This article covers topics like calming severe anxiety, ways of handling criticism and assertiveness skills, and dealing with upsetting memories.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.
Many great ideas have been lost because the people who had them could not stand being laughed at.
I've grown certain that the root of all fear is that we've been forced to deny who we are.
--Frances Moore Lappe
To win you have to risk loss.
If you're never scared or embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take any chances.
--Julia Sorel (Rosalyn Drexler, See How She Runs, 1978)
Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.
A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying... that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.
--Alexander Pope, (in Swift, Miscellanies)
While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.
--Henry C. Link
Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome.
--Samuel Johnson, (Rasselas, 1759)
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
--e.e. cummings, 1955
It's not a necessary thing to do by any means; but this self-help book says one thing we might find helpful is to think about a few of the things that happened to us recently that caused us anxiety, like social events, and try to remember everything we can about how we were feeling and thinking before they happened, during and afterwards, so we can think about whether the thoughts we were having were accurate, or whether in hind-sight, we can realise we blew things out of proportion, or were worrying about things that weren't really likely to happen at all. We can write our memories down, and go through what we've written bit by bit, examining all the distressing thoughts and worries we had, to decide whether they were really true, or to consider whether it would be useful to change the way we think after realising we were worrying when we didn't need to, or our fears were really exaggerated, or we thought we couldn't handle things that we will be able to handle in the future easily if we can get more confident and think of ways to handle them. It says we can think about things from the self-help book that could help us in the future, like advice on changing our thinking patterns.
OK, I think I will. I know there's some advice in the magazine articles as well as in the self-help book that could be useful.
I'll think through the distressing experiences I've had at work recently:
He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.
Once conform, once do what others do because they do it, and a kind of lethargy steals over all the finer senses of the soul.
--Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
The reward for conformity was that everyone liked you except yourself.
--Rita Mae Brown, (Venus Envy)
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Skip past the story if you'd prefer; it isn't necessary for understanding the self-help information.
Last week, there was that time just before we started work when I was walking past another office, and I saw someone look in my direction briefly, and they were all laughing. I didn't hear what they were laughing about. But I thought they might be laughing about me. An image came into my mind of when the school bullies used to laugh at me because they said there were things wrong with me.
Wondering if they were laughing at me and being reminded of the times the bullies laughed at me made me so anxious I couldn't concentrate on my work, and so I started making mistakes, and didn't get as much done as I should have. So I felt stupid.
Then the boss came to speak to me, and I was convinced he was going to say something bad, and I was worrying about it so much that I didn't take in what he really did say. Then I thought he must think I was silly because I had to ask him to repeat what he said. It was embarrassing. And I was shaking, and felt sure he'd see it, and wondered what he must think of me. I wondered if he might think I was too incompetent to work there or he'd think I'm crazy. I've been worrying about it ever since.
I started to feel a bit panicky and dizzy and sick, and my heart was thumping. I know I started sweating. I'm sure he must have noticed some of that, at least my shaking. He must have thought there was something wrong with me. I held on tight to the desk to try to stop my shaking being so visible, but I think that made it worse.
I was so busy worrying about what he must think that I still didn't really take in what he said when he repeated it, but I was too embarrassed to ask him to repeat it again. I did get the gist of it though, and it wasn't anything bad after all.
Another thing that made me feel bad about talking to him was that something about him reminded me of being told off by a teacher at school because I hadn't been concentrating when I was anxious, and an image of that flashed through my mind and made me even more nervous. So I found it even more difficult to concentrate.
Point 1: "I didn't hear what they were laughing about. But I thought they might be laughing about me."
I thought Ian might be telling them what a mess I'd made of the date. But actually, they could have been laughing about any number of things. Maybe I get a bit too suspicious sometimes, because I expect people to laugh at me. But actually, one reason I went out with Ian was because I didn't think he was the kind of person who'd do that kind of thing. So I could have told myself that I at least needed more evidence before suspecting him of being nasty.
But what if the worst came to the worst and people were laughing at me?
One of the magazine articles says that a good strategy to use when we keep thinking "What if" this, and "what if" that, as many people tend to do when they're anxious, is to put a "so" on the beginning, so we say, "So what if ...".
OK: So what if they were all laughing at me?
Well, it wouldn't necessarily mean there was anything wrong with me. It would mean they weren't being very nice. And should I worry too much about the opinions of people who laugh about other people's misfortunes? What matters most in the world, that people are far more talented at making good impressions on boyfriends and girlfriends than me, or that they're kind and understanding? And if they're not kind and understanding, and think that not making a good impression on a date because of anxiety is something to laugh about, should their opinions really matter to me, when they've clearly got their priorities so mixed up? That's if they were laughing at me anyway, of course, which they quite possibly weren't, actually. I know they do often laugh at jokes and stories they share with each other. Maybe the person glanced at me because they were hoping I'd join them, or they were just looking to see who was going past.
The magazine article says we can use the technique of putting a "so" at the beginning of our worried "What if ..." statements in all kinds of situations. So even if we were worried about losing our job, for example, and we'd normally be worrying about it, thinking, "What if I lose my job", and imagining all kinds of bad things, we can think instead, "So what if I lose my job?" and that might help us look at things differently, thinking, "OK, would it really be that bad, and what would I do?" And then we could think of strategies, like, "I'd just make plans to get another job, and it might be a better one." And then we could work out the best thing to do.
Point 2: "An image came into my mind of when the school bullies used to laugh at me because they said there were things wrong with me."
But the two situations were probably completely different. These images come into my mind really quickly, before I have time to think about whether I want them there. They just do it when something reminds me of a bad memory. But there might be something I can do.
I can try to think of all the images that come into my mind that make me feel more anxious, and practice replacing them with nicer images that have meaning for me because they symbolise the way I'm intending to get over what people at school did. I'll practice when I'm not feeling anxious, bringing to mind a horrible image when I'm feeling quite relaxed so it doesn't stress me out as much as it would if I was already anxious, and then replacing it with a nicer one, to reassure myself. I'll do that several times until I get used to it.
So when an image comes into my mind of me being bullied at school or criticized by a teacher, I can immediately think of one that reassures me. Or if I don't, I'll be so used to thinking of the new way I've taught myself to think of the bullying that it won't make me anxious. I'll practice replacing the images one at a time.
So one I could think of is the image of being laughed at by the bullies. I think I must have been assuming that they were right in what they thought, and that I'm no good and there must be something wrong with me. So when the image comes to mind now, I feel the same horrible feelings I feel when I think I'm no good and there must be something wrong with me, and that's what makes me so anxious. But really, they were probably bullying me for silly little reasons. I'm going to do a bit of research on the reasons people bully. Then I'll have more ideas of the reasons I got bullied. ...
I've found out that some people bully others because it gives them a sense of power and control, and that makes them feel good. So the subject they choose to tease someone about isn't really important. What is is the feelings of being powerful they get when they tease people about it. Or it just makes them amused, because they don't think about how the other person might be feeling; they only think about themselves and their fun. Or it can be because they're jealous of the person they're bullying, because the person's cleverer or better in some other way than them; or they're a bit scared of the person they're picking on, because they're worried the person might be better than them, or something.
So maybe the people who bullied me were really a bit scared of me, or jealous, or just being really selfish, putting their own amusement before my feelings. So I'm going to invent an image of myself standing and thinking of all the reasons they might have bullied me, and practice bringing the horrible image about being laughed at into my mind briefly and replacing it with the better one. I could help myself do that by drawing what I imagine the nice image could look like. Perhaps it could be an image of myself standing there looking pleased with myself for having found out what kind of people the bullies probably were really, with the bullies drawn like tiny people around me, as if me finding out about what might have really motivated them to bully me has shrunk them to size, because now I know I shouldn't have taken what they said so seriously after all.
After I've practiced replacing the horrible image with the nice one in my mind for a while, maybe it'll become automatic. Or maybe I won't get those images anyway now I've thought about how things really were. They didn't mean I was no good or that there was something wrong with me after all.
Another thing I could try is to think of times when I have done things that have proved that the bullies were wrong about me being no good, times when I've achieved good things. I can't think of much that I've achieved recently, but maybe some things will come to mind if I have a think. And I know I was at least good at some things at school, like art. So there were at least one or two teachers who were pleased with my work. So I'll invent and draw an image where I'm being praised by one of those teachers or where I've done something better than the bullies, or where I've done something well recently, and practice briefly bringing the horrible image of the bullies laughing at me to mind that makes me think I'm no good, and then replacing it with the images where I'm doing things well. If I practice often enough, maybe it'll become automatic, or the horrible images won't bother me because they haven't got the same meaning for me any more, so when something happens that reminds me of the horrible things that happened, I won't suddenly get more anxious any more.
Point 3: "Wondering if they were laughing at me made me so anxious I couldn't concentrate on my work, and so I started making mistakes, and didn't get as much done as I should have. So I felt stupid."
I think at times like that, it would be a good idea to remind myself that I don't really know what people were laughing at, and it might not have been anything to do with me.
Another thing I could do is a bit of that controlled breathing one of the magazine articles was talking about, where we breathe in very slowly through our nose to the count of about five with our mouth shut, and then breathe out just as slowly. And we do that for a few minutes, getting on with other things while we're doing it if we like, and that slows down the body's reactions to anxiety, such as our heart beating faster, so we start to feel calmer, so we can think more clearly, which will probably mean we'll stop making the mistakes we made because of our anxiety.
Point 4: "Then the boss came to speak to me, and I was convinced he was going to say something bad, and I was worrying about it so much that I didn't take in what he really did say."
I'm always worried about being able to stand up to criticism. But maybe if I learn how to do that better, the idea of being criticized won't worry me so much.
One of the magazine articles talks about how we can deal with criticism without responding in a way that might make the person criticizing us say worse things.
It says that one way is called negative assertion, where we just agree with the essence of what they say, admitting our failings or mistakes, without responding to the anger they're expressing. So, for instance, if we underestimated the time it would take to finish something, and our boss was angry because it meant he was inconvenienced, and he came up to us and said, "You've really messed things up, and now I've got to reorganise things, all because of you!", we could ignore the insults in what he said, acknowledge that there was a bit of truth in it, and just say, "Yes, I'm sorry, I really underestimated the time it would take to finish that".
