How to make friends when you have social anxiety
A Journey of Fear: How Social Anxiety Develops
Maladaptive Strategies in Adulthood
Reconnecting with Ourselves: Transforming Fear to Love
Creating Authentic Relationships
A Journey of Fear: How Social Anxiety Develops
Story: Once upon a time, there lived a young human named Khanif. Khanif was a bright and kind-hearted, but they had a secret they could not control - they blushed easily. As innocent as this might seem, it became a source of torment for them. Khanif´s constant blushing led to relentless bullying at school and at home. They felt exposed and different from his peers. This negative attention made them feel deficient and shameful, and gradually, they began to avoid social interactions at all costs. They would overthink events before they happened to reduce the risk of shame and embarrassment, and overthink the events afterwards obsessively analyzing their actions and how others might have perceived them. This response developed as a defense mechanism, but with time a harsh inner critic ruled their mind. They found solace in keeping quiet and staying in the shadows, hoping to escape the scrutiny of others. This meant an avoidance of new experiences.
The seeds of social anxiety can be planted by negative experiences in childhood, whether it's relentless bullying due to factors like blushing, having an unusual name, or a distinctive physical trait. Many other factors can cause these negative experiences such as socioeconomic situation, race, disease and more. For many, these early stressors leave lasting scars. Many of us remember hurtful nicknames in school, born from cruelty, that continue to sting even in adulthood.
But it's not just external factors. Demanding parents or authoritative figures who criticize under the guise of molding us into better individuals can also contribute to this emotional baggage. Regardless of the specific causes, one common thread emerges - children who face relentless criticism can internalize the belief that social interactions are inherently threatening.
These childhood wounds, left unaddressed, can persist into adulthood, shaping how individuals perceive and navigate the world of social relationships. The echoes of those early experiences can reverberate throughout their lives; the shackles of social anxiety isolating us from human connection.
Social Anxiety and Maladaptive Strategies in Adulthood
Story continued: Years passed, and Khanif grew into an adult. Their desire for connection remained strong, but their past experiences haunted them. Their attempts at forming lasting relationships always seemed to fail. Over time, they began to believe that they were fundamentally unworthy of love and acceptance. At its core, this unworthiness included both self-love and believing that others can love them as they are instead of how they thought others perceive them or how society deems them to be worthy. To gain some degree of acceptance, Khanif buried themselves in work. They spent countless hours alone, with minimal contact with others outside of work. They became a workaholic, finding solace in the world of academia. Their dedication brought recognition from family and colleagues, something they had longed for during their troubled childhood. Yet, deep down inside, they did not believe themselves worthy outside of work, and they sank into a depression, until one fateful day, they hit a breaking point - burned out!
Social anxiety often leads to maladaptive strategies in adulthood. People like Khanif may develop any or a combination of the following, or more:
Avoidance and isolation
Overthinking and rumination
Addictions (both socially accepted like work and/or substance, internet etc)
Negative self-talk (harsh inner critic as the main motivation strategy)
Dependency on reassurance
Social anxiety impacts an individual's ability to form and maintain friendships. The fear of negative evaluation or judgment often leads to avoidance of social interactions, making it difficult to create new relationships and sustain existing ones. Furthermore, individuals with social anxiety often perceive their friendships as lower quality than they actually are, which can lead to distancing and further deterioration of these relationships.
Reconnecting with Ourselves - Transforming fear to love
And God said “love your enemy”,
And I obeyed and loved myself
Story continued: After the burnout, Khanif realized they could not continue down the same path. They had no idea what to do but were sick of living in fear. They decided to take a year off from work and embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing. But the old nemesis, social anxiety, came back with a vengeance, making it difficult for them to connect with people while traveling. Sometimes, they would meet fellow travelers and enjoy spending time with them which brought them joy. Other times, they felt too afraid approaching people alone and could quickly get into old patterns of isolation, sitting in a hotel room watching movies or keep moving from one place to the other without making commitments. With time, Khanif discovered that they had unwittingly made a promise to themselves years ago - to never truly let anyone in due to the fear of rejection. Luckily, Khanif came across potent tools in their journey, Yoga and Somatic Experiencing, that helped them understand their nervous system and reboot it to a less activated steady state.
In the depths of social anxiety, we often find ourselves disconnected from the most important relationship we´ll ever have - the one with ourselves. Anxiety, fueled by fear and self-doubt, can push us further away from the very source of healing and resilience we need. But the journey to overcoming social anxiety begins with nurturing this self-connection.
Fear creates disconnection, not just from others but from ourselves as well. It´s that nagging feeling that tells us we´re not good enough, that we´ll be judged, that we´re fundamentally flawed. But here's the secret to combating anxiety: we change our approach from one rooted in fear to one that nurtures self-care and a sense of safety in our own bodies.
Various modalities offer effective ways to become aware of the symptoms of anxiety and calm down the nervous system. Yoga, with its focus on the breath and body awareness, can help ground us in the present moment, reducing the intensity of anxiety. Somatic Experiencing, a therapeutic approach developed by Peter Levine, allows us to explore and release stored tension in the body, promoting a more regulated nervous system. Meditation, mindfulness practices, and deep breathing exercises are also powerful tools to cultivate awareness, manage anxiety symptoms, and foster a sense of inner calm. These modalities, when integrated into our daily routines, can be transformative in our journey towards overcoming social anxiety and reconnecting with ourselves.
Each friend represent a world in us,
a world possibly not born until they arrive,
and it is only by this meeting that
a new world is born.
Creating Authentic Friendships and Connections
Story continued: Khanif just came out of a long yoga retreat and has been feeling comfortable with the group. They talked about going out for dinner, yet many of them canceled at the last minute. The dinner was still on, though with lots of new people joining, something that sparked anxiety in Khanif. Suddenly thoughts of meeting new people got them anxious and pondering about not showing up. Khanif remembered the self-compassion practices they recently added to their tool kit and decided to try it out. They recognized that this is a moment of suffering, that many people feel anxious, and stayed with the sensations in the body instead of getting sucked into the negative thought spiral. When their nervous system relaxed, Khanif felt hopeful as they realized that their inner child who used to get paralyzed by social anxiety now has the support of their adult self and all the tools they have learned. Feeling safe, they decided to join the dinner as their need for connecting with others was their primary focus now.
The path to overcoming social anxiety is about unlearning the misbeliefs that social interactions are inherently dangerous, that people constantly evaluate us negatively, or that we must conform to societal expectations. Start by challenging these misbeliefs. Recognize that the fear of negative evaluation, for example, is a common symptom of anxiety, but it is not a reflection of reality. Most people are far less judgemental than we assume and probably, just like Khanif, they have their own insecurities and imperfections too. Understanding this helps dismantle the illusion of constant scrutiny.
Start small, but start
Creating relationships does not mean diving headfirst into large social gatherings. Start small. Seek out situations where you can connect with like-minded individuals or engage in activities you genuinely enjoy. Whether it's joining a book club, attending a local art class, or volunteering for a cause you're passionate about, these smaller, more comfortable settings can be the perfect stepping stones.
Consider seeking the guidance of a therapist experienced in treating anxiety so they can provide you with tailored strategies and a safe space to explore and overcome the challenges you face.
In conclusion, creating relationships when you have social anxiety is not about changing who you are but rediscovering and embracing your authentic self. By practicing mindfulness, re-establishing safety in your body, and challenging misbeliefs you can pave the way for meaningful connections that enrich your life and support your personal growth. Remember, you are worthy of love and connection.