Overcoming social anxiety and disengagement from social activities involves breaking the vicious circles of negative thought that maintains the problem and replacing them with more positive and constructive patterns of thinking.
Social anxiety often focuses on worrying about what others are thinking. If you are troubled by such thinking, it is helpful to learn how to recognise and re-evaluate negative and unhelpful current thinking, such as:
Rejecting positive feedback from others. This means that compliments are discounted as untruthful. For example, thinking that a social invitation was made because the person was feeling sympathetic. In contrast, any negative statements from others are taken to heart and analysed in detail.
Filtering. This involves thinking that people must be thinking badly of you, even when there is no evidence for this, e.g. assuming that others are thinking how awful you look. These thoughts often include extreme language, such as always, never ever, nobody, totally.
Self-blaming. If someone behaves badly, self-blamers consider themselves to be responsible. For example, if someone leaves a meeting suddenly, you consider that this must be due to something you did.
Making a catastrophe out of a challenge. This means predicting a complete disaster will follow a setback. People may think that if they perform badly at a specific work presentation, they will never be able to show their faces at work again.
‘If only’ thinking. It can be tempting to imagine that if only a particular problem – acne perhaps – did not exist, then life would be perfect, with a top job and the partner of one’s dreams. No. Beautiful people are not guaranteed to feel confident and happy. Finding positive ways of reconsidering the self is important in order to strengthen self esteem and self-confidence.
Instead of jumping to the conclusion that everyone is thinking about how bad you are looking or behaving, it is more helpful to realise it is impossible to know what others are thinking. Guesswork often involves bringing your own self doubts into sharp focus. More truthfully, it is possible that usually, you are no more or less acceptable than anyone else. Also, it is possible that people are not judging, evaluating or even noticing the behaviour of others too much. Perhaps they are considering the appropriateness of their own behaviour and appearance.
Feeling positive about yourself involves recognising the vicious cycles keeping the problem going, checking thought patterns, and addressing easy challenges first. Looking for alternative ways of thinking will eliminate these negative patterns. Good alternatives can usually be expressed in balanced or moderate terms. Concentrating on strengths as well as perceived weaknesses can add social confidence, as well as attending to what is happening outside oneself, as opposed to what is happening inside. Ultimately, the reduction of social anxiety involves working out the effects of self-consciousness, deciding not to dwell on unpleasant experiences and considering more positive thoughts.