Is that what you’re thinking when you walk into a room with a group of people? Well, that is the experience for many of us when we struggle with social anxiety. For some of us, the concern with approval from others has its roots in our childhood. Children who were able to internalize consistently delivered attention, empathy, nurturance, guidance, encouragement, and affection from their families while growing up are more likely to experience a sense of self-assurance, comfort, and confidence that enables them to express themselves, assert themselves, and enjoy the interaction with others.
But for some children, the formative years may include much criticism, disapproval, indifference, and impossible to reach standards. Or their family life may be organized principally around one or both of their parent’s needs or problems. For these children, apprehension, fear, doubt, or feelings of emptiness often leads to self-consciousness, feelings of awkwardness, and much discomfort in social situations as adults.
Certainly it can be helpful in social situations to talk back to those anxious thoughts and feelings: “People are not focused on judging me.” “Most people are pretty friendly.” Then again, It also important to understand that people generally receive what we present. Does the roaring lion wonder why everyone looks scared? Does the giraffe wonder why everyone is looking up! Can we understand why people may not seem as friendly or receptive when we are not smiling, making small talk, or showing interest?
Now while we don’t have to be the “life of the party” to mix in socially, it can be helpful to prepare for conversation with others. We can pick out a recent experience or a news story that caught our attention to share with others. And we can help calm our anxiety in a social situation with a couple of deep relaxing breaths. It helps to consider strongly the opportunity for allowing others to know you, enjoy you, and receive the benefit of your attention and friendliness.
But for some of us, deep-seated painful feelings of inferiority impede any opportunity to believe that anything we say could be interesting to others or that we could in any way be valued and appreciated by others. Social anxiety can involve poor self-esteem, underlying depression, and very negative ways of thinking. In these situations, counseling may be helpful in understanding and addressing the harm experienced in childhood in healing ways.