How I cured my social anxiety, and how you can too - Social Anxiety Forum
 
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-26-2019, 01:36 AM Thread Starter
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How I cured my social anxiety, and how you can too


Hey all,

I would like to share my story which, hopefully, will inspire others to make the same changes in their lives as I did in mine. Please note that I am in no way an expert on psychology, and I can only share what worked for me, without knowing for certain that it will work for other people. At the same time, the principles I'm going to talk about are pretty universal, as they are based on the basics of what causes our feelings and emotions, so I do believe that anyone following them will be successful.


1. Childhood


I had been afraid of strangers since I was a little kid. One of my memories is me in tears at the age of 8, when my mother gave me some money and asked me to walk over to the clerk in a store and buy a few candies - when I finally mastered the courage to ask for the candies, my voice came out weak and shaky, which only made me more embarrassed. I grew out of those extreme fears as my parents exposed me to more and more such situations, but you can imagine how painful it was.
Later, for years I was severely bullied at school for my oddities (I have never really fit into societal expectations). I did not have any support in dealing with the bullies, and I was so ashamed of not being to stand up to them that I never shared my problems with anyone, not even my parents.
The result of this was, of course, social anxiety. It was being developed gradually, but by the time I was around 14, I had developed all kinds of social fears that made my life difficult. I would be afraid of going to a grocery store and come up with various excuses to avoid having to go when my mother asked me to. My spare time consisted of me playing video games and watching movies at home, and while I would go out with my family every now and then, it was all pretty forced.

At some point, something broke in me. At school, I gave in to the bullies and started trying to be like them in order to be accepted. For several years, I would behave like a genuine jerk, messing with people, pranking teachers and so on. I would talk to people, even those who I liked, in a toxic and sarcastic way.
Looking back, I can see that it was merely a coping mechanism. I was suffering inside, and all those exploits masked the real problem.
At the same time, it was an expression of my inner conflict. My anxiety was constantly pushed back by my immense internal energy. I have always wanted to do a lot of things in life, to see a lot, to experience a lot. There was a lion inside me wanting out, and there was the cage (the anxiety) not letting it out. This struggle would move me to do bizarre things which I did not want to do.


2. Late teens - early 20-s

Things improved significantly when I started my undergraduate studies at a very prestigious university. Being accepted into such a place after a lot of effort studying really boosted my confidence, and I was starting to feel like a grown adult. People at the university were much nicer than at school, and were relatively accepting of my oddities. This was the first time in my life when I had the feeling of belonging somewhere.

I was still very uncomfortable in social situations, but it wasn't as debilitating as before, and I started trying various things. I tutored two high school students, which was an interesting experience. I also travelled to a few countries, to visit my relatives, or to work on my undergraduate/master's research. I didn't enjoy living in my country, so I started preparing for getting into a PhD program in the US. Things were looking up, and I felt a tremendous growth as an individual.

But despite all these successes, I wasn't happy with what I was like as a person. What I wanted to be like strongly differed from what I was like. I wanted to be a cheerful guy, enjoying life, spending time with those I like, doing fun things outdoors. Instead, I would hide from the world behind the computer screen.
I remember that time in Japan when I was on a scientific conference, and at the end of the conference there was a party. A lot of people attended it, and it was very noisy outside. I wanted to join them, but I was afraid of looking awkward, so I was playing some game on my laptop in a tiny dormitory room, looking outside with sadness.


3. Shift in consciousness

Our mind is a funny thing. Sometimes we hear something many times throughout our lives without giving it much attention. Then someone puts it in a certain way, and suddenly everything "clicks" and we discover something profound about the world. Something similar happened to me.

