Self-consciousness, and concens about how others perceive us in social situations, both lie at the heart of social anxiety. At its worst, social anxiety can make interacting with others intolerably distressing, leading us to avoid social situations, or, as in my own case (especially in my teens, twenties, and, now I come to think of it, a not insignificant proportion of my thirties) resorting to the consumption of large volumes of alcohol in an attempt to ease social difficulties (once a certain amount is consumed, however, the difficulties can become immeasurably worse – an experience I am by no means a stranger to).
HOW DOES SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS MANIFEST ITSELF?
One of the main symptoms of self-consciousness is that we can become OBSESSED WITH WHAT WE BELIEVE OTHERS MIGHT BE THINKING OF US. The word ‘MIGHT’ in the last sentence is of great importance, however. Often, what we believe others MIGHT be thinking of us is not, in reality, what they are thinking at all; people, in very general terms, are very frequently indeed too preoccupied with their own worries and concerns to spend a lot of time dwelling on others. In other words, OFTEN, BECAUSE OUR TRAUMATIC CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES LED US TO SEE OURSELVES IN A NEGATIVE LIGHT (maybe parents/step-parents treated us, as children, as though we were INTRINSICALLY BAD), we are prone, frequently, to fall into the trap of believing (FALSELY) that others, too, will always share a similarly jaundiced view of us.
We may also be fearful of how others may react to us. For example, if we experienced rejection as a child, we may have been ‘programmed’ to expect everyone, sooner or later, to reject us too. Of course, such an inference does not follow in any logical manner.
Social anxiety, then, frequently leads us to develop A DEEP FEAR OF SOCIAL INTERACTION. But what is it, precisely, that we actually fear? Research into this area suggests that, overwhelmingly, we fear how the social interaction will make us FEEL, rather than what may actually happen to us (someone being hostile, for example).
THE VICIOUS CYCLE THAT SOCIAL ANXIETY CREATES:
The fear generated by the social interaction can, and, very often, does, set up a VICIOUS CYCLE – THE MORE ANXIOUS WE FEEL, THE MORE DANGEROUS THE SOCIAL SITUATION SEEMS TO BE…SO WE FEEL YET MORE ANXIOUS…and so on…
SOME OF THE HALLMARKS OF SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS:
1) Self-consciousness can lead to PHYSICAL SENSATIONS; for example:
– physical agitation (eg clenching and unclenching the fists, fiddling with one’s hands etc).
– rapid and shallow breathing
– increased heart rate
2) Self-consciousness affects how we THINK about ourselves; for example:
– we may think that we are intrinsically unlikeable (let alone loveable), worthless, uninteresting, peculiar and odd. We may even consider ourselves a ‘freak’.
3) Self-consciousness affects how we FEEL; for example:
– fearful and at risk
– a sense of needing to escape or avoid the social situation
– selectively picking up (psychologists have termed this ‘SELECTIVE ATTENTION’) on ‘negative’ reactions towards us from others, whilst, at the same time, dismissing any positive feedback we may be attracting (I put the word ‘negative’ in inverted commas for good reason: this is because, very often, our social anxiety disturbs our perceptions – we may IMAGINE that others are responding negatively, when, in fact, this is simply a result of us MISINTERPRETING SIGNALS FROM OTHERS (eg misinterpreting body language, facial expressions, tone of voice etc).
HOW WE CAN REDUCE OUR SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS:
The main thing that the EXPERTS IN THIS FIELD SUGGEST is to:
FOCUS MORE ON EXTERNAL EVENTS (ie what is going on around us) and less on INTERNAL EVENTS (ie how we feel and the negative thoughts that may be running through our head). It helps, then, in social situations, to DIVERT OUR ATTENTION AWAY FROM OURSELVES AND RECHANNEL IT ONTO THOSE AROUND US.
Self-consciousness can also impair our ability to concentrate and follow exactly what others are saying to us in a social situation (ie we might frequently lose the thread of the conversation); because of this, experts also advise that we try to INCREASE OUR CONCENTRATION ON PRECISELY WHAT OTHERS ARE ACTUALLY SAYING. It is also important to keep in mind that the danger we perceive social situations to represent is ALMOST INVARIABLY FALSE.
We need, too, to attempt not to dwell on any unpleasant feelings social interaction gives rise to in us; if we pay too much attention to, say, our sweating palms, things tend to only be made worse. Any unpleasant feelings, then, that social situations may cause us to experience, need to be seen for what they are – merely feelings which FALSELY ANTICIPATE DANGER WHERE NO REAL RISK OF DANGER EXISTS. We need to just accept the feelings, non-judgementally, and view them as the FALSE IMPOSTORS that they are – then we are in a position to simply let them ‘wash over’ us.
10-step hypnotherapy audio download program for Overcoming Social Anxiety click here.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery