Social Anxiety has a way of making us feel we can’t stand up for ourselves in social settings that make us nervous or uncomfortable.

The anxiety about how we appear to others or how they’re judging us, as well as whether others can tell just how anxious we are (and will see us as weak or abnormal), can take over in social situations in a way that hijacks our ability to feel assertive.

Shame and embarrassment are such painful and potent emotions that we often freeze, shut down, or try to hide when we feel them. Being assertive and confident requires us to lean into uncomfortable social interactions and to take back our power instead.

Feeling helpless, trapped, or angry at our fear and anxiety for betraying us in this way can make it seem like we have no control and are a victim of our body’s anxious response (such as blushing, sweating, feeling our heart racing, etc) or of being put on the spot or looked at by other people. We feel angry, frustrated, embarrassed, and exposed. And often this is the beginning of a retreat into our own minds, as our imaginations run away with all sorts of humiliating or painful scenarios about what others are thinking of us, how to avoid future social situations that make us nervous, beating ourselves up for being weak or anxious, and sometimes even shutting down into depression.

Learning how to stand up for ourselves when we’re anxious and how to speak up when we feel criticized or judged can help us take back our power. Understanding how we get into cycles of rumination or catastrophizing can also help us rein in our imaginations instead of getting absorbed in narratives that make us feel worse and add salt to our wounds.

Some ways of learning to overcome social anxiety involve speaking up in therapy sessions. I am always impressed when clients who struggle with social anxiety are willing to share things they feel embarrassed about or that make them feel weak. Together we see how sharing can decrease shame and lead to more comfort and confidence in other social settings. In addition, in therapy we often work on catching thoughts or initial doubts that lead to rumination or obsessive worries about social judgment, as is taught in inference-based cognitive behavioral therapy, a treatment I have been learning more about and introducing to my clients as well. Exposure therapy and assertiveness training can also help.

Social anxiety can be very debilitating because deep down we all need and long for connection, belonging, and acceptance. Those with social anxiety want to be able perform, initiate, act confident, and connect in situations like dating, work socializing, public speaking, etc., but their fears inhibit them from being able to fully express who they want to be in front of others.

Self consciousness can be decreased with practice, and learning to step out of your shell even when you want to hide can help you reach your goals.

If you need support with this, therapy can help. Please reach out to me at mirel@goldsteintherapy.com or 973-348-9384 if you’d like to explore working with me to overcome your social anxiety.