I was around 22, arguing about something political with my classmate. In the heat of the argument, he said something like this:
"There is no objective truth here. What you believe in is true for you; what I believe in is true for me."
I was stunned. Suddenly all the psychological books I've read over the years, trying to understand what was wrong with me, made a lot of sense. Was my anxiety caused by nothing more than interpreting my experiences the wrong way?
I started thinking back to the time when I was bullied at school. It was a painful experience, and it made me see humans as scary beings - but were those thugs who bullied me really representative of humanity as a whole? I also remembered a lot of people who, on the other hand, treated me really well - and I realised that I never properly credited them for it before! My view on people as a whole made me dismiss those experiences. I thought that, whenever people treated me well, they were being dishonest and secretly thought I was a crazy person.

That is when I remembered the psychological technique called "reframing", something I had not taken seriously before. I was framing all of my social experiences in a negative way. Could I change it into framing them in a positive way instead?

But there was more to it. It wasn't just about how I treated social situations. I realised that my problem was deeper, that I had a negative outlook on life as a whole. Even when doing activities which I enjoyed, I always had this feeling down in my stomach as if something was wrong. I managed to see negative aspects in absolutely everything I could think of. Could I change it?

I latched onto this idea and decided to develop it as far as I could. And it turned out to be the holy grail, the solution to my problem.


4. Developing positive thinking

It wasn't all roses, of course: one does not suddenly become a positive person just over realising that positivity is a good attitude. Too many "bugs" in our psychological software to fix.
In my struggle for becoming a positive person, I was obviously held back by my negative mindset. I found myself unable to easily reframe most things to see them in a positive light. I would try to do so, but my subconscious mind would not believe my conscious attempts to see the light in the darkness.
This is where my stubbornness saved me: I refused to give up no matter what. Every time my thinking shifted to negative thinking, I would try to catch it and pull it back into positivity. And again and again.

In a few weeks, something started happening. I don't know how best to describe it, but my subconscious thinking was changing. I looked at the same experiences as I did in the past, and they looked brighter. I talked to people, and they seemed friendlier than before. I walked around in the city and saw its beauty.

I kept pushing in my strive to be positive. Along the way, I realised that humor was very important in it. There are some things that are just bad, no matter how we look at them - but if we do not take them seriously, then they no longer seem like a big deal, and if we take them humorously, then they can even brighten our day.
Suppose someone yelled at me. If I was dead serious, then I would feel awful about it. But by seeing the situation as funny ("Wow, this guy has a loud voice. He really should consider becoming an opera singer!"), I could actually enjoy it! Of course, it is not so easy to see it in a humorous way in the heat of the situation, but I found that such a reaction can be cultivated over time.

Eventually, I became a very optimistic person. I did have a lot of insecurities, of course, but I could always see something positive even in them. People always commented on how often I smiled, how nice I was to others, how articulate I was in conversations.
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-26-2019, 01:37 AM Thread Starter
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5. The beginning of life

In June 2014, I stepped on the American soil to finally live here, in the country of my dreams. I was accepted in a fairly strong PhD program, and I felt on top of the world.
Was I completely free of social anxiety? Probably not, but I was no longer that nervous wreck I used to be. The anxiety was not that big of a deal, compared to my immense developed optimism and humor. I was looking forward to finally started living the life of my own design.

Up until then, I lived with my parents. Now I had to take care of myself, and that forced me far out of my comfort zone, for which I am extremely grateful to life. I was receiving a decent income for which I had to work hard. I rented a room in a house with multiple students living in it, and later my own apartment.
There is something liberating about not relying on your parents any more. I had to learn how to properly cook. I had to buy everything myself, from groceries to toiletries. I had to interact with multiple students and professors with no one to stand up for me, but myself.

What made this process easier was how amazing Americans as people are. Back where I was from, it was normal for people to constantly put each other down, to frown, to think only about themselves. In the US, on the other hand, people smile at each other, pat each other on the shoulder, constantly pump each other up with compliments and friendly jokes. I was, and still am, having a blast living in this society.
I made several really close friends. I realised that in the past I never really had friends, just acquaintances - but these friends are real, someone I can rely on and who can rely on me. And even many of the acquaintances I have, I find, will always have my back, as I will theirs.

