The Structure of Social Anxiety...
Up until the age of about 20, socially I was a complete nervous wreck...Seriously, put me in a social setting with people I didn't know (and sometimes with those I did know) like a bar, club, family gathering or party and you'd probably witness steelier nerves from a cat quivering on the motorway than you would from me...
No joke, it really wasn't a good time for me, I despised watching my peers socialize with strangers and members of the opposite sex in a way that seemed effortless in comparison to my own awkward, self-conscious style.
I hated the fact that I couldn't talk to strangers, ask out women I fancied and that I crumbled in the mere presence of an authority figure.
Of course on top of the nerves and lack of self confidence my social skills weren't much better either... I suppose everyone gets better through time but at the age of 20 I was massively behind schedule.
So clearly something had to change. I started throwing myself into various different forms of personal development and self-help. Hypnosis, relaxation techniques, meditation and probably most importantly of all NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming).
I found a lot of good stuff that helped and slowly but surely I began to become more and more confident. My social skills improved and I found a girlfriend who I eventually stayed with for 9 ½ years. I got a well paying job and started a training and coaching company that provided me with (and still does) a lot of satisfaction and a modest amount of extra income.
Pretty decent for a guy that was once shy, awkward and socially inept!
Well I certainly thought so... and I've got to admit at that point I thought I had become a confident, comfortable and reasonably socially skilled guy.
But in hindsight I had been deluding myself a fair bit, in reality the cracks had really only been papered over. It's weird because, when I look at it now, it's clear that I had created and engineered a life that allowed me to avoid any potentially challenging social situations what so ever. My job, while well paying, was mundane and involved interacting with the same people most of the time... the relationship with my girlfriend was stable but socially, resembled the kind that someone would have in their 60's... and my business was doing well but, because I was getting all my sales from internet marketing, I rarely had to entertain people socially. Of course I coached and trained people every now and again but that, as I've now found, was a completely different thing from letting go into yourself and connecting with others on a personal level.
But hey, I felt safe, I had structure and everything was okay, or certainly that's what I thought...
Then, all of a sudden, the safety net collapsed from underneath me...
After 9 ½ years the relationship with my girlfriend ended!
I wasn’t aware of it right away but all too soon the inevitable realisation hit me.
I really didn’t know that many people! Those I did know were married or in long term relationships, my social circle was minuscule and I had only been out a handful of times in the 2 years previously.
In short my level of social comfort, skill and opportunities were simply not up to scratch...
From that point my life took a completely different direction…Unless I wanted to stare at my bedroom walls every night for the rest of my life or be the single guy that hung about with all the couples (often even worse in my opinion) I had to start pushing myself to finally get over my old fears and meet new people.
This is when the real learning began and the conception of the Guide to Social Confidence...
Social Anxiety is a much more common problem than people like to admit. In fact, by its very nature, it pushes people in the direction of ‘keeping it to themselves’ and makes its label of ‘Societies hidden problem’ a fairly accurate one.
Everyone experiences some form of discomfort around certain people at certain times, this is natural and is often just a sign that your brain is adjusting to an unfamiliar environment. Where it becomes a problem is when it happens too often and the person buys into the illusion that they don’t have the means or resources to return back to their normal comfortable state other than when they are on their own. This then, in turn can cause them to loop round in a self-destructive cycle that can play havoc with their happiness, social relationships and life chances.
The good thing is that this is just an illusion…Virtually everyone has the resources and means inside of them to become comfortable and skilled around people.
Also, the fact that they’ve already mastered the cycle of Social Anxiety means that they can also master another cycle. The Cycle of Social Confidence.
The Social Anxiety Cycle...
*Disclaimer: From my research this cycle pops up time and time again but I make no claims to it being the complete, absolute and only one. It will inevitable vary from person to person.
Early Social Life.
Something occurs in early social life or in the teenage years that makes us believe that if we do not fit certain criteria (looks, personality, humour, dress sense…anything really) then we are deemed ‘not worthy’ or ‘not good enough’ to be part of the group and, as such, run the risk of being socially ostracised. This causes us to buy into the illusion that by not coming across a certain way it means we are not good enough and run the risk of experiencing a sudden significant drop in our ‘social value’. For example, say you were the biggest and heaviest child in the playground. Because young children tend to have a low threshold for difference it’s highly likely that you would be singled out and deemed less worthy or valuable than the athletic kids just because of your weight…
This is just one example of the many experiences we can have that create beliefs about the way we think we ‘should be’ just to be deemed valuable enough for social acceptance…
This is what holds the full social anxiety paradigm together…
Buying into the illusion that something has happened or could happen that would result in you experiencing a significant drop in your social value thus running the risk of losing acceptance by being deemed ‘not good enough’…
Your body may respond like you are under some form of physical threat but the reality is you are not. The only thing that is threatened is your social value.
Buying into this illusion then fuels the following patterns:
Once people have bought into this illusion they start to do all kinds of un-useful things. The first of these is the Pre-worry. The pre-worry is where they start imagining a situation ahead of time going horribly wrong and then play it through over and over again. Of course most of the time none of this stuff is even remotely close to what might happen and never does happen but they do it none the less.
During The Social Interaction.
As a result of buying into the illusion and working themselves up into a frenzy during the pre-worry stage they then feel anxious, stressed and a lot less confident than they want to be during a social interaction. At this stage, because they are deeply affected by the illusion of low social value, they distort and mis-interpret information. Innocent jokes that have been made suddenly became criticisms of their personality or looks and this further fuels the illusion they have bought into.
This is what generally happens after the social experience whether it be a party, meeting a stranger in the street, talking to an authority figure or something else. The person starts to play through the experience in their mind picking out what they perceived to be the worst bits distorting and magnifying them and deleting the positive bits.
The People's Coach Guide to Social Confidence...
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