If you suffer from social anxiety, making and keeping friends can be difficult.
I became very socially anxious in college. Prior to that I was fairly outgoing. I did suffer from panic attacks in high school but it didn’t hinder me too much socially.
Around my sophomore year in college, I got to the point where even talking to people casually became difficult. I remember I used to hang out in between classes in one of the study rooms at the university library. There were 3 other girls that I would meet with almost daily in this study room. We sort of found each other because we were all commuters and didn’t have a dorm room to go to during the long spells between classes.
I remember how hard it was for me to talk then. I was very focused on my internal feelings- which were all negative and anxious. and so it was very rare that I could relax and not be acutely aware that I was nervous. As I have shared, I did a lot of drinking to take the social edge off, so after a long week of feeling anxious, I was ready to party the weekend away.
I remember someone telling me in college how she thought I was stuck up. The fact was I was shy as hell. The anxiety damn near made me a social cripple. And back then I didn’t have the knowledge that I could do something about it. I just lived my life as though I was doomed to be a societal failure. It was a very sad way to exist.
Years later when I was a young professional living in New York City, I relied heavily on alcohol to be able to socialize. I remember having weekend guests or an afternoon date and having to drink (a lot actually) so I wouldn’t have a panic attack in the middle of the day.
I’ve heard a lot of alcoholics start out drinking because of social anxiety. By the grace of God I don’t have the alcoholism gene, but if you knew me back then, you might have thought my days were numbered.
When I found out I was pregnant in 1995, I stopped drinking. Once I was a mom, the social anxiety returned full force. I had a lot to contend with besides my new daughter. we moved from Manhattan to upstate NY to a town where I knew no one, and I had quit my job to be a stay at home mom.
Being a new mom in a new town was hard. I didn’t have any freinds and I didn’t know how to make them. I lived on a street with only a few neighbors. One other girl was also a stay at home mom, but we didn’t really hang out very often. She wasn’t new to town and already had established friends.
The other weird thing about the social anxiety was I didn’t know how to stay in touch with my old friends in New York. I worked with a lot of people, but didn’t really have close girlfriends. All my “drinking buddies” were still bar flies and a lot of them were men. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to keep in contact with them. I had 2 close friends but I didn’t do anything much to keep those friendships alive. After a few years of phone calls and Christmas cards, we fell out of touch.
I went through adulthood pretty lonely for the most part. I guess I was afraid if people knew the real me- nervous Jill with the panic attacks- they would reject me. So I never really sought people out.
I also remember being very jealous of my sister and brother, each of whom had a large circle of friends from childhood that seemed to stay together through thick and thin.
Ok, Enough Doom and Gloom Already! What Can I Do About Social Anxiety Today??
In order for me to succeed with social anxiety, I first must succeed in self acceptance. I accept that I have social anxiety. And I now refuse to let it define me.
I realize that a large part of my social anxiety is self inflicted. I may have been predisposed to shyness, but I took it to a whole other level… I became so obsessed with my internal thoughts and ramblings. And these thoughts are all about how I can’t or don’t measure up, how I will fail if I expose myself, how I will be scrutinized by others.
It’s all a bunch of nonsense. These insecurities and inner ramblings were like a parasite that grew within me- dominating all my thoughts about myself. Because I now see that the only person who ever rejected me that truly mattered– was ME!
I had so little regard for myself it can now make me cry. Why couldn’t I look into anyone else’s eyes? Why was I so scared to speak? I was scared because I Felt Inferior. No one put that thought in my head but me. I allowed it. And this b.s. myth perpetuated itself throughout my life.
Today I know:
- I am a powerful competent woman!
- What I think and say is valuable.
- I have every right to a full and wonderful and rewarding life.
- No one is scrutinizing or judging me. (and if someone ever is, who really cares??)
- My life is precious.
- There is nothing wrong with being shy.
- I will not give up one more day to social anxiety.
Overcoming social anxiety takes self discipline. For me, I need to work and have occupation and be around people and interact with them. I have to do gentle exposure therapy and be out and about. I can’t live inside my head or be trapped inside my house. I need to erase the negative self talk and replace it with powerful positive ones.
And my views on social anxiety and friends were skewed. When I was younger I thought I needed a tribe of friends. A posse. Or at least a group like that old TV show Friends. I berated myself for having tons of acquaintances but very few freinds.
Today I am far more realistic about this, and also kinder. I value the friendships I have. Not every friend has to be connected with me on some deep level. I don’t have to be in constant contact with someone in order to consider them a friend- I am not that needy today.
Oh- and not all my friends are human. Have I ever told you about my wonderful dog Buddy? My other BFF is my Higher Power- He/she/it is always available for support, love, or just to listen to me rant
2 other really good friends are my sister and my mother. I used to think they didn’t count because I was related to them. Didn’t count to whom? They are amazing women and a wonderful blessing in my life.
Oh and you must know my best friend. She writes this anxiety self help blog. She’s kind of out there, but she is the real deal. She is ME.
I wish you peace,
ps- If you are determined to beat your social anxiety and need an effective plan that really helps, I recommend and use Social Anxiety Secrets.