You may not know it (or actually if you know me in ‘real life’ you probably do) but I had some pretty major social anxiety at one point in my life. For some time, it was the Thing that Stopped Me. I think we all have one of those at one point in our life or another- something that scares us, or makes us feel small or unworthy, and it stops us from finding out what we could be. Im pretty forthright about the thing that stopped me, because I learned some of the most valuable lessons of my life from it.
I have always been a bit on the introverted side. While less evident now, this is still the case. I used to worry quite a lot about saying the wrong thing and looking stupid, having others laugh at me or make fun of me behind my back. I tried to make sure this didn’t happen in the usual ways that people do- I avoided talking as much as possible, unless I was in the company of known, trusted others only. When I did speak, I would say as little as possible and rarely share my real opinions or thoughts. And afterward, I would go over and over what was said, worrying about what others might have thought or what mistakes I might have made.
As you might imagine, putting this kind of effort into suppressing my thoughts and opinions made me doubt their value. Because I never shared those things, I stayed convinced that what I thought had little value. Our fears have a way of staying stuck and seeming like truth when don’t take the risk and test them out- but testing them out often seems just too risky. Its a mighty vicious cycle.
I was lucky in that I had lots of wonderful people around me who thought more highly of me than I did at the time. One of these people was a good friend of mine ( you can check out her blog here ) who somehow convinced me to take a public speaking class with her. I still have no idea what on earth might have made me do it, but it really helped me see that it might be possible to overcome my fear.
From 30 second speeches about whatever topic was thrown out, to presenting at a professional conference years later, I had to begin to change the question I asked myself. I used to think “why would anyone want other what I have to say?”. I had to start to ask myself “why not me?”. Over time, I have come to adopt a policy of noticing the things I want to shy away from due to un-confidence, and then deciding if shying away from those things might possibly prevent me from experiencing additional fun, enjoyment or accomplishment in life. Sometimes, I choose to take on a challenge just because I know that if I show myself that I can do it, then I will be more confident overall with whatever comes my way in life.
Sometimes once I know I can do something, I can re-evaluate if I even want to. I do not want to take on all challenges- some are about things that don’t matter to me or are not interesting or don’t speak to my values. But for the things that do, I always come back to the question, “why not me?”.
So if you are finding yourself facing something that stops you, both as a therapist and as a human who walks my talk, I would recommend taking the smallest step you can outside your comfort zone. Small steps lead to huge leaps, if we can just put one foot in front of the other enough times in enough ways.
These days I generally feel pretty confident most of the time, Mostly this has been hard won, by walking willingly with fear. However there is no anxiety free life, and so there will always be times when my friend fear joins me to help me see the next way I can grow.