If we can recognize that the insulting things he's saying about us are probably just motivated by anger he's developed on the spur of the moment, anger that might be more to do with the pressures of work he's under than to do with opinions he holds about us; and if we can stay calm without responding to his insults, so it doesn't make him more angry, we can keep ourselves from becoming as anxious as we would otherwise.
If we're willing to accept the wrong things we have done instead of feeling we need to deny them, then we can stay calmer. After all, just because we might have done one or two things wrong, it doesn't mean we're failures as people, or even that we're going to keep doing them wrong. What's a one-off, or even something done wrong half a dozen times, compared with a lifetime of experience? In 20 years' time, we might hardly remember them. We might have a very faint memory that 20 years ago, we did something wrong six times within the space of four months or something, but we might not really think anything of it. So something that can seem hugely significant to us today might not have any significance at all when we imagine how we might look back at it in twenty or ten years' time, or even one year, one month, or a week.
So if we can try to remember that when we're criticized, it can help us accept criticisms calmly. And then if we can accept them calmly, it's more likely to calm down the person criticizing us, instead of making them worse, like it would if we had a go at them back. If we show that we're taking their concerns seriously, it'll make them feel less hostile. It would probably take several mistakes of that nature before we were at risk of losing our job.
The magazine says another tactic is called negative inquiry, where we ask questions about what's really bothering a person who criticizes us until we get to the root of the problem. So, for example, if a parent says in an annoyed way, "You spend too much time on the computer!" instead of having a go at them because we don't like their tone of annoyance, or being intimidated by it, we could calmly ask them, "What is there about my spending a lot of time on the computer that bothers you?" If they say something in frustration like, "You're always in your bedroom where we can't speak to you!" we can again ignore their tone of frustration, and calmly ask, "What is it about my not being available to speak to you that's bad?" And on and on. We might discover sometimes that they're not really frustrated with us, but they only sound like it because they like us enough to get frustrated that we're not with them more.
But if it doesn't mean that, again, it might mean they're annoyed at one particular behaviour of ours that can easily be changed, and it doesn't have to mean they think we're less decent people in general.
Even when people say things like, "You're inconsiderate", or whatever, it still won't necessarily mean they really think we're bad people. If we know we might have acted inconsiderately towards them on just a few occasions, we don't have to take what they said any more seriously than that. After all, they can't judge our whole character just by those occasions, and they might not even be meaning to suggest that they are, but just not wording what they say carefully enough, so they say we're not considerate people, when if they really thought about what they were saying, they'd say that they thought one or two things we did were inconsiderate.
And even if they do mean to judge our character, what do they know? They might not know what we're really like at all, so we shouldn't let what they say influence us too much.
But as for this "negative inquiry", we could keep on asking the person criticizing us questions, trying to be calm, until we got to the root of the problem, so we don't end up arguing about irrelevant things like our right to spend time on the computer, for example, when the real issue is that they want us to be downstairs more so we can help them in the kitchen. Asking questions calmly till we find out what the real problem is can cut down on arguments, and keep us more calm, because the situation doesn't erupt into an argument straightaway, like it might otherwise.
It can also make the other person friendlier, because if we don't jump in straightaway defending ourselves, but we ask them to explain themselves more, they'll feel they're being listened to.
Another magazine article says something about what to do if our attempts to stop people criticizing us don't work at first because they want to be nasty. It gives an example of how a wife might be able to calm a husband who's saying abusive things, in such a way that it might even stop things escalating into violence. It says that she should avoid saying anything abusive back, and try to show she's willing to listen to what he's saying and sort things out with him, while being clear about what she isn't prepared to tolerate because it'll make things worse. So the conversation could go something like:
Husband: "You're so stupid; when will you get things done on time?"
Wife: "You're really angry; I'm not sure what particular things you're referring to. How about you sit down and we can talk about it?"
Husband: "Talk about it! I'm not sure you're intelligent enough to understand a simple sentence! I want you to have things done when I need them!"
Wife: "You know, I want to talk about this, but I really can't when I'm being bawled at. Sit down, and let's talk about it calmly."
Husband: "I am calm, you idiot! Can't you do anything right?"
Wife: "I'm willing to talk to you about this if you'll sit down and stop shouting at me."
Husband: "What if I don't want to stop?"
Wife: "Then let's talk about it later when you're not so angry. I want to get this sorted out, but only if you're not yelling at me."
Husband: "I want to sort this out right now."
Wife: "Then please sit down and stop shouting, so we can sort it out."
Husband: "Allright, I'm sitting down and I'm not shouting. Why wasn't my shirt ironed?"
It says the wife has managed to calm the husband's anger down a bit, and they're in a better position to communicate sensibly.
It says that if someone's pestering us to do something and not listening to us, like a salesman who isn't going away even though we've told him we don't want to buy his products, we can use a technique called the 'broken record' technique, where we sound a bit like one, because we just keep repeating our main point or feelings. So we don't bother to keep telling them why we want them to go away, since they're not listening anyway, or it'll just make them argue with us, trying to answer our points and persuade us when all we want is for them to go away, but we just keep repeating ourselves until they do. It gives an example of a salesman coming to someone's door:
Salesman: "I'm selling some cleaning products. Would you like to have a look at them?"
Customer: "No thank you, I'm not interested in buying any of those things today."
Salesman: "I really have some excellent products here."
Customer: "Perhaps you have, but I've got all the cleaning things I need at the moment." (Reasoning with them honestly at first, which is fair.)
Salesman: "Do you have any family?"
Customer: "The point is, I'm not interested in buying any of the products." (This is where the broken record technique really begins.)
Salesman: "Well then, is your wife at home? She might be interested."
Customer: "I don't want any of these products." (Continues to use the broken Record technique.)
Salesman: "Wouldn't you like her to have the chance to choose, since she probably cleans the house?"
Customer: "I don't want any of these products."
Salesman: "I've told you that 50 per cent of the profits from these products goes to medical research. Aren't you concerned about the health of your children?"
Customer: "The point is, I'm not interested in buying any of your products."
Salesman: "OK, but will you take this brochure and think about it?"
Customer: "Yes, I'll take the brochure." (At least being a little conciliatory.)
Salesman: "Thank you."
Customer: "You're welcome."
It says that another way to get out of awkward situations is called selective ignoring. That's where we can pay attention to one thing a person says, while just ignoring something else that might be abusive or unfair, that might lead to an argument if we pay attention to it. If a whole statement is unfair, we can just keep quiet. Another thing we can do is to nod at them when they're saying something reasonable, but stop when they aren't. It gives the example of a woman who's met a friend in a cafe:
Friend: "Hello! How are you?"
Woman: "I'm fine, thanks. How are you?"
Friend: "Actually, I'm feeling a bit down."
Woman: "Oh dear. Whatís the matter?"
Friend: "You haven't phoned me since you moved to your new house. I suppose you're just too busy for old friends."
Woman: "You know I'm very fond of you. but I've been so busy with moving, part-time studies and revising for an exam that I needed to put my social life on hold for a while."
Friend: "Are you saying I'm not worth the time for a phone call? You can't take a few minutes to ring me once in a while?"
Woman: "I don't really want to talk like this, but I feel you're criticising me, and I know that if this conversation continues, we'll end up arguing, so I'm not going to say any more if you continue in this vein."
Friend: "I'm only criticising you for your own good. If a friend can't be honest with you, who can?"
The woman keeps quiet.
Friend: "Are you still going out with that no-hoper?"
The woman keeps quiet.
Friend: "I asked if you're still going out with that no-hoper."
The woman keeps quiet.
Friend: "Why aren't you answering me?"
Woman: "I don't like your criticism. I think you should appreciate that I'm capable of making my own decisions as to who I go out with."
Friend: "If you were, you'd be married by now. After all, how many girls are still unmarried and studying at the age of 33?"
The woman keeps quiet.
Friend: "If you aren't going to answer me, what is there left to talk about?"
Woman: "Would you like to hear about my promotion at work?"
Friend: "Oh, you got a promotion? Tell me about it."
It talks about another technique, saying that some non-assertive people can behave in a way that makes them seem more submissive than they really want to be by just saying sorry whenever they do something they might feel guilty about, but that wasn't necessarily all their fault, and they don't really feel like saying sorry. It illustrates the kinds of things we can say instead by giving the example of a person who goes into a meeting at work late, who gets criticized by the boss for it:
Boss: "You're late!"
Secretary: "I know. I apologise for being late, but I didn't realise how late it was when I left the house."
Boss: "I don't like excuses. I think it's very important that we start these sessions on time - together."
Secretary: "It wasn't intended as an excuse. I was telling you what happened. Iíll try to be here on time next week." (ending by saying something conciliatory)
It says another technique we can use is called fogging, which can be particularly useful if we're being persistently nagged about something. Oh yes, I remember fogging from another magazine article as well. This one says it means we keep acknowledging the possibility that the person might be right, but never saying definitely that they are, and never agreeing to do what they say. So, for instance, if one of our parents was criticizing us for eating fattening food one day and for listening to music instead of getting on and doing something useful, the conversation might go:
Parent: "You really are eating too much junk food. You don't eat healthily enough. I've told you so many times about this. You're going to get fat if you don't change your ways."
Us: (before we start to use the fogging technique) "We've been through this before. You know I don't appreciate it when you constantly criticize what I do in my spare time. And my weight is my responsibility."
Parent: "But when you spend your time eating junk, it means you're not spending it doing something useful, like studying. And you shouldn't be listening to music. It probably distracts you from thinking about more worthwhile things."
Us: (beginning the fogging) "You might be right. Maybe I shouldn't have the radio on."
Parent: "Then you agree that you're sitting here doing nothing worthwhile!"
Us: "You could be right."
Parent: "Well, turn the radio off then!"
Us: (not turning it off) "Perhaps you're right. Maybe I should turn it off."
Parent: "But you've still got it on. So why are you saying I might be right that you shouldn't be listening to it?"