In June-2018, I decided to finally take driving lessons, and in November-2018 a new shiny car was parked by my apartment. I took my first cross-country road trip in December-January. During that road trip I finally realised: I am happy. With the trip. With my life. With everything!

I am starting a new PhD program next year, finally switching from physics to mathematics, something I have always dreamed about. I am incredibly optimistic about it; cannot wait to start! As far as my life goes, at least, right now is the happiest it has ever been, and I am looking forward to see what tomorrow brings. Each day I wake up with a wide smile. I smile very often, perhaps even too often! As it should be.


6. Current state of things

All these things over time eliminated my anxiety completely. Am I 100% comfortable talking to people nowadays? Of course not, but then, I do not think most people are either: everyone has insecurities.
There are moments when I want to talk to someone and feel a knot in my stomach. But I always can make a little internal push and go for it. I do not let the fears of what "might" happen enter my conscious mind, and when they try to creep in, I forcefully visualise a positive outcome and go for it with optimism.

For example, during my recent visit at Louisiana State University, I was invited for a party with other students there. I didn't know anyone there, and as I walked towards a room with a lot of people in it, eating food and talking eagerly, I paused for a moment. "What do I do, what will I say? What will they think of me?"
"Well, let's find out!", I thought, looked into the room with determination, walked in and, after a moment's hesitation, greeted everyone inside with a smile. What followed was an amazing conversation with amazing people, and we parted with smiles and handshakes.

I am now starting to work on the next stage of my personal development: becoming an energetic outspoken person which my nature compels me to be. I am no longer satisfied with just enjoying talking to people, I want to go much further. I want to be able to walk on a crowded street and sing out loud the songs I love, while smiling and waving at people. I want to friendly mess with cashiers, making their day brighter. I do not want to be "normal", I want to be true to myself, however "myself" differs from the societal expectations. I am a very friendly and optimistic guy, and I want to broadcast that friendliness and optimism openly, making others feel as happy as I myself am.

One thing I realised is that, for that to happen, I need to take a step further in my positive thinking process. Currently I am trying to reframe everything in a way that supports the following narrative: "Everyone loves me. Everyone wants to be my friend. Even those who mistreat me, do it only because of their own insecurities and inability to cope with my awesomeness." Sounds cheesy? Perhaps, but that's how I want to feel about myself, and not out of arrogance, but out of the need to share my happiness with others. I cannot do so if I do not deeply believe into how awesome I am.
Once I convince myself deep enough of it, once I see everything in my life in this light, then I will start extreme exposure exercises - which will no longer really be extreme, given how confident I will feel about myself. I could force myself right now to go out and sing out loud, but I want to do it right, in a way that makes it feel good, rather than scary - and I believe that I have a way to make that happen.

I would also like eventually to have a deep and meaningful relationship. And unlike in the past, I am perfectly confident that it will happen soon.


7. The take-away


Social anxiety, as well as any irrational fear in general, is a product of our imagination. What I want you guys to take home from this is that you can change how your imagination works with a bit of effort and persistence. Here are the changes you can make:

- Instead of expecting bad things to happen, you can expect good things to happen.
- Instead of taking negative events seriously, you can take them humorously and even enjoy them.
- Instead of feeling bad about your past experiences, you can learn to feel good about them by reframing them.
- Instead of worrying about what other people think about you, you can get curious about it and want to find out.
- Instead of letting your fears control you, you can learn to push them away and go for what you want to do.

I do not believe in exposure therapy without the preceding emotional and mental growth: you can't learn much if you constantly feel bad about your exposures. But you can condition your mind to feel good about your life, to look forwards to new experiences, to be optimistic about your feature - and then the exposures will merely condition you to act according to your nature, and will not be painful and embarrassing.
You do need to push out your comfort zone, but it does not have to be a horrible struggle; it can be an enjoyable process.
I also do not believe in medications, as they merely address your physiology, but not the psychology. There is nothing wrong with your physiology, most likely, and there is no need to drug yourself - rather, you want to channel your physiology in a way that makes you feel great, and that requires a psychological work.

