Online sessions now available.Kristian S. Nibe - clinical psychologist and ISTDP practitioner.
Social anxiety = unconscious feelings towards others.
Common for how many people understand social anxiety is that they believe that the anxiety is caused by factors outside themselves (i.e. external factors). A person with social anxiety is often heard saying things like:
I’m afraid of rejection.
I feel other people’s expectations.
I’m under enormous pressure.
I don’t want to create conflict.
I’m afraid of letting others know that I have anxiety.
I have to perform.
I have anxiety about my anxiety.
I just want to be liked.
I don’t know what to say to people.
I’m afraid that people will think I’m not interesting.
But none of these statements are of intrapsychic character, meaning that they all have in common the belief that anxiety is created by external circumstances. However, anxiety comes from within, it does not come from external factors such as the environment or other people.
The psychological processes behind anxiety.
At any given time there are just three psychological processes that can occur inside a human being. Either we feel a feeling, or we feel anxiety that covers and suppresses this feeling, or we think or do something (i.e. a defense mechanism) that lets us avoid the underlying feeling. This process can be described by what is referred to as the Triangle of Conflict.
The first thing that happens in the brain of a person with social anxiety is that a feeling becomes activated. However, if a part of the brain has previously learned that this feeling is “dangerous” or can trigger emotionally painful experiences, then the unconscious anxiety mechanism (UAM) attacks this feeling and tries to cover the feeling with unconscious muscle tension (i.e. anxiety). This process occurs with a few milliseconds.
Secondly, after the anxiety activates and tenses the body, a process which happens unconsciously, the defense mechanisms set in (i.e. our thoughts or actions). Our defense mechanisms are activated within a fraction of a second in an attempt to regulate the anxiety.
A worrying thought is an example of a defense mechanism. A person with anxiety while occupied in his mind with a worrying thought, doesn’t have any awareness of what the feeling in his body is. That is why a defense mechanism is called what it is. It defends a person against his own feelings.
These three mechanisms (i.e. feelings, anxiety, and defense mechanisms) occur within such a short time span in the brain that it is impossible to separate them from each other. This is especially so for a person that don’t understand what is happening with the body or that haven’t learned the difference between feelings, anxiety, and defense mechanisms (i.e. thoughts and actions).
People that struggle with social anxiety have in common a set of defense mechanisms that maintain their social anxiety. The most common defense mechanisms of people with social anxiety are:
Worrying: which are hypothetical thoughts regarding worst case scenarios of the future. “What if people think negatively of me?”, “What if they don’t like me?”, “What if I become nervous?” etc. These worries don’t exist in the real world since they’re hypothetical. Much better would it be to handle situations and problems when they arise rather than create them in the imagination. Worries only make one afraid and nervous, they don’t make one safer of more confident.
Passivity: which is when a person withdraws and goes passive when anxiety sets in. Rather than expressing himself spontaneously or share feelings with others, a passive person ensures to protect himself from feelings by exiting a situation and refuse to relate to others.
Ignoring: which is when the person ignores his own feelings and instead focuses on others behavior and needs/wants. By not paying attention to and becoming aware of feelings in a situation, an ignoring individual ensures that the anxiety will increase.
Externalizing: is when a person believes that the anxiety is caused by something or someone in the environment; like other people, the audience etc. “I’m anxious because other people expect so much from me.”. Other people are blamed for the anxiety because one externalizes that it is others expectancy rather than ones own feelings that are the cause of the anxiety.
Projection: happens when people believe that other people are critical towards them or will view them critically if they show anxiousness. Many people believe that other people will view them critically if they’re anxious. This projection prejudges other people and in return trigger feelings towards those people in the individual. For example, one often becomes angry at critical people, but people that are projecting and only feel anxious in a situation are not aware of their anger. If one assumes that other people are critical towards oneself it affects how one views others and behaves towards them. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy since others sense that the person they’re talking to is skeptical towards them.
Distancing: is when a person doesn’t communicate how he is feeling, but maintains a facade and pretends that everything is ok. This leads to a superficial and unnatural way of behaving that others find lacks closeness and personal engagement.
Regarding other people as more important than oneself: People with social anxiety give more importance to other peoples opinions and expectations than their own opinions, will, and spontaneity. People that put themselves below others are often heard saying: “I’m just trying to avoid conflict”. They don’t question if other people act inappropriately or react negatively to their opinions and feelings because they have been taught that other people are right and that they themselves are wrong, and thus they just have to accept other people that act out and accuse them of motivations and character flaws if they were to express themselves.
Taking responsibility that are other peoples responsibility: people with social anxiety often take responsibility for keeping a conversation going. If other people are not engaged or show any interest, they often assume that they themselves are uninteresting rather than expect other people to also show interest in the conversation.
Overcoming social anxiety.
These defense mechanisms are action patterns, thoughts, and assumptions about reality that distracts the person from his own feelings and anxiety. The function of these defenses is that they reduce the level of anxiety in the body. However, the drawback is that they remove the person from his emotional experience so that the person only experiences anxiety and not his feelings.
A person will remain confused and trapped in this dysfunctional social pattern as long as he is not aware of what causes the anxiety. The anxiety is caused by his own feelings that were triggered unconsciously when interacting with other people. How you can overcome this anxiety mechanism and reprogram the brain to not react with an anxiety response towards your own feeling you can read about in extensive detail in my book Reconnect to your Core.
If you are suffering from social anxiety then the worry concerning ridicule and embarrassment, losing face and status, be rejected or ignored, or end up in a “conflict” with other people has become so intense that it completely ignores your own feelings. The main action pattern usually develops into avoiding situations where anxiety may occur. Rumination, worry, and trying to predict the future, rather than becoming fully accepting of yourself and allowing yourself to be spontaneous and authentic in social settings has become the rule. People with social anxiety therefore focuses on trying to avoid something negative rather than trying to accomplish something positive (i.e. friendship, love, happiness, learning, etc).
The good news is that dynamic psychotherapy and the ISTDP-approach can be of great help in overcoming the social anxiety so that you may regain control over your life again. Many people that reach out and want help in overcoming their social anxiety often sees rapid and positive change when they learn about anxiety and understand their own feelings and defense mechanisms.
Online consultations available.
Use the contact form below for any inquiries. Please state briefly the nature of your problem, when and how you are available, and how you prefer to conduct payment (Credit Card or PayPal).
Consultations are available for either 45 minutes or 90 minutes, and are conducted by video either through Skype or appear.in. Alternatively I also offer sessions through chat/e-mail.
The price per 45 minute consultation is 160 Euro. The price for a 90 minute consultation is 300 Euro.