Us: (not fogging anymore) "I'm not really agreeing with you. I just don't want to be nagged any more. Let's talk about something else."
It says we won't need to be assertive all the time. It says sometimes, the most appropriate thing to do is just to listen, especially if the person's talking about a problem they have.
It says we might need a bit of practice before we get good at being assertive, but we'll probably improve our skills over time. It suggests we practice with friends if we like, getting them to pretend they're being critical of us and we need to stand up to them.
It says it's not a good idea to use assertiveness techniques with everybody, especially if they're not used to us standing up for ourselves. Or at least we should start to use them gradually. It tells a story of someone who went on an assertiveness training course after becoming fed up with the difficult behaviour he'd had to put up with from his boss for years, and he one day started to stand up for himself at work, and was instantly dismissed from his job. So it says we should use judgment as to who we can be assertive with, but that most of the time, things should work out well.
Well, I think my boss is nicer than that. I'm sure he is.
Point 5: "Then I thought he must think I was silly because I had to ask him to repeat what he said."
I must be imagining I can read his mind again. I don't really know what he thought. He could have thought I was distracted by something, or half asleep. I don't know.
But anyway, he might have forgotten about it by the time he went out the door.
Point 6: "And I was shaking, and felt sure he'd see it, and wondered what he must think of me. I wondered if he might think I was too incompetent to work there or he'd think I'm crazy. I've been worrying about it ever since."
He might not have even remembered it by lunchtime. After all, the self-help book says that often, people don't notice or pay much attention to that kind of thing in the first place. He has said friendly things to me since, and it has been several days since it happened, so even if he did think badly of me at the time, it doesn't seem as if anything serious will happen.
And as I get less anxious, I'll do better at my job, so I should have plenty of opportunity to impress him again in the future.
And I don't even want this job anyway really. When I get less anxious, I'm going to look for a more interesting one.
Point 7: "I started to feel a bit panicky and dizzy and sick, and my heart was thumping. I know I started sweating. I'm sure he must have noticed some of that, at least my shaking. He must have thought there was something wrong with me."
I remember the self-help book saying that often, other people don't even notice when anxious people are shaking. I think worrying that people are noticing my symptoms makes my anxiety worse, so I get more anxiety symptoms, so I have more to worry about, and that gives me even more of them. If I can learn to think things like, "I'm shaking a bit; so what?! I'm not going to let this shaking put me off", and try to look at people boldly despite it, then maybe it'll go away.
Or I could think of it as a sign that I'm psyched up for what's happening, rather than fearful.
One of the magazine articles says we can get the same physical symptoms with fear, excitement, or eagerness to do something. So when the symptoms begin to happen, we could try interpreting them as something else rather than as anxiety, like eagerness to perform at our best, so we won't be so bothered by them.
I think I'd feel better if I felt more confident about holding my own in conversations and saying what I think as well though. That way, I wouldn't feel so inferior when the boss came along.
There's something else about assertiveness skills in one of the magazines. I'm going to find out what it says.
It says that looking directly at a person is a good way of letting them know we're sincere in what we're saying.
It says our posture can give good or bad impressions as well; it's best to face the person, lean towards them a bit and hold our head up. I suppose that makes us look interested in what they're saying.
It says it's best to control our voice, so if we feel like mumbling or speaking too fast or quietly, we concentrate on making our voice sound reasonably firm and authoritative.
It says it's a good idea to practice doing assertive things, to make us happier doing them, or even things where we inconvenience people slightly, to get ourselves used to standing up for ourselves even when people might disapprove a bit.
It suggests one thing we could do is to role-play going to the supermarket, role-playing with a friend or in front of a mirror, pretending we only buy one item, and then pretending to ask the person at the front of the queue if we can go first in the queue since we've only got one thing. Our friend can be the person in the front of the queue, responding in the way that someone might realistically respond. Or we could just imagine what might happen.
It says that when we've pretended to do that with a friend or in front of the mirror a few times, we can do it for real several times, perhaps a few times a week for a few weeks. It says people probably will let us go ahead of them, but whether they do or not, it recommends we reward ourselves for making the effort by buying ourselves a small gift each time.
It says that a good rule of assertiveness is to express our feelings with the minimum possible negativity while still getting our point across so people know what we want.
It gives a few examples. It says that if a petrol station attendant was supposed to clean a person's windscreen but didn't, the person could say, "I wonder if you'd mind cleaning my windscreen, since it's quite dirty".
Or if a waiter charges for one too many drinks in a restaurant, we could say, "I think you might have made an error on the bill. Would you mind checking it again?"
Or if a friend continually interrupts us, we could say with a friendly smile, "I'm sure you don't realise this, but sometimes I get a bit flustered when you interrupt".
It says that a lot of the time, this way of talking should solve the problem. But if it doesn't, we can be firmer, but we should remember to keep our responses in proportion to what the person's actually said or done, even if we feel angry.
It says that many non-assertive people don't stand up for themselves because they're worried that something really bad that they can't handle might happen if they do; but most of the time, it doesn't. Even if the person gets a bit grumpy, that might just be to save face, and they'll still often do what we want. It says that research has found that even people who tend to bully other people often back down in the face of verbal assertiveness.
But it says it's important not to use insults when we talk to people.
It says that some non-assertive people fear being assertive as well because they'd hate to be disapproved of by causing a public argument. But it says we can challenge that kind of thinking by saying to ourselves something like, "So what if some people (who I don't even know and will probably never even meet again) object to me being perfectly reasonable in asserting my rights? - Too bad!"
Point 8: "I held on tight to the desk to try to stop my shaking being so visible, but I think that made it worse."
The self-help book says that sometimes doing that can make it worse. It recommends that we take the risk of not trying to stop ourselves shaking, remembering that often, people won't even notice it, or if they do, they might not pay much attention at all. It says that shaking and other things like blushing and saying words wrong can seem much more humiliating to us than it does to other people watching. It says we should ask ourselves what the symptoms mean to us, and then ask ourselves if we could be exaggerating things, like thinking shaking means we're a useless incompetent wreck, when it doesn't at all. Then we can try to reassure ourselves that other people probably don't see things the way we do, if they even notice them.
It says that once we get more confident or less worried about what other people think, symptoms like that should subside anyway.
Point 9: "I still didn't really take in what he said when he repeated it, but I was too embarrassed to ask him to repeat it again. I did get the gist of it though, and it wasn't anything bad after all."
That just shows me how I can worry myself sick when there's no real need.
Point 10: "Another thing that made me feel bad about talking to him was that something about him reminded me of being told off by a teacher at school because I hadn't been concentrating when I was anxious, and an image of that flashed through my mind and made me even more nervous. So I found it even more difficult to concentrate."
Maybe the same thing will happen with my images of being criticized by the teachers as will hopefully happen with my images of being bullied: If I learn to replace them with symbolic new images, I'm hoping my mind will start doing it automatically with practice.
My Teachers made me believe I was stupid. But really, thinking about it, they were just ignorant. The reason I couldn't concentrate and kept getting words mixed up when I was speaking was because the bullying was making me so anxious, not because I was stupid. If they'd been better at their jobs, they would have stopped the bullying from happening.
I'm going to invent an image of me looking confident because my life's getting better, with the teachers as small figures in the background, fading away because they're not having any influence over my life anymore. And I'll practice letting the old image of me feeling humiliated while they were criticizing me come to mind briefly, and then replacing it in my mind with the new victorious one of me bigger than the teachers. Maybe eventually, that will become automatic as well.
I know: I could draw the image of the new me getting more confident and the teachers much smaller than me and fading away because their losing their effect on me, to help me focus on it better. Then I can look at it sometimes to remind myself that my life's improving and I don't have to let what they said upset me any more.
I'm going to do a similar thing with every bad image I catch myself having.
The self-help book says that sometimes, we can start feeling anxious and not know why; but when we try hard to think about what happened just before we started to feel anxious, we might sometimes remember an unpleasant image that popped into our minds briefly, and it sparked off feelings of anxiety, but then disappeared before we had time to think about it, so we hardly noticed it; so we know we feel anxious, but we're not sure why at first.
If that happens to me and I can work out that it was an image that made me anxious and what type of images do that, then I can practice replacing those as well, if I still get them after I've reassured and encouraged myself a lot, as I'm doing. But I might not get them anymore.
It says that it isn't just images that can trigger off anxiety that we find it hard to explain. It says it can help us work out what it was if we try to think about the significance for us of what's just happened, since sometimes anxiety can be sparked off by a smell that reminds us of a smell that was around when we were having a bad experience, or the colour of someone's clothes that reminds us of something bad, or something someone says that does. And we might have only taken what's just happened in subconsciously, but it might have caused the anxiety to come over us, because it reminds us so much of what happened before, or we attach a significance to it that ties in with how we used to think, but is really an over-reaction, like if someone ignores us and we used to be so used to thinking that meant they were rejecting us that the feelings of anxiety now come on automatically whenever someone ignores us, without us even thinking about it. It says that if we start feeling anxious for no apparent reason, we should try to think through carefully what's just happened, and work out what meaning it has for us.
But it says that sometimes, what happened to trigger off the anxiety might have been so brief that we didn't focus on it long enough to remember what it was, so we might just not know what causes it to happen sometimes. It says that if that happens, we don't have to worry that we're going mad or anything, because what's just happened is a natural thing that can happen to lots of people because of very brief associations the brain makes with something else that we can't remember.
It says we could do brief relaxation exercises at times like that, like controlling our breathing so we're breathing very slowly and evenly, or imagining we're somewhere nice for a while, like sitting relaxing on the beach with the sun shining brightly and warming us.
Another thing I could try is working out when the times are when horrible images come to my mind, like when I meet the boss, and try to think of things that have shown me in a good light at times like that, and then invent and draw related images of myself that I can be proud of. Like I know I've had good conversations with my boss, where he's been pleased with my work. So I could draw an image of him smiling at me to remind myself that he does approve of me sometimes. And I'll put it somewhere where I'll often look at it, and that'll give me encouragement.
