Overcoming social anxiety always involves a paradox.
As we continue along with actual therapy, we will see that all methods and strategies that help us overcome social anxiety are paradoxes.
Paradoxes are doing the opposite of what our body, brain, and old habits tell us to do. Therefore, all paradoxes are counter-intuitive. Again, they are the opposite of what we feel we should be doing.
For example, if we've told ourselves for fifteen years that we can NEVER speak in front of a small group, we will always avoid talking in front of a small group. In terms of getting over social anxiety, this is obviously not a helpful cognitive belief to have, and notice the result of this belief makes us avoid.
The biggest obstacle to our progress is something we’ve been doing most of our life: avoiding.
It is natural that when we are anxious, we avoid. It is also natural that when we have avoided situations for many years, this avoidance becomes habitual (i.e., a habit). For example, we may be avoiding some events today more because of habit than because of anxiety.
Nevertheless, it is AVOIDANCE of situations that keeps us stuck in our anxiety. We can never make progress in life if we continue to avoid.
It is also easier to avoid if people are somehow enabled to avoid by others. For example, it is becoming increasingly more common for parents to allow their children to avoid having friends and doing things outside the house. The more avoidant a young person becomes, the more they fear the things they have not done. So, they may choose avoidance rather than progress because it is the easiest thing to do -- it is the path of least resistance.
The bottom line here is that no one overcomes social anxiety who consistently avoids.
To get better, we need to be gently proactive. This is a step by step incremental process – no flooding – but nevertheless we are making progress. We no longer choose to avoid everything, just because we think it is scary.
Gently and persistently, we are choosing to meet our social challenges, one at a time, thinking as rationally as possible.
(Here again, we must put the cognitive therapy beliefs together with the behavioral therapy we are doing.)
So, be proactive. Prove to yourself that your fears are usually groundless.
Start slowly. For example, say hello to new and different people, initiate small talk conversations when you feel ready, telephone a group member and arrange to do something together, do experiments at the shopping mall with the group. USE the group to help you get better in the real world, as they will "use" to help themselves get better, too.
This is a big paradox, but we need to learn many ways to avoid avoidance. This is what we do, gradually and gently, in behavioral therapy.
Avoiding avoidance – in a step by step, gentle way -- is a central theme in overcoming social anxiety.
It is a theme we cannot avoid if we want to get better.