I believe that, in a relatively short period of time, you can experience a tremendous transformation and effectively eliminate your anxiety, no matter how severe it is at the beginning - but you have to be strongly dedicated to this transformation. Cultivate positivity and humor in every way you can. Live it, breath it, bath in it. Your subconscious mind will resist the conditioning - keep pushing anyway and do not let the frustration deter you from it. You will be surprised by how quickly your life changes when you force the limiting beliefs out of your life.
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-26-2019, 01:38 AM Thread Starter
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8. Practical advice

There are many things I would do differently, if I knew what I know from my experience now.

First of all, the process should never stop: cultivating positivity and humor must be a constant work, and there is no limit to how far you can take it. I personally slacked on that, as after the tremendous rapid initial growth, I took my achievements for granted and grew complacent with them. Recently I decided to return to this cultivation, and already, within a few days, I felt a new layer of personal growth happening. I can do many things I didn't think I could in the past, and feel good about them.

Second, while it is essential to change your mind patterns, I also strongly recommend to act according to the ideas of positivity and humor as much as you can. Remove negativity from your life. If there are people with whom you constantly argue and feel bad about it, then either interact with them less or do not engage in the arguments with them. If political news make you feel bad, then do not read them, or read them very rarely. If you feel terrible about something in your life, do not cry on other people's shoulders about it endlessly: share it with those you care about, but then smile and talk about it in a positive way.
On this, unfortunately, I feel that these forums are not doing a good job. I see a lot of people talk about themselves in a very pessimistic, negative way. While this is a nice and friendly community, do realise that spending a lot of time bathing in negativity will have an adverse effect and only perpetuate your anxiety. If you look, you can see that everything I post is full of positivity and optimism, and I encourage others to do the same. No matter how bad your life may feel, there is always something good about it, so talk about that, focus on that, hold on to that and let it expand into all the areas of your life. Talk positively, think positively, and your life will become positive.
If there are positive people in your life, then try to spend as much time interacting with them as possible. Don't let the negative people put you down, and let the positive people charge you with positivity, making you more like them. And then, you can help the people with a negative mindset by interacting with them and changing them. But your personal growth must come first, and you cannot help someone before you have helped yourself.

Third, take a look at your behavioral patterns and see if you can change some of them towards more productive ones. For example, one of the popular coping mechanisms (and it was for me for a long time as well) is playing video games. While there is nothing wrong with doing so, it can be a form of escapism. If so, try to replace them with something that makes you feel better about yourself. Playing World of Warcraft 5 hours a day may feel nice, but in the long run it makes you feel terrible, doesn't it? If you can substitute it, at least partially, with something that makes you feel better - go for it.
Anything new that you want to try works, as trying and learning new things gives us confidence and makes us feel better. Have you always wanted to learn playing guitar, but never quite got to it? Well, this may be a good time to start! As you do it and acquire new skills, you will feel that you are growing as a person, which will make you feel terrific, charging you with energy and reinforcing your positive thinking patterns.

Finally, about various techniques. I haven't found the popularly suggested techniques, such as CBT, EFT or NLP very helpful.
CBT tries to change your thinking patterns, but it doesn't really address the emotions associated with them, which is the real problem. I doubt anyone with social anxiety believes that their thinking is rational, and everyone knows that caring too much about what other people's think is silly - one doesn't need a therapy to realise that. It is what causes that type of thinking which is the problem, and that has to do with emotions and the general outlook on life.
EFT has been completely useless in my experience, and it is based on pseudo-science about how human body allegedly works. Maybe it can have some placebo effect on some people, but I wouldn't take it seriously if you want to make a profound transformation.
NLP has some nice ideas, such as changing the way you visualise things, or tweaking your memories to be more cheerful - but a lot of it is, frankly, hogwash.
Exposure therapy, like I said, is very effective, and I would even call it a solution - but not on its own. It has to be done in combination with changing your mindset about social situations, as well as life in general. It should complement your emotional growth, not substitute or precede it.