And when I'm feeling quite relaxed, I could practice briefly bringing to mind an image of me where I'm getting anxious because I've been reminded of when I've been criticized by a teacher because my boss reminds me of them a bit, and then quickly replace it with an image of when my boss has been saying good things about me. Maybe if I practice it often enough, that will become automatic as well; or maybe the bad images will just go away and never come back, because I've made myself more confident in my abilities, so I won't believe that stuff the teachers said about me being stupid any more, so I won't care that they said it. The images only upset me because I care that they said it and still half-believe what they said. If I don't anymore, they won't bother me. Then I'll get more confident about talking to my boss.
The images of the teachers criticizing me make me think I'm a failure, and that's what makes me so anxious. But if I learn to replace them with an image that makes me think I'm not, that'll hopefully stop happening.
Another thing that could help is if I write down all the good things I can remember my boss saying about me, to look at when I want encouragement. It's funny, but I find it much easier to remember the bad things people like him say than the good things. That happens with my parents as well. But if I can have a good think, and write down what good things I remember them all saying, I can put them somewhere where I'll come across them often, so I can look at them to encourage myself.
And maybe I could practice thinking of myself sitting with my boss, briefly imagining that an image of myself being criticized by the teachers is coming to mind, and then reassuring myself that the circumstances I'm in now are totally different to the circumstances I was in when the teachers criticized me. My boss is a different person:
I'll think of all the ways he's different to my teachers. I'll write them down and see how many I can come up with, and look at the list often to encourage myself.
I'm going to think through one more thing that makes me anxious:
Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?
That you may retain your self-respect, it is better to displease the people by doing what you know is right, than to temporarily please them by doing what you know is wrong.
--William J.H. Boetcker
I speak truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little the more, as I grow older.
--Michel de Montaigne, translated
Skip past the story if you'd prefer; it isn't necessary for understanding the self-help information.
When we have meetings at work, I always leave as soon as they end, so no one will have the chance to make small talk with me.
And I always wear heavy make-up and let my hair fall over my face to hide my blushes, because I know that every time anyone asks me to say something, I'll blush.
I always rehearse what I want to say several times before a meeting, and hope no one will ask me a question I'm not expecting, because then my mind might go blank with anxiety and I might not be able to say anything sensible, and then I'll look incompetent. I don't like to express my opinions anyway in case they get put down and people get critical of me. I'll feel as if they're rejecting and mocking me because I don't come up to standard. But then I get depressed and frustrated, because I'd like them to know my opinions, and not telling them makes me feel as if I'm not getting what I want out of meetings.
I always keep my eye on the door, because I'm always thinking about getting away if things get too bad.
I'm always worried before a meeting that my voice will start trembling, or that I'll forget what to say, or that someone will ask me something I don't know about, or lots of other things like that.
Point 1: "When we have meetings at work, I always leave as soon as they end, so no one will have the chance to make small talk with me."
It would be good if I did have the courage to stay around more, because then I might get to learn that these things aren't as threatening as I think, like the self-help book says. But it would help if I could follow a bit of advice to make me more confident first.
I don't like small talk, because it seems boring and tedious, and I'm worried I won't be good at it anyway. One of the magazine articles says that many people with social phobia feel like that. Well, at least I'm not the only one then.
But it says it's a good idea to engage in small talk with people, because it makes beginning conversations easier.
It recommends that we start more conversations so we'll end up friends with more people. It says we don't have to say anything brilliant or witty, just ordinary things, like,
"It's nice that the sun's shining so brightly this morning",
or, "Isn't the rain heavy!"
or, "Did you have a good journey into work?"
or, "I think the chairs are comfortable in here".
It says that we'll be able to pick up on whether the person wants a conversation with us by the way they respond, so we can take things from there.
It says that small talk can be the starting point of conversations of real significance, which are often more difficult to get started without it. So it can help us make more friends.
It says it's good if we know a little bit about what the person's interested in, because then we can ask questions that give them a lot of opportunity to talk about it, which will be more interesting for us if we're interested in the subject too. It says it's better to do that than to try to demonstrate how good at talking we ourselves are.
Well, I don't think I'll try to demonstrate how good I am at talking in a hurry!
It says it's best to avoid controversial topics like politics or religion, because if we find out the person we're talking to is too different from us, it might put us off them straightaway, whereas if we get to know them better, we might find out that there are a lot of things we can agree on, so we might stay friends regardless of our disagreements on controversial topics.
If we start off by talking casually, we can pick up on what a person's interests are by the way they respond to things, so we know what lines of conversation to follow up on, which might lead to more interesting things.
It says that the more common ground we find with people, the more likely we are to get on with them; but our attempts at small talk won't always work, so when they don't, we shouldn't feel too bad about it, because it might not have been our fault at all. If we think we did do things wrong, we can think of it as a learning experience and move on.
One of the magazine articles says a bit about social skills.
I think that knowing as much as I can about that kind of thing would make me more confident about talking to people I don't know that well.
It says a smile can have more effect than we might think on people. It says it's often difficult for people with social phobia to smile. But if we can smile naturally and spontaneously, it can give people a feeling of warmth and make them think we must be friendly and interested in them. It can make them more confident in us.
But it says that smiling all the time isn't a good thing, because it can give the impression that we're willing to agree with people all the time. It advises that we smile at certain times during a conversation, like before and after what we say, while we're making eye contact. It says that makes us seem sincere and emphasises our point. It says we can also use smiles if the other person seems interested in what we're saying, to reward them for it or encourage them.
It says that if we find it difficult to smile, we should at least try to get the corners of our mouth to turn up. It says that often, the act of moving our facial muscles into a smile makes us feel like smiling more. But it does say that too much facial expression might make us look overly-dramatic.
It talks about how we can best use eye contact as well as smiling. It says we can control the eye contact we give in ways that make us seem more confident. It says that anxious people often look at others a lot, to get clues about what they think of us; but confident people don't seem to look for clues like that. It says that if we can put across the image of a more confident person, we can make a more positive impression, so people will be encouraged to talk to us; and when we feel as if we're getting on with people better, that'll make us more confident, so we might end up behaving in a confident way without thinking.
It says it's best to look directly at people just before we begin a conversation to give them the cue that we're starting to talk, and smile to show our friendliness and interest. When we speak, we can look away, but when we finish, it's best to look at them again briefly to signal that we've finished and it's their turn. Then we can give them another smile.
It says that if what we're saying's fairly long, we'll want to look at the person during it a few times, to check that we're being listened to and that they want us to continue, and to get an idea of what they think of what we're saying. But it says it's best not to look at them for too long, because looking at them can be a signal that it's their turn to speak, so they might mistake it for a signal to start talking.
It says that when we're listening to the other person, we should change our pattern of eye contact. If we want to show we like someone or what they're saying, we should show we're listening by looking at them intently, but not staring. It says that to prevent staring, we ought to look away once in a while.
It says that if we feel uncomfortable making direct eye contact, indirect eye contact will be good enough. It says we can look at one eye or the bridge of the person's nose. Or if that's still too uncomfortable, we can look at an eyebrow, the tip of an ear or the mouth. It says that sweeping our eyes over the eyes of the other person, whether we look or not, is important to give the impression of eye contact.
It says our posture's important too. It says it reveals what we think of ourselves and the person listening. It says that if we slouch, with our head down, looking at our feet, as people with social anxiety or phobia often do, we look as if we don't think much of ourselves. But if we stand tall, with our shoulders back, military-style, we look confident and competent. People are more likely to be interested in wanting to know us because of the self-assurance and pride in ourselves our posture gives the impression of. We'll also look as if we're inviting interaction with other people more.
But it says that if we have our arms and legs crossed or close to the body, if we're leaning back, turning away or looking away, it seems that we're not interested or available to talk to. However, if our position looks more open, with legs and arms uncrossed, leaning forward a little, facing the other person, or making eye contact, it seems as if we are interested and available.
It says our voice is important in the impression we give as well. It says our voice quality conveys enthusiasm, sincerity, friendliness and interest in what we're talking about. It says that if we sound sincere and enthusiastic, our listener will be likely to focus interestedly on what we're saying; but if we don't, the listener will pick up on that straightaway, and their eyes will glaze over and they'll lose interest. It says we don't have to worry too much if we notice they've done that, because we can regain their attention by pausing for emphasis, or speaking more quietly. It says that if we speak almost in a whisper, the listener will have to strain to hear us, so they'll listen more. And it says speaking in a slightly lower voice can make us sound more relaxed and authoritative.
It says it can help our voice quality if we stand up when speaking whenever we can, because we can project our voice better. It says that smiling when we speak can help our voice sound more friendly even when we're on the phone.
It says when we are on the phone, we should take care not to speak too fast. It says speaking a little too slowly is better than speaking fast. It says that if we get a frog in our throat, it'll most likely be a sign of poor breathing due to tension. It suggests we excuse ourselves for a minute and take a sip of a warm drink, or take a deep breath, or imagine we're somewhere nice and relaxing. Then we should put on a smile and go back to the conversation, speaking a little more slowly. It suggests that if we're feeling too anxious, we can tell the other person we'll call back in an hour, or whenever it's convenient.
It says it can be useful to have a script for phone conversations so we can read the most important things we want to say; but often, it's best to just write down the main points we want to cover to remind ourselves, since it gives us more flexibility in saying what we decide to at the time.
Well, I'll have to think about all that. I'll try practising what it says. But I'm not going to get myself into a state worrying about whether I'm doing everything it says properly.
I remember that the self-help book says that it's best not to be too concerned about strictly adopting the right social skills, since people can get on well without them, and concentrating too much on having the right social skills can stop us behaving spontaneously.
The magazine article says our clothes say a lot about our image. It says our clothing and the things we carry around with us give people an impression of our status, and also how we care about ourselves. It says they're the first thing people notice about us after the basics of race, gender and age. It says we should dress in things that make us feel comfortable, since if we feel uncomfortable, it'll make other people feel uncomfortable. But it says we ought to look as if we care for ourselves well and are clean, especially our hands.
It says that anything that looks odd or a bit outrageous will make our image less positive.
