Today I'd like to address social anxiety. A lot of people think that one of the good things to talk about are some of the root causes of social anxiety, as a way to neutralize it. While I agree that finding the root cause of social anxiety is very important, sometimes the behaviour is so habituated, and the neural pathways are so thick, that the behaviour will not be neutralized simply by understanding the root causes. And so cognitive work needs to be done, as well as understanding the psychological sources of it. Let me talk a bit about the possible psychological sources and root causes of social anxiety.
Many people I see experience debilitating social anxiety because they grew up in really critical, judgmental homes, where maybe there was a lot of violent communication, a lot of hyper-vigilance around their behaviour. So now they have a trauma around violent communication, or sensitivity to being watched, being tracked, or they fear being judged or criticized. There's a tremendous feeling of “I'm not good enough,” an inferiority complex. “I'm not pretty enough, I don't fit in, I'm from a different planet. I don't match the rest of the people. I feel like a foreigner. I don't feel at ease.” They're tremendously shy.
To people with this tough condition: I gotta say to you, the truth is, you know who you are. You're actually very intelligent. You're actually good-looking. But your perspective is off. Even though, on some logical level, you may know this, but your perspective is such that you're a pariah, you'll never fit in, and life is a big bad dangerous place out there to be feared. There's a tremendous worry centre that is developed. All the neural pathways of worry are massively over developed, and the reality is that those pathways need to be spoken to. That worry centre needs to be rationalized at, talked to, conversed with, like you would converse with a small child who needs to be parented in a way that that person was not parented. That's a really good technique, to begin to parent yourself and to speak to yourself in a non-violent, compassionate way. So many people with social anxiety are hurting themselves, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” because they are angry with themselves for being inept in social situations. But the reality is that the opposite needs to occur: a lot of positive, gentle self-talk.
Also, there is a massive habit among people experiencing social anxiety of valuing outside opinions more than their own. They got used to their parents' opinions of them, that they weren't good enough. Or they saw their parents being harsh with themselves or the children. Perhaps there were teachers or mentors who were harsh, and those events traumatized them, and they got used to the outside opinion being more important than their own inner opinion. That is what I work on a lot: getting a handle on that inner, loving parental voice—not a critical parental voice, but an inner, loving voice, that is constantly reaffirming all that good stuff. We try to neutralize that bad stuff that is so judgmental and hyper-critical of the self. Basically, I'm really working on shifting the cognitive perspective that is off, the distortion of that drop of ink that is colouring that beautiful, clear glass of water that is that person's life. That person is smart and attractive. Even if they're not perfect, suffering from acne or whatever, they are losing the fact that there is some real goodness in them, and I work on having them acknowledge that “good enoughness” within them. I believe that the sources of that definitely come in at the age of 0-15; stuff that went on at school, at home, with mentors. Those sources are impacting the rest of that person's life and thus they become debilitated by social anxiety.
All of these events often will cause a person's nervous system to be hypersensitive, almost damaged, so a lot of work needs to be done on relaxation and bringing that nervous system down through breathing, meditating, and positive visualization, because the brain doesn't really differentiate between imagination and reality. So positive visualization of calming, nurturing, non-judgmental experiences will begin to calm that nervous system. It takes time to build new neural pathways, but it does work with repetitive, positive reinforcement. I'm hoping that this helps address some of the sources.