Ultimately, the core of the problem is that we tend to see the world in a negative light. We tend to fear bad things and take good things for granted.
If we reverse it, then the social anxiety will be replaced with its opposite: social curiosity. And reversing it is entirely possible. And this, I believe, is the only way to truly and permanently deal with our fears and anxieties. The solution is not to "feel the fear and do it anyway", as one popular book suggests. The solution is to feel happiness and follow it. You do not get rid of the problem by learning to overcome your fear, you get rid of the problem by eliminating your fear.


9. Where to start?

There are many books on positive thinking, but they rarely tell anything that we cannot find out on our own. If you want to try my method, you need to start with looking at your thought patterns and seeing how you can change them.

Think about any situation in which your anxiety manifests, and be honest about it. For me, it would have been something like this:
I need to ask a stranger what time it is. But the stranger will think I'm a creep! I'm so awkward. But I really need to do it... Ugh... Deep breath... 1,2,3...
*with a shaky voice* "Excuse me... What time is it?"
"It's 10:35."
"Thanks!"
Whoosh, that was awful. My voice was terrible, and I came across as such a wreck. The person certainly thinks I'm a weirdo.
What would be the preferable scenario?
I need to ask a stranger what time it is. Great, the stranger will enjoy the interaction!
*with a smile* "Hey, good man, how's it going today?"
"Going great, thanks! What about you?"
"I'm doing speeeectacular! Would you know what time it is?"
"Sure, it's 10:35."
"10:35! That's a good time to be had! You have a good one!"
"You too!"
Life is awesome!
So start working on getting this to be the expected scenario. Constantly tell yourself that strangers enjoy interacting with you. You might not believe it at first, but as you keep telling yourself that, your mindset will gradually shift, and eventually it will become your deep conviction. And if you are more like me, a skeptic by nature, then you can go further and even visualise a possible negative scenario in a positive way! Like so:
I need to ask a stranger what time it is. Great, the stranger will enjoy the interaction!
*with a smile* "Hey, good man, how's it going today?"
*with a scowl* "Go away, you ugly creep."
"Aw, that wasn't very nice! I love you anyway!"
He-he, I bet he secretly liked me, this joker!
You may object that this is unrealistic, but so what? Our negative thinking definitely isn't realistic, when we believe that everyone thinks poor of us, but we let it get the best of us anyway. If our thinking isn't going to be realistic anyway, then might as well make it unrealistic in a good way, right?

Try doing such reframing with a lot of things that make you anxious, employing positivity and humor heavily. I promise that, after doing so for a while, your feelings about those things will change significantly, and your fears will diminish rapidly. It is not a hard work, and it is not a scary one, as you do everything in your head (if you like, you can also do it on your computer by writing in the Notepad - sometimes putting our thoughts in words can make them more outlined) - but it can feel weird, as your negative thinking patterns will resist your attempts to reframe them. Your subconscious will not follow your conscious and will contradict it. You will consciously think a good thing, but your subconscious will try to make you feel bad about it anyway. It is normal. It takes time, and the progress is not immediately obvious. But if you keep going at it, then one day (pretty soon, for that matter) you will suddenly realise that your thinking has changed profoundly.

I will finish with something that I've noticed in some people whom I talked to about positivity: it doesn't always look appealing. When someone is in a very deep negative state, the last thing they want to hear is "positive thinking". I had people tell me things like, "I'm feeling horrible, and you are pestering me with your stupid optimism? Go away and don't get on my nerves."
That is true, when we are down, the idea of being positive about anything may seem unfair and stupid. I totally understand that, and I am no different. When I received a nasty traffic ticket recently, I would snap at people who told me that everything would be fine. This is a natural defensive reaction, and you may even be experiencing it right now, as you are reading this post.