It says our movements have a lot to do with our image as well. It says we can create a more positive image with them if we walk in a way that looks unrushed and purposeful, with no exaggerated movements.
It says it's best if our gestures are subtle, and it's best not to make any more than necessary. It says it can look better if we keep our elbows close to the body and gesture from the elbows down for the most part. It says that if we keep our body relaxed and our gestures look relaxed, we're likely to feel more relaxed. It says that more excited types of behaviours can make us more anxious, since the same physical sensations are triggered off when we feel more excited, like the heart beating faster, and we can misinterpret them as anxiety sensations, and they can start our worries off. So it says it's best if our movements remain calm, and even that our facial expressions should be fairly unexcited, so they don't convey most of the communication we're trying to put across. It says our movements should look confident, deliberate, poised and relaxed.
It says that the type of language that helps us put across the best image is that which is "direct, assertive, simple, brief-and-to-the-point, and conversational".
It says it's best if we can try to keep words that make us seem uncertain about what we're saying like "um", "er", "you know", "OK" and "I mean" out of our sentences, and also things that make us sound more hesitant and long-winded, like, "I may be wrong, but ..." or, "I'm right, aren't I?"
It also says we come across better if our language is free from anything that can be interpreted as vulgar or prejudiced.
And it says it comes across better if we don't interrupt, so people are more comfortable talking and get more ideas across.
Well, I don't think I interrupt unless I'm worried I'll forget what I want to say if I don't. But then I've heard that stress makes the memory poorer, so maybe when I get more confident and feel calmer, I won't have to worry so much.
It says we can observe the way we're coming across and alter it to our liking if we practice talking to a friend while looking in a mirror if we like.
Point 2: "And I always wear heavy make-up and let my hair fall over my face to hide my blushes, because I know that every time anyone asks me to say something, I'll blush."
It may be that the problem with letting my hair fall in front of my face and wearing heavy make-up is that it actually makes me more fearful. Thinking about it, it's possible, because every time I put make-up on to hide my blushes, I think that I have to do it because otherwise, I'll look silly and people will think I am. But I don't really know whether they will or not. The school bullies said they thought that, but I think they were just using it as an excuse to pick on me really. It just gave them a good opportunity. So it wasn't my blushing that was the real issue, but their desire to be nasty, for whatever reason. So now, when I'm in an environment where I don't really think people do want to pick on me, my blushing shouldn't be too much of an issue like that.
As the self-help book says, maybe a lot of the time, people just don't notice it or pay attention, as it said in that anecdote about the woman who used to hide her face with her hair to cover her blushes, but then started tying her hair back and sitting up boldly, and she discovered that when she didn't pay any attention to her blushes, other people just didn't pay attention to them either. So maybe if I didn't keep convincing myself that I need to hide them, I'd find out that people don't really take much notice of them. I could try experimenting with not trying to hide my blushes, to see if it's true.
I think one thing that makes my blushes worse is that they embarrass me so much. They come on immediately I start to feel anxious, but then I get embarrassed about them, and because they're caused partly by embarrassment, they come on more. So if I could stop getting embarrassed about them, I'm sure it would help.
If instead of worrying about it, whenever I blushed, I thought, "So what? Who's going to remember it in five minutes anyway?" it might help.
One of the magazine articles gives a few tips on how to stop blushing, or at least not to mind it happening. It says that we can stop it getting worse because we're embarrassed about it if when we feel a blush coming on, we try to relax, since tension makes them worse. So it says it can help if we drop our shoulders, relax our bodies, and push our stomachs out. It says that can take a bit of practice, but we should get better at it.
Push our stomachs out?
It says a lot of people have a problem with blushing at some time in their lives. It says that hiding blushing can make it worse, since if we think it's a shameful secret, we're more likely to be embarrassed about it. So it says that another thing we can do is to try to make light of it, announcing it in a humorous way when it's just about to happen, if it's convenient, saying something like, "Oh, I'm just about to blush again. Must be the old nervous system playing tricks on me again".
It says that if we can accept it as part of ourselves, then it should start to go away. If we can think of it as just a funny little quirk we have at the moment rather than a shameful secret, we won't be so anxious or embarrassed about it, so it shouldn't happen so much. If we can get to like it more as a part of who we are, thinking things like, "At the moment, I'm a blusher", then it won't cause us much anxiety any more, so it'll be more likely to fade away, since it's anxiety and embarrassment that keeps it going.
Anyway, if anyone refuses to take us seriously just because we're blushing, what kind of a person are they anyway?! One who thinks too much of outward appearances and not enough about deeper things like what a person's actually saying, probably. But then I've got no evidence that people in the meetings, or anyone else I meet nowadays, will think badly of me anyway.
The magazine article says that if we do any relaxation techniques, we can do one when we have free time, where when we're feeling relaxed, we can help ourselves re-train our bodies if we can imagine ourselves blushing, and at the same time imagine relaxing and feeling accepting of ourselves. It says we can also imagine how we'd feel if we saw someone else blushing, and imagine feeling that way about ourselves. It says that if we practice that a few times, we'll get used to feeling like that, so it might be easier in places like meetings.
Point 3: "I always rehearse what I want to say several times before a meeting, and hope no one will ask me a question I'm not expecting, because then my mind might go blank with anxiety and I might not be able to say anything sensible, and then I'll look incompetent."
One of the magazine articles says it can be good to make notes beforehand of what we want to say. It says that rehearsing the whole thing, though sometimes useful, can sometimes be a less good idea than making notes, because if we forget something, we might not be able to pick up the thread of what we were saying again, and so we might lose our place completely. Just writing notes to remind ourselves of the main points we want to make and then improvising more means we won't have that problem.
If someone does ask me a question I'm not expecting, I don't suppose it would make me look too bad if I said something like, "That's an interesting one. I'll have to think for a few minutes about that."
But then I'm worried that people might ask me questions that should be easy to answer, but I won't be able to answer them because I'm too anxious to think. I think if while everyone's talking, I make a conscious effort to keep my breathing very slow and regular, while at the same time not forgetting to listen, it should help relax me, so I won't have to worry so much about that.
Point 4: "I don't like to express my opinions anyway in case they get put down and people get critical of me. I'll feel as if they're rejecting and mocking me because I don't come up to standard. But then I get depressed and frustrated, because I'd like them to know my opinions, and not telling them makes me feel as if I'm not getting what I want out of meetings."
The self-help book says that if we don't try to express our opinions, we'll carry on being convinced that people will be critical of us when we do, whereas they might support us a lot of the time if we do really. It says that not expressing our opinions because we're scared of what people will think keeps us feeling anxious, because we never find out whether our anxious thoughts about what will happen if we do are true or not. We never find out anything that contradicts our worries.
Yes, maybe doing things to help myself stay safe like keeping quiet keeps me convinced that something bad will happen if I don't. So one way I might be able to cut down my anxiety is by gradually expressing more and more opinions, and finding out what happens. Thinking about it, other people express opinions and don't get shouted down. So there's no real reason why people should treat me any differently, because I don't really think my opinions are any worse than anyone else's.
But if anyone does say harsh things to me, it might be more to do with them than me. Maybe it'll be because they're in a bad mood, or because they're just a short-tempered person, or because they're jealous that they didn't think of what I've said, or because of some other reason that doesn't have anything to do with me. And I'm sure I could learn how to deal with that kind of behaviour.
The self-help book says we shouldn't be afraid of saying no to things we don't want to do, like extra overtime or taking on responsibilities we don't feel happy with, or anything else. It says we should try to be as fair to ourselves as we are to other people, and that it won't mean we're uncaring, or rude, or selfish, or uncooperative, or bad in any way, if we say no to things, because we're treating our needs as if they're equal to those of other people.
It says that every time someone asks us to do something we're not keen on doing, but we're tempted to say yes because we're worried about standing up for ourselves, it can help us muster up the courage if we think about what we could be doing instead if we don't do what they want, the thing we'll miss out on if we do, even if it's just spending valuable time relaxing. And we should think about how we'll feel later if we agree to what they want.
I find it difficult to think of acceptable ways of saying no though. I always think it'll be offensive if I say it, or they might argue with me and make me look bad.
But the book says that there are ways of saying no with more confidence, that are likely to be more persuasive than just a simple refusal, or being too apologetic, which might make them think we're just making excuses.
It says that one way of saying no nicely is to make it clear that we appreciate being asked when we say no.
So maybe if they ask us if we'd like to take on a particular responsibility we're not keen on, for example, we could say something like,
"Thanks for asking; I appreciate you thinking of me, but I'd rather not this time."
It says we don't have to feel obliged to give reasons why; it's often good enough just to say no.
Or it says it can sound better than just a simple refusal if we say we understand they're in a difficult position.
So, for instance, if someone was off sick and we were asked if we'd mind doing their work as well as our own, but we thought we were too busy, we could maybe say something like,
"I know it's important to you that this gets done; I understand the difficulty; but I'm really very busy with my own work at the moment."
It says it can be good if we can give a short explanation like that for our refusal.
It says it can also help if we make a suggestion as to how they could solve the problem, or offer to help them out with part of it.
The book says it can also be a good strategy if we ask for time to think about whether we can do what they want. It says that often, people seem to want immediate decisions, but really, very few decisions have to be made immediately, so it's reasonable to ask for time to think, and to ask how much time they're happy to give us. When we're not feeling under pressure, we'll be able to think about it more carefully and decide what we really want.
It says it can make us feel more confident and manage things better if we learn some negotiation skills. It says the first thing we should think of when we're doing anything like negotiating with someone is how we can both come out of it with something, rather than one person thinking they've won, and the other feeling as if they've lost. If we do that, it can prevent arguments.
It says that the first thing we ought to do in such an exchange of opinions where we both want to get something out of it, whether it be at work or anywhere else, is to think about what the other person wants. It says if we don't know, we should ask their point of view rather than guessing.
Then, we can tell them exactly what we want. Even if it feels risky to ask their point of view because we know they'll disagree, it can help in building up trust, because we'll both know where we stand.
It says we shouldn't avoid the difficult issues, because they'll be the reason we need to negotiate.
