Submissive Person with Social Anxiety, how to overcome this?
November 3, 2016 10:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 25 year old female, recently I got diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, came as a surprise because even though I've always felt uncomfortable around people, I never viewed it as a disorder. The problem with me is that I'm also very submissive and meek, I find it impossible to tell others what I truly feel or think, partly because I don't know what I want, or what to think in the first place.

I see other people going about their life to get what they want, while I find myself having self-doubts all the times, even down to the smallest thing I do, like throwing rubbish. I become avoidant when it comes to work, I waste time doing pointless things the whole day, the thought of sitting down to do work terrifies me, as I know my work will be judged by others. I become a major procrastinator, and I hate that! because while I waste time, anxiety is boiling in me so I'm putting off work while suffering, totally not worth it. As you can see I have pretty low level of self-esteem, which makes it hard for me to work with people because I find myself saying yes to everything my colleagues raise, I hate myself for being an empty shell of nothingness but at the same time, I can't contribute anything that is positive ( at least I feel so). I find myself withdrawing from any person I work with, who knows me because I feel so inferior around them. Now I'm thinking of quitting my job and starting a business on my own. I believe these traits are deeply rooted in me but I hope they can be changed. Anyone out there who share the same experience but later change to a less anxious, more confident person? Anyone with social anxiety working their own business? Really need some positive energy here :(
posted by susanwings to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
OH yes. I know those feels. I struggle with them daily. I have good days and bad, but...yeah.

What helped me more than anything else was to start actively taking risks. I took some time off (ok, a lot of time off, probably more than most people could have) and traveled by myself out of the country (scary!) and didn't plan anything or book anything in advance (scarier!) and learned to do a bunch of stuff, like scuba diving and sailing and rock climbing and you know what? After learning that taking risks was not the end of the world, I became much more comfortable with my fears.

I guess I learned to not be afraid of my fear, but to use it as a tool to drive me forward instead of having it hold me back. It made me a lot more confident and sure of myself.

On a day-to-day basis, now that I am not wildly flinging myself into the deep ocean to hunt fish for dinner every day, I remind myself that things left undone often weigh on my mind more than worries about how they turned out. So I force myself to do *just a bit* of the thing, and usually I end up finishing it. And at the end of the day. . . if I'm not dead and nothing is on fire, I now count that as a success. So, managing expectation? Are you perhaps a bit of a perfectionist? Me too. Perfect is the enemy of good. Keep telling yourself that.

I do have my own business, and in some ways it really is a relief to not have a boss breathing down my neck...but now I am my own boss and I am just as hard on myself! I try to remind myself that clients don't expect perfection, they just want a decent job done on time. The dynamic shifts when you work for yourself -- I am not as afraid of having my work judged. I'm not sure why? I guess I feel I have more control. If my client is difficult or irritating I can choose not to continue to work with them. Yes, I will lose the money, but that is not always the main thing, you know? I would rather be choosy and work with good clients than make a bit more money but deal with jerks.

Additionally, CBT or DBT is often recommended for this type of condition, and I unhesitatingly recommend it to you. Medication is also an option, so if you don't have a psychiatrist already, it may be a good time to find one to talk to about that.

It's hard. But you really can do this. PM me if you want more details about anything I've said.
posted by ananci at 10:32 PM on November 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

I can't answer the business part of your question, but in terms of becoming a less anxious, more confident person...

Yes. It's possible. While you're in it, it's hard to think it's possible to change, but change is possible. I've been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and most of what I had trouble with was social anxiety. I couldn't be out in public, because I was afraid people were watching me. I couldn't make phone calls because I was afraid I would make a fool of myself and wouldn't know what to say. I had a hard time going grocery shopping and would often go straight to the back of the store where there were fewer people around and I felt safe from people's eyes. I like reading. Going to the library? Not happening, either. Don't know how many people will be there. Going to the gym (if at all)? Maybe when no one's around, like at 5:30 in the morning. After that? Not happening. Too afraid of being seen.

It's been five years since that diagnosis. I probably still have some anxiety, but most of the social component is pretty well managed. The anxiety used to be crippling. It prevented me from doing a ton of things I wanted to do. Now, it's almost like I can basically do whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want.

I think it was a combination of some therapy and a lot of being forced into situations where I was uncomfortable or was the center of attention. Like speaking in front of large crowds. Or making phone calls in front of my therapist. Or just calling a place and asking whether they're open, just rehearsing what I'll say the first time and then rehearsing less and less to show myself that phone calls didn't need that sort of prep work and weren't that scary.

For some things, there's some self-awareness involved. If I think I'm thinking in a direction where I'll end up preventing myself from doing something, I'll just tell myself to do it on 1 and then count 3... 2... 1..., and then I just do it. Though even that took a bit of practice. With enough anxiety, it's hard to do it even on the count of 1. Just has to become a habit.

The other part was just learning that often, for the decisions that I'd agonize about for longer than necessary, it doesn't matter. Have to make a decision on what to eat? Doesn't really matter. It's almost inconsequential; it's just one meal. Just choose something random. Coin flip.

But start with therapy. Maybe some sort of CBT or DBT. CBT might be better to start just because it can be done individually, but DBT might be more helpful if CBT doesn't work well.
posted by retypepassword at 12:22 AM on November 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

You need a program of meditation and self hypnosis. In short, self-work where you work on your past experiences and come to terms with your life. None of this is hard, but the modern solution is to get a prescription for whatever. Just do the self-work and develop yourself. Or not. But really, just invest in yourself. You are young and this is a great time to work on developing processes for handling life experiences which will serve you far into the future.

Some people term this as "adulting." I agree with that definition.