Please accept my assurance that I totally understand how it feels, and let me hug you. Do not force things. If you are feeling really down, then take your time and do not try to fake positivity. But on a day when you are feeling good, think about these things. Make a conscious choice to become a positive person and to see the world in a positive light. Once you've committed to the change, the change will happen, but you must genuinely want it to happen, and you must work rigorously on your inner world, not letting the setbacks stop you.
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-26-2019, 01:39 AM Thread Starter
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I wish everyone luck in achieving happiness, and I sincerely hope that my post will help someone in getting the life they deserve. Be well, be happy, smile wide and live big!
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-27-2019, 04:00 PM
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Thank you for this thread, mate.

I see it as very encouraging because I'm going the same route at the moment.
YES, reframing your view of the world helps. You're not doomed to be the person that you are at the moment.
Our brain is neuroplastic. We can become whoever we want to be.

I see this little changes in the same way as you described them. I started about 2 months ago to constantly try to shift my focus to the good things. Of course, it doesn't work all the time. In fact, when I started, it only worked for a day or two before depression kicked back in and I would cry rivers, BUT at least I had happy days again, something I almost gave up. Well, guess what, after constantly forcing myself to feel good, the happy days became more… and more. Forcing might not be the right term in relation to happiness, but at that time there was no other way to get out of such a bad state. I had to force myself out of it and I still have to stand guard at the door of my mind daily to keep all the bad weeds out of it.

I'm still not even close to where I want to be in life, but I'm so faraway from the person I was a couple of months ago. We can think ourselves into positive outcomes, it's just very hard for our mind to accept it. It might sound weird but we have to take control over our mind. It's there to serve us, not the other way around.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-27-2019, 04:56 PM
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congrats on doing better. didn't read it all but I'm sure some people can relate.

"I take what is mine. I pay the iron price."
―Balon Greyjoy
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-29-2019, 07:44 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nonhuman View Post
Thank you for this thread, mate.

I see it as very encouraging because I'm going the same route at the moment.
YES, reframing your view of the world helps. You're not doomed to be the person that you are at the moment.
Our brain is neuroplastic. We can become whoever we want to be.

I see this little changes in the same way as you described them. I started about 2 months ago to constantly try to shift my focus to the good things. Of course, it doesn't work all the time. In fact, when I started, it only worked for a day or two before depression kicked back in and I would cry rivers, BUT at least I had happy days again, something I almost gave up. Well, guess what, after constantly forcing myself to feel good, the happy days became more… and more. Forcing might not be the right term in relation to happiness, but at that time there was no other way to get out of such a bad state. I had to force myself out of it and I still have to stand guard at the door of my mind daily to keep all the bad weeds out of it.

I'm still not even close to where I want to be in life, but I'm so faraway from the person I was a couple of months ago. We can think ourselves into positive outcomes, it's just very hard for our mind to accept it. It might sound weird but we have to take control over our mind. It's there to serve us, not the other way around.
Very good points! One of the keys to this is the fact that how we see the world =/= how the world actually is. We all have our own perception of the world, and changing our perception effectively changes the world we live in.

When we have a negative mindset, then we see everything in dark, grim tones, and even the good things happening to us always seem to be the opposite. Someone compliments us, and we may think, "They are only saying that because they see how pathetic we are and try to comfort us".
With the positive mindset, the opposite happens: we start seeing even bad things in bright colors, finding something good about everything that happens to us. Someone breaks up with us, and we may think, "They simply couldn't handle our awesomeness".
Neither mindset is "right" or "wrong" per say. But some mindsets work for us, while other mindsets work against us.

Changing our thinking patterns is a hard work and it takes time, but as long as you consistently keep at it, eventually you will become the person you want to be, and more!

Quote:
Originally Posted by andy1984 View Post
congrats on doing better. didn't read it all but I'm sure some people can relate.
Thank you, friend!
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-06-2019, 11:09 AM
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I am happy for you
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