It says that if we're prepared to give something up, the other person might be more willing to give something up as well, and it may be that we can make bargains.
It says it can be best if we try to make sure the conversation doesn't dry up.
It says that no matter how annoyed we are, we should try not to make personal attacks against the person we're exchanging ideas with or take what they say too personally. It's best if we can try to be as strict as possible about sticking to the issues, rather than turning the conversation to their faults.
It says we can stop ourselves reacting in anger before we've thought about what they've said properly if we summarise it before we put our points across. That'll tell them we're listening as well, which will help to build trust.
It says that if people criticize us or complain about something we've done, we should be prepared to admit to weaknesses, without either exaggerating them or dismissing them as irrelevant, because after all, everyone has them. It says it might be difficult to do if we're annoyed with the person criticizing us, but we can stop ourselves being so annoyed if we try to get what they say in perspective. It says that we can often take remarks far too seriously because we think they've got more significance than they have. It gives an example, asking whether if someone showed they were pleased with us and said something like, "Thanks for being so helpful. That was really thoughtful", we'd think they meant that thoughtfulness and helpfulness were general parts of our character. If we wouldn't, then we shouldn't think it's any different if people say things like, "That was really thoughtless. How could you be so insensitive?" or if they sound as if they're making a comment on our character like, "You're so careless", or "forgetful", or "messy", or "inefficient", or whatever. It says that people often talk as if they're making a judgment on our characters when all they're really doing is commenting on one particular thing we've done wrong. It says we shouldn't think much of criticism like that, because apart from the fact that it probably won't be true, everyone does rude or careless things from time to time, and so on, so we shouldn't think we're being singled out as being any worse than anyone else. We should accept what's true about the criticism and apologise where appropriate, but reject the rest. It says it might help us do that if we imagine what an impartial judge who knew all the facts would say on the matter.
It says that when we're apologising, often, just saying, "I'm sorry I upset you; I didn't mean to" is enough.
It says that if we want to criticize others, it can help if we just stick to the facts, rather than saying anything about them that could be perceived as an attack on their character. So if we think they keep expecting us to do too much work and don't take on much themselves, for example, we could just say, "I feel I've been doing more than my fair share of the work recently. Please can you take on more of it yourself?", rather than calling them lazy or anything.
The book says there are times when conflict can't be avoided, but if it comes to that, there are things we can do to lessen the chances of it getting too bad. It says one of these is to find out from the other person exactly what's making them angry, and then tell them exactly what's making us angry. It says that instead of assuming we're right and they're wrong, it can calm things if we think of our opinions as just different points of view, and that might help motivate us to find out more about theirs, so we understand them better.
It says that it can help if we keep to what's strictly relevant, not starting to discuss things from the past or other things that aren't really to do with what's happened this time.
It says we should try not to use blanket statements that make it seem as if we're blaming them for more than they deserve, like, "You always" or "You never" do this or that, or saying, "You make me really angry", when it's really our feelings that are doing that, not them. It says we should try not to say anything malicious, since we'll probably regret it later, especially since it'll make it more difficult for them to forgive us.
It says that if we think we're too angry to talk politely to them, or they're too angry to talk politely to us, we should take a break, not storming out, but just explaining that we think we can better resolve the matter if we're both calm, and maybe asking if they'd be happy to discuss it with us in the near future, offering to set a time with them.
It suggests that if possible, when we go away to cool off from our anger, we calm ourselves down by physical exercise, listening to relaxing music, doing relaxation exercises, or going away for a while in our imagination somewhere nice, like day-dreaming about being on a beach in the sunshine or in a nature scene with beautiful plants and trees all around.
It says that if we notice ourselves feeling anger again, we should just remind ourselves that we're having a break to cool off. It says thinking over what made us angry will just make us angry again, so that's not a good idea.
It recommends we use those techniques for calming anger in all sorts of situations where we might get angry.
Point 5: "I always keep my eye on the door, because I'm always thinking about getting away if things get too bad."
Concentrating on doing things that I hope will keep me safer must stop me concentrating so much on what's going on around me, so I'll be less able to make a good job of things, and that'll just confirm my opinion that I'm no good. So if I could try to stop doing that and other things I do to try to keep me safer, it'll help me concentrate more on what's going on around me, so I can make better contributions.
I think another way behaviours like looking at the door all the time stop me being so confident is because they keep me thinking I need to do them as a safeguard against catching people's attention when I don't want to, whereas maybe I don't need to do them. I don't really think about it; I just do them automatically. But they must give me the impression that I need to do them for protection, whereas I might not really. I think I do sometimes think that if I hadn't done them, someone might have asked me a question, and then I would have shown myself up because I wouldn't have been able to think of anything to say. And maybe they give me the false impression that if nothing bad happens, it must have been because I did them, whereas maybe nothing bad would have happened anyway. So I might be doing them when I don't need to at all, and perhaps carrying on doing them stops me learning that nothing too bad is that likely to happen if I don't.
And sometimes, I know they've made things worse, because people have noticed me doing them and asked me why, and that's been embarrassing.
The self-help book says we should try doing little experiments in doing things differently, and then afterwards think about what we found out about what happened when we did, asking ourselves if what we thought would happen really did.
It says we should start each experiment by thinking of something we do to protect ourselves from something we're worried will happen, like keeping quiet all through a meeting so we won't get criticized. We should ask ourselves exactly what we do to protect ourselves now, and then ask ourselves what we imagine would happen if we didn't do it, and why we think it would happen.
I suppose with meetings, for me, I'm worried that if I speak up, I'll be ridiculed, and if I don't look at the door, it'll be more easy for people to catch my eye and ask me questions I would have to answer. I'm not sure why I assume they're going to be hostile though, because they've never been nasty to me before.
The book says we should try to work out whether any memories of bad things are contributing to us feeling uncomfortable enough to want to protect ourselves or avoid things now.
I think the bullying must have made me assume people are likely to be hostile.
The book says that then, we should imagine that what we fear will happen is just a theory we have about what might happen, and we're going to go into a situation curiously, doing something differently to see what happens, perhaps like a scientist doing an experiment, prepared to weigh up all the evidence for and against our theory.
So for me, I could just think of myself as having a theory that if I don't look at the door, people will get the better of me somehow. I could go into the next meeting thinking of myself as doing an experiment involving not looking at the door, to see if people do ask me more questions; and if they do, I could imagine I'm curious to find out how well I can answer them, and whether people do mock me if I can't.
It says that after each experiment, we should have a think about what happened, and ask ourselves whether what we thought would happen did.
It goes into more detail about how we can do experiments on each of our behaviours in turn.
It says that common behaviours that socially anxious people use to try to protect ourselves can include looking down so no one will catch our eye, speaking quietly, doing something with our hands to stop people realising how nervous we are, and letting our hair fall in front of our face to hide our blushes. It calls these things safety behaviours.
It says that safety behaviours can be such habits that we don't even realise we're doing them. It says they can include things we don't do as well as things we do, like not telling jokes and not talking about ourselves. It says that we can try to identify safety behaviours we do without even noticing we're doing them by thinking about a recent situation, and working out what we did to make ourselves feel less vulnerable.
I suppose one of mind could be when I wouldn't go round to see my neighbours until I felt sure not many of them would be around; and another could be when I started mumbling when I was speaking to people at the wedding reception, maybe because speaking up might have meant they took in what I said better and were more likely to criticize it, although I didn't really think of it like that at the time; I just did it automatically.
The self-help book says we ought to think about places we've been to recently and work out what safety behaviours we've done, write them down, and add any new ones we think of when we remember them. It says another thing that might help us think of them is if we think of how we have assumed the situation could have been worse if we hadn't done certain things, like if we hadn't rehearsed what we wanted to say before we said it, perhaps. It says we can also ask ourselves questions to help us work out what our safety behaviours are if we think that will help, like:
It says that when we've thought of safety behaviours we do to try to protect ourselves, we should try to think of what we fear would happen if we didn't do them. It says we could help ourselves by thinking of a past event where we did them and trying to work out what we were worried would happen if we didn't, or thinking of a future event where we might do them, and trying to work out the same thing. It says we can ask ourselves questions to help us if we like, like:
What are we worried will happen if we don't do them? What could go wrong?
It says the most important question we should ask ourselves is:
What's the worst thing that could happen?
It recommends we write down our answer to help us remember it when we're thinking it through.
It says that sometimes, when we really think about the worst thing we fear, we can realise it doesn't sound all that bad after all, or we can realise it's so unlikely that it isn't something worth fearing after all, like that everyone will point at us and start laughing. But it says that some predictions might be more likely, like if we're worried that people will make fun of us for blushing because school bullies did that in the past.
It says we should word our predictions in phrases that will make them easily testable, for when we do the experiments to find out whether our theories about what will happen are right. So they could be things like, "I think I'll shake and spill my drink", or, "People will think I haven't got anything worthwhile to say", and so on. Or when our theories are about other people, plain ways of wording them would be things like, "They'll stare at me", or, "They'll ignore me". The things we predict will happen need to be easily observable.
It says that if we want to test out people's thoughts and attitudes, we'll have to think out ways of doing that, but it'll be more difficult, because we might think people are thinking one thing because of signs we've picked up about their thoughts that might really mean something totally different. So, for instance, if they yawn or turn away, we might think they think we're boring or they don't want to know us, whereas there might really be lots of different reasons why they could be doing it, like tiredness because they didn't get much sleep last night or they've had a hard day, or the room's stuffy and they need some fresh air and there's a window near them on the other side, or they just think the subject's boring, not us, and so on. So it might be better to stick to testing behaviour, or our own feelings.
The book says that then, we should think about how to do the first one of our experiments where we risk not using safety behaviours to see what happens. It says we should first think of something we'd like to be able to do differently, like plucking up the courage to start a conversation with someone, or eating in public, or talking on the phone when other people are listening in the background, perhaps. It says we should make specific plans about what we'll do differently. So, for instance, we could decide to eat something, or tell people what we think instead of just agreeing with them, or try to relax instead of tensing ourselves up to control our shaking, or introduce ourselves to someone, and so on. When we do those things, we'll be able to find out whether we really needed to be afraid of what would happen or not.
