do it, but once it is done, it feels good, right and you keep improving each day or week.
Give yourself some structures. have you ever wonder why some celebrities say they are shy or introverted but then they are actors, singers, top models? It sounds crazy, right? Well, it is because all of this role give them a structure. When they are actors, they need to play a new character and they can do their jobs properly in front of the camera and then go back to their introverted self.
“Even if there’s no predetermined job, you can still create structure by giving yourself an assignment. At a networking event, assign yourself the task of introducing yourself to three people. At the company holiday party, give yourself the job of chatting with your boss, your two closest colleagues, and the office manager. Or, like the women in the study, challenge yourself to get to know a new acquaintance as well as you can in five minutes.”
However, you do not want to play the role of being yourself. If you give yourself a structure in order to please someone else, then you are playing the role of being yourself but you are not being yourself. The role should come from within you, it should come from this place of who you think you are in your mind. (Hint: This person is probably great !). This way you can fake to be this person you imagine in your head until you become this person.
With all those weapons in your hand, here comes the moment to face your fears. Challenge yourself. What are the thing you wish you could do and that are holding you back because of social anxiety?
Mine are introducing myself to people I see every day, but do not know well, try to start a conversation with strangers, go eat/drink/dance alone.
So all of those things scare me, and Hendriksen say you should go to them as soon as you have the possibility (I am not there yet). Preferably, start with things that scare you a little then do them. Once this is done, challenge yourself even more. Normally if you succeed what is on your ” I am a little scared to do it” list and you see that it was not as horrible as you have imagined, you can proceed to your “I am pretty scared to do it” list and then the “I am fucking scared to do it” list but let’s just do it even before the confidence kicks in.
Of course, from time to time, bad things will happen. Some people are mean, some people are judgy. However if you decide to introduce yourself with a smile, and the other person decides not to respond to you, but who is acting poorly in this scenario?
If you feel really bad, just remember to replace and embrace.
Hendriksen also talks a little bit about the spotlight effect which is basically the concept that we overestimate how much our actions and appearance are noticed by the other. Even if it is painful to recognise it, nobody cares ! Everyone is the center of their own world and focus on themselves, do not forget that ! This part actually reminded me of the quote “Dance like nobody else is watching, because they are not, they are on their phones” Yeah so just live your best life, nobody or very few people are watching.
However, it is easier said than done as we are often perfectionnist. Not in the sense that we want or we tend to be perfect (because I could give two hoots about that, and everybody knows that nobody is perfect), but in the sense that we never feel good enough. In the social anxious minds, we should always have something interesting to say, there should be no gaps or silences in conversation, we should always keep the other person entertained. And I am telling you…I FIRMLY believe that. Is it good ? Obviously not, but my brain is wired that way. The solution is apparently to try to be average. Try to be 50% less funny, confident or smart than you expect yourself to be. Be careful though, perfectionism is only a problem if it gets in the way of you getting things done. If you need to held high standards in your job, because let’s say you’re a surgeon and life of other depends on it, of course keep doing that. Besides, studies (if you want to know which one, just read the book) that we like more people; when they’re imperfect. Another reason to simply be yourself.
You can still read a few more Hendriksen’s tricks and tips on the way to be truly yourself. However, I think I have covered the basic and I will let people who want to know more click on the link below to buy the book:
Wishing you the best of luck !