It says it can seem risky, but it's worth doing, because we might discover that we're better at adapting to new situations than we thought, and that will help us build up confidence. It recommends that if we feel anxious at first when we do an experiment, we do the same thing some more times to see if our anxiety gradually dies down.
The self-help book says we should write a list of all the things we can think of that we'd like to be able to do eventually, in all parts of our life, once we're no longer avoiding things or trying to protect ourselves in various ways like keeping quiet when we'd like to speak up. It says then, we'll have something to aim for, so we'll know that if we try to change our behaviours and it's a bit difficult, we'll know we're doing it for a good reason.
It says we don't have to worry about not doing things in the proper way, because there's no right way of doing a lot of things in social situations; once we've learned to relax and be less inhibited, our way might end up being just as good as anyone else's.
It says that the thing we should do last in our mini-experiment is to think afterwards about what happened when we did something without using a usual safety behaviour. It says we should make sure we stick to the facts, and don't jump to conclusions based on what we think people must have been thinking, or think worse things happened than they did, because we felt anxious so we feel as if people must have noticed and thought we were stupid, or something, when we won't know that.
It says it helps if we write down what we think about how accurate all of our predictions were. Then, if they weren't all that accurate after all, we can read what we've written next time we plan to do an experiment like that, and it'll reassure us.
The self-help book says we might worry that the worst thing we fear really might happen to us, but it rarely does to people. It says it's more likely to happen if we keep on with our safety behaviours. It gives the example of someone who thought he always ought to tell jokes, because he was scared that people would reject him if he wasn't lively; but once he started to be his normal quiet self, he realised that people hadn't liked his jokes, and they were more likely to ridicule him for telling them, since they weren't very good, than they were for his being quiet.
It says that another thing is that if the worst thing we fear does happen to us, it might not be nearly as bad as we think. It gives an example, suggesting we imagine we were always too scared before to reveal our feelings and thoughts to people, but one day, we did reveal them to someone, and they seemed to just dismiss them as if they didn't matter, or they seemed bored, as if they didn't think they were serious enough to be interested in or didn't care. It asks how we'd really know what they thought, and what they felt, or what their reactions really meant. They might have misunderstood what we said, or they just might not have realised how important confiding in them was for us and so didn't treat our feelings and thoughts with the importance we thought they should have. It says that people often don't respond in the ways we'd like them to, but there are many reasons why. It says that even if people appear to be insensitive, it doesn't mean we're any less acceptable as people, or that our thoughts are less meaningful and important. It says it's best to try not to take things too personally, since we won't really know why the person's reacting in the way they are.
The book says we can do the same kind of experiments with things we'd usually downright avoid doing, whether the avoidance is obvious, like not going to various places for fear we'll meet people or not eating in public, or whether it's more subtle, like not starting conversations with people, or getting out of talking to people at parties by helping with the food.
It says that when we start changing our behaviour, it's best to do easier things at first and then build up to doing harder ones when we're more confident. It gives the examples of starting by greeting people when we meet them and gradually moving up to having full-length conversations with them, or starting by listening to other people and watching what they do, and building up slowly to asking if they'd mind us joining them for lunch. It says it can help us gain more confidence if we find someone we'll have quite a lot in common with, like if we're both studying the same thing in an evening class, so we'll find it easier to find things to talk about; and that will make us more confident for when we talk to people with less in common with us.
It says it's easy to dismiss the progress we make towards doing what we'd like to do as insignificant, because we think that other people do those things with no problem, so we might think it's not really significant that we can. So it says it's important to write down all the worries we have about what we predict will happen before we go into a situation, so if we've achieved it with no problems, we can find out how much progress we've really made, and be pleased with ourselves instead, because for us, it was difficult, and yet we managed it. And knowing that, the next time we decide to do a mini-experiment, if nothing too bad went wrong last time, we might be more optimistic about what'll happen than we were before.
It says that if we keep written records of the results of our experiments in a notebook, we can look at them from time to time and be encouraged by how much progress we're making.
It says another type of experiment we can do is to deliberately make it seem as if our anxiety symptoms are worse than they really are, to see what happens, like making ourselves shake enough that people notice, or deliberately stumbling over our words or repeating ourselves. It says we should make a prediction about what we fear will happen before we do those things, and then think about whether we were right afterwards.
It says that many people with social phobia find that difficult to do, because many are worried it'll mean doing the wrong thing, thinking there's a right way and a wrong way to do things. But if we do do things like that and find out that nothing bad happened after all and people didn't pay much attention, it can really reassure us.
It says the idea of the experiments isn't to learn how to do things right, because no one gets things right all the time, and often, there isn't one right way of doing things anyway. And it says that the idea isn't to learn how to prevent bad things from happening to us, because no one can do that; everyone will suffer the odd rejection occasionally, or feel really embarrassed, or be boring because they can't think of anything interesting to say to someone, and so on. So it says that if those things still happen to us sometimes, we shouldn't think it reflects especially badly on us. It says that as we grow more confident, we'll stop thinking these things are so serious, and just treat them as trivial things we can easily forget. It says that we can make a lot of mistakes without people even noticing, and mistakes can be good, because we can learn from them, for instance if we trip over something, we can learn to look where we're going better.
The self-help book recommends that busy people even give up something to enable them to work on curing themselves. It says it's best to work out and write down a plan of recovery, deciding what to do when, because otherwise, we might go from one thing to another without trying anything well enough for it to work, and then concluding that nothing does. So it's best to write out the things we plan to do, and make a schedule as far as possible about when we're going to do them.
It says that some people give up trying to change their behaviour because they don't think they're making any progress, but sometimes, other people can tell they are, but it might be gradual. So it encourages us to keep going. It says that progress can sometimes start off slowly but get faster and faster. It says that one problem people can have is that it can be much easier to remember things that went badly than to remember things that went well, because they can give us much stronger feelings because they can be upsetting; so if we write down the things that went well, we can remind ourselves. It says that if we learn to praise ourselves even for little things we've achieved, our confidence will grow faster.
It says that sometimes, people can under-rate their successes because they think they're things most people wouldn't have any problem doing, so we should remind ourselves that it was extra difficult for us. It gives some examples of upsetting thoughts we might get, and thoughts we can think to stop ourselves believing them:
And so on. It says we'll just make ourselves feel bad by unfairly belittling our successes, and then we'll have less motivation to keep on trying. So thinking of them in terms of what they'd mean for someone as anxious as us rather than thinking about whether normal people could achieve them can help us get things in the right perspective. It suggests we think about how we'd encourage someone else with the same problem trying to recover the same way, and then we'll know that encouragement will be appropriate for us as well.
It says that if we feel anxious while doing new things, we should remember that the anxiety is very likely to be temporary, and it will go away when we get more confident.
It says everyone trying to recover from social phobia has setbacks, where something they did successfully one day feels more difficult or even impossible the next, because it makes them more anxious for some reason. But we don't need to be discouraged by them, because things can easily change back again. It says that setbacks can sometimes just happen because we're tired or not very well, which made things more difficult. Or it might be that other people put us in situations we weren't ready for, like if someone invites us out when we don't feel ready to go, or if someone asks us to explain why we disagree with a decision that was made at work. It says other people will be far less aware of our anxiety than we are. They might not even notice it. So we don't have to feel too bad if we didn't do as well as we were hoping.
It says that if we feel we need a little break in between experiments to build up our courage again after the last time, that's fine, as long as it doesn't end up being an excuse for putting things off.
It says that if we feel stuck, unable to make progress, it might be because we're trying things that are too difficult, and we ought to go back to trying easier things for a while to boost our confidence.
It says we shouldn't worry if it takes time to change our thinking patterns and behaviour, because that won't be unusual, and it won't mean progress isn't being made.
It says we can recover more quickly if we practise behaving confidently and changing our behaviour whenever we get the opportunity, as well as doing specific experiments. So we should take the chance to talk to people in bus queues or join in conversations more, and so on, if we can. It recommends we stop doing our safety behaviours as much as we can in everyday situations. So, for example, we might exchange a few words with shop assistants instead of buying things without saying anything, and start conversations with people at work in their breaks.
It says that if this kind of thing makes us really anxious, there are a few things we can do:
Before an experiment we're planning or event we're going to, it can help if we distract ourselves as much as possible from it by keeping busy in any way we can, so we're not worrying and worrying about it, thinking about all the things that could possibly go wrong and making ourselves more and more anxious. A lot of the things we worry about might never happen, so it's best to just try to keep our minds off things once we've made our plans for our experiment.
It says that afterwards, we should try not to start dwelling on all the things we imagine might have gone wrong, since we can exaggerate their significance in our minds and we can end up thinking they were much worse than they really were and feeling much worse than we need to. So it says that again, we should try to distract ourselves by doing other things, preferably things we enjoy or will get absorbed in.
It says that during the event where we're doing our experiment, it can help if we try to pay as little attention to our feelings as we can, trying to pay more attention to what's going on around us than we do to our thoughts, interpretations of what's happening and feelings, since again, we might be exaggerating the significance of the things that happen and feeling much worse than we need to.
It says that when we start to do things that will help us recover from our social anxiety, it's best to work at them continually rather than taking much of a break from trying, since that might become an excuse for not facing up to the problem or not making the effort to work out how to get rid of it.
One of the magazine articles says we can do this kind of thing in our imaginations first. It says we should make a list of all the things that scare us but that we wish didn't. Then we can work out how to work up to doing each one gradually in our imagination. So if what would scare us is speaking up in front of five of our work colleagues in a meeting, we can first imagine speaking to one, and then two, and then three, etc. And then we can do that for real, going to make conversation with one, and then two, etc. It says we can break that down still further into very little steps if we want, first imagining just being with a work colleague before imagining expressing an opinion to them.
It says that when we imagine doing these things, we should sit somewhere comfortable, close our eyes, and try to make the scene as realistic as possible in our minds, first imagining something very brief that doesn't make us feel very anxious at all, like walking towards someone and smiling at them on the way past them. We can imagine doing that repeatedly until it doesn't make us anxious at all, and in fact it bores us.
Then we can imagine ourselves walking past them saying hello to them several times until that no longer makes us anxious and in fact it bores us.
Then we can move on to imagining ourselves stopping to talk to them, making a few comments on the weather, and then walking past. And we can do that until it bores us.
Then we can move on to something a bit bolder, like expressing an opinion to them, or whatever. And we can practice that several times till it no longer makes us anxious and in fact bores us.
Then we can start doing those things in real life, building up to expressing opinions to people. It may be that once we've done them to the point where we're bored of them in our imaginations, they won't bother us in real life, if we imagined the scenes realistically.
It says that if we like, after each time we've imagined a scene, we can open our eyes again, and do a few minutes of breathing exercises, breathing in and out very slowly and evenly, every time what we're imagining begins to make us anxious, or before we imagine doing any new thing. That should help us, since slow, controlled breathing calms anxiety.
It says it's best not to do too many new things in one session of that if we think they're going to make us more anxious than we're happy with. But it says we can make notes of how well we're doing, so we'll be encouraged to carry on. And it says that if we're doing quite well, it's allright to skip some of the little steps we've thought up and go on to bigger things. So for example, if we were working up to expressing opinions to five work colleagues by imagining speaking to one first, then two, then three, then four, but then we find out that imagining expressing an opinion to one doesn't really bother us at all, we can go straight on to imagining expressing an opinion to three people, skipping past two. But then if we find doing bigger things too daunting, we can always go back to smaller things again for a while.
It says another example might be going up and talking to the boss. It says we can sit somewhere comfortable and relaxing, and then first perhaps just imagine walking past the boss smiling till that doesn't bother us, and then imagine stopping to say a few friendly words, etc.
It says we can apply these exercises to any type of social situation that bothers us.
Well, I'll do a bit of planning. I'll write a list of the things I'd like to do if I wasn't scared to do them, and then I'll think about each one, trying to work out how I could imagine doing things that got me gradually closer and closer to doing it until I was doing it. I could write all the little steps I think of down so I don't forget them.
One of the magazine articles says we can plan to give ourselves little rewards whenever we've done something that makes us a bit anxious as part of our recovery, so we'll be encouraged to continue. That sounds like a nice idea.
It says it can be a good idea if we think back to a time when we were doing something successfully, and try to create an image of that in our minds. And we can think about how we imagine we'd like to behave when we've recovered, and build an image in our minds of the kinds of things we imagine we'll be doing that will make us happy. Then we can often think of those images, especially in times of stress, along with reading about the progress towards recovery we've made so far, and they should encourage us to continue working towards recovery by reminding us of how good our reasons are for wanting to get better.
Point 6: "I'm always worried before a meeting that my voice will start trembling, or that I'll forget what to say, or that someone will ask me something I don't know about, or lots of other things like that."
I think it was the bullies and my teachers that made me worry so much about this kind of thing. And my parents made it worse by criticizing me and not understanding. I feel very angry about those things sometimes.
One of the magazine articles says we can cut down on the amount of anger we feel and make ourselves feel more cheerful if we forgive our parents and anyone else who did unkind things to us.
We might not think they deserve it, but it says it's for our benefit, not for the benefit of the people we're forgiving. It says that if we carry around anger with us, it can damage our relations with other people and eventually contribute to health problems like heart attacks.
It says one thing that can help is if we reflect that whatever the effect was on us of their behaviour, they probably didn't realise what it would be when they did the things we're angry and upset with them for. They might not have been out to deliberately cause us harm, but their behaviour would have been partly a result of the way they were brought up, what they were afraid of, what they were trying to achieve, and so on.
Maybe the teachers who called me stupid when I got the words I was reading mixed up in class really thought that would motivate me to do better. Or maybe they were brought up to believe that that's the best way of talking to people when they don't do things right; or maybe they were impatient because they were stressed about their work. Those aren't good excuses for their behaviour, and it doesn't justify what they did, but at least I might be able to be less angry with them if I can understand them better.
Maybe the bullies were a bit scared of outsiders really and wanted to ward them off because they felt threatened by them. Or maybe they loved the thrill of bullying so much that they were addicted to it, so they didn't stop to think about how it was making me feel, so they didn't think about how much it was upsetting me.
Maybe Dad's so critical of me because he was brought up to believe that everyone should be able to solve their own problems if they just pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
So maybe people's insensitivity isn't all their fault.
The magazine article says that dwelling on the past will only make us miserable. If we can say, "It's over. From now on, I'm focusing on how to give myself a brighter future", we'll be freer to concentrate on what will make us happier.
I think the more I get over my social phobia, the easier it will be to put the past bad things out of my mind, forgive people and move on.
There's one thing I want to make sure of though. I don't want this suffering to have all happened for nothing. I want it to at least have been worthwhile in some way. When I get better, I want to make sure something positive comes out of it. Perhaps when I get well enough that other people talking about their phobias doesn't upset me because it reminds me of how bad mine was, I could try to help other people recover from phobias.
This article is written slightly differently from most articles. All the information in most of the articles in this series is written as if by someone finding out a lot of helpful information for the first time, just learning about it. That person themselves isn't real; they're just a representative of a lot of others suffering the same thing. Any little anecdotes they tell about their personal lives or those of people they know almost always have really happened though, usually either to the author or to someone else known to the author. The article comes with a very short story about them to set the scene, and then carries on by presenting all the self-help information as if it's what they're finding out and what they think of it.
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Louise has developed a social phobia. Her fear seemed to get much worse when she was in her mid teens. Now, at the age of 23, she still lives with her parents, even though her father criticizes her for still living at home, saying they wish she'd move out. He just doesn't seem to understand her fears. It isn't as if 23's all that old anyway, but she still feels inadequate because of his unreasonable criticisms.
Her mother was always over-protective of her, constantly warning her not to stay out after dark or go out without a coat when the weather got colder, or go near her schoolmates when they developed coughs and colds. Her mother's very anxious herself. Louise thinks this might have contributed to her social phobia.
But also, her father was in the army for most of her life, and they had to move from place to place, which meant she didn't have much of a chance to develop new friendships and learn good communication skills by interacting with familiar friends.
Worse, she was bullied at every new school she went to. People made fun of her because her accent wasn't like theirs, because it was like the one in the place she'd just left. And they called her ugly and fat, even though she wasn't really, or other unkind things.
Because of her anxiety about being at school, Louise began to stutter and her mind would go blank whenever teachers would ask her to say something, which gave them the impression that she was stupid, so they often criticized her unkindly. So she became more and more anxious, thinking she just wasn't acceptable to people and was inferior and stupid.
When she did do a good piece of work and took it home, sometimes she'd be praised, but sometimes she'd be criticized for not doing even better, so she could never be sure what was going to happen. The uncertainty made her more anxious.
She felt a lot of uncertainty in other ways also, since sometimes when she went to her mother about a problem, her mother would sympathise, but sometimes, she'd shout at her for being a nuisance while she was busy, or for not being able to cope with it herself; and it took a while for Louise to work out how to predict when she was likely to get what reaction and only go to her mother when she knew she was in a good mood. So she felt insecure.
Because Louise never got the opportunity to develop good friendships with people and improve her communication skills, she began to feel inadequate in company where she felt she wasn't as witty and good at conversation as everyone else. She thought there must be something odd about her and that no one could like her.
However, she wasn't nearly as bad at communicating as she thought. The problem was that the more anxious she became, the more she focused on her supposed inadequacies, and so the less she concentrated on taking part in conversation, so she never got the chance to become confident in her conversational skills. Her growing anxiety turned into a phobia.
Now, she thinks she's a hopeless communicator, and thinks she must be fat and unattractive. She's sure no one will want to know her once they start speaking to her. She's got no confidence. She has got a job, but it's boring and repetitive, not at all what she'd like to have done. But she doesn't feel she's got the confidence to go for anything better, because it would mean having to meet more people and be trained, and if she found it difficult to do something she was being trained to do, she feels it would show up her inadequacies and make her look bad and feel worse, because people would judge her and criticize her.
She's become scared to converse with people in public, worrying that she'll make a fool of herself or they'll think she's boring or silly or unintelligent, or she won't be able to think of anything to say.
She gets panicky at the thought of eating in public or of doing anything where she's likely to be the focus of attention or might do something wrong, in case she looks bad.
She stays in a lot of the time, because going out where she might meet people frightens her so much.
When she does go out to social occasions, she does things to try to limit her anxiety, like turning away when she sees someone coming who she worries about talking to, so they'll think she isn't interested and hopefully go away. She doesn't like to walk into a room alone, so she waits for someone else to go in and then creeps in behind them, hoping they'll get all the attention.
For hours before she goes to a social occasion, she worries about what might happen - whether she'll make a fool of herself by not being able to think of what to say, or by not being able to hide her trembling and blushing, or whether people will ask her to talk about things she doesn't know about.
Afterwards, she thinks through what happened, criticizing herself for every tiny little thing she feels she did wrong, like if she didn't look at someone enough, or was too anxious to concentrate on what she was saying properly so she got her words mixed up. She feels sure people must think she's stupid because of it, so she feels stupid herself, and can criticize herself for it for ages.
A lot of the time though, she doesn't dare go out at all. So her life's boring, because she doesn't develop new interests. And she sometimes feels lonely, but she doesn't know how she can feel comfortable meeting more people. She feels as if she's a failure, and that everyone seems to be more capable than her. She knows her fear's way out of proportion to the real risks, but she feels as if she just can't help it, and this makes her feel even more inadequate and inferior.
Sometimes, when she does meet people, she accidentally puts them off her by being aggressive towards them, because she expects them to be hostile towards her, and so she behaves defensively.
She gets depressed at the thought that she could have the anxiety disorder for years and years. She worries that it'll mean she'll never achieve anything in life.
One day, her mother buys her a self-help book, and gives her a few articles on social phobia she's found in magazines, in the hope that she'll get over her anxiety problem and become more confident. Louise finds them interesting, and starts to put what they teach into operation.
Over the coming weeks, there's a big improvement in her mental health.
Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.
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