You can remain an introvert but develop great adulting skills. Do this.
posted by jbenben at 12:39 AM on November 4, 2016

Psychodynamic group therapy is wonderful for breaking down social anxiety - writing from experience.

Working through these fears in real time with a supportive group and therapist changed my life.

I highly recommend finding a good therapist who does group work and scheduling some individual sessions with them to see if the process could help you.

More recently I've done a course in CBT, which was useful, however the group therapy was the really groundbreaking stuff for me.

Good luck!
posted by doornoise at 2:13 AM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

You could go ahead and start your own business, but you'll be avoiding the issue and giving that 100% inaccurate anxious voice in your brain WAY TOO MUCH POWER.

Instead, try CBT or DBT because you're working with faulty assumptions about yourself and you need to learn to challenge those feelings. You need to work through the logical conclusions of those thoughts (i.e. what if you DO throw the trash out the wrong way? What will happen? Will the trash police come? Will your neighbors gossip? What's the worst thing that actually could happen? Would that thing kill you? Probably not, right?). Basic retraining of those thought patterns will help you see that you're anxious about feelings not facts, and you'll get strategies and practice telling those feelings they're not the boss of you. And in no way am I minimizing your feelings. I could barely leave my house for a 3 month period because of anxiety but CBT helped me fix it.*

I'm double your age and have learned that people really don't care as much as you think they do. I can tell you that, but you need to believe it. Most adults are not like our parents/partners/roommates and they're not actually paying all that much attention to our actions. And we put pressure on ourselves to do things because of the perceived audience -- it turns out there really is no perceived audience other than our brains.

*I want you to try this thought exercise: think about the person who objectively, is the WORST person at your office. They don't do every single thing wrong, do they? They still work there, right? They drink their good coffee and have nice lunches. They leave daily and go to some place where they have things and people they love, right? Dogs probably let this person pet them, right? They exist positively despite being the absolute worst, yes? Even the worst person exists happily in the universe - probably even at work.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:20 AM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Regarding the self-doubts about small activities:
Something that helped me over the last decade of adulthood was making decisions / habits and sticking with them. For example, if I had that moment of rubbish doubt, I would make a decision about when, where, and how to take out my trash, and then stick with it the next week. Sometimes I would even write these down or put them on my calendar, where appropriate.

Decision fatigue is a real thing! Taking these smaller decisions out of the equation gave me the energy to be decisive on the larger, more important things. I've automated so much of my life - when/how I go to work, how I prepare my breakfast, what I wear. I sometimes deviate from my usual but if I do, it's because I really want to, not because I'm having trouble deciding.

To guide your decision making, get cozy with your identity. Try journaling using self-discovery prompts like these. If you have thought about what kind of person you are, when it comes time to make a decision (as little as what to eat for lunch, as big as a career change) you will have more to draw from.

Also, it's OK not to have a preference about some things. If you really don't care and are overthinking a decision, just flip a coin!
posted by beyond_pink at 6:02 AM on November 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

You can work on social anxiety, but it takes work. The first step is to work on not actively hating yourself. A good way to do that is to start talking to yourself like a good friend (or if you like animals, like a scared pet) rather than like the enemy. The second step is to learn how to self-soothe. This is basically figuring how to help yourself feel better when you're hit by big unpleasant emotions: anger, fear, anxiety, envy. For instance: take a walk, make a cup of tea, take a shower, watch cat videos for 10 minutes.

Once you've gotten better at those two things, social interactions get a little easier, and that gives you the breathing room to start practicing some social skills. The first social skill you need to work on is small talk, because once you get comfortable with small talk it starts leading to big talk, i.e. more interesting conversations. Small talk lets you establish some kind of base with someone, so it feels safer to give that person your real opinion about things. There are a bunch of guides online to small talk (lots of stuff about "One easy trick!") but the basics are always the same: start with an innocuous topic, be interested in your conversation partner, and be willing to add things to the conversation yourself, so it doesn't just turn into a Q&A session. At parties, the opening question that has worked the best for me is, "So, how do you know the host?"

Also, I wanted to say: being a deeply anxious, self-employed person is really hard.

You have no boss telling you what to do, and no built-in feedback channels, and no automatic structure. Those things can be annoying sometimes when you're in a normal job. But when all of a sudden you don't have any of them, it can be very disorienting. Motivating yourself to not procrastinate gets harder when all of your deadlines are self-created. Motivating yourself in general is harder, because you have to work on a lot of things with no feedback at all, and that means you have to keep convincing yourself that what you're doing is worthwhile--that you're creating something useful or of good quality. There's no boss who regularly accepts your work and thereby affirms that you're meeting an acceptable standard. You spend a lot of time fighting the goblins in your head. It's easy to spend days or weeks at a time paralyzed by anxiety, because your ability to succeed or fail (and relatedly, your ability to keep buying groceries and keep a roof over your head) are totally dependent on your decisions alone. The borders of work and non-work get blurred if you're working from home, and that can also make it hard to relax and not feel guilty every time you're home but not working. Do you remember what it felt like to be a student during exam time? Being a self-employed person feels like that a lot of the time, particularly at the beginning when you don't have established clients or contracts.
posted by colfax at 6:19 AM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was in the same position a few years ago and found Rejection Therapy very helpful.

Ultimately I couldn't keep up with both sales and "actual" work, and went back to a regular job, but with more confidence.
posted by Phssthpok at 6:51 AM on November 4, 2016

I was just like you. I, too, decided to work for myself. I had worked hard and I wanted to put my skills to the test, but I recognized that I wasn't going to take this bold step if I remained so nervous and full of angst. How was I going to succeed if I couldn't even talk to people? Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I joined "Toastmasters". Wait --wait, don't reject this idea just out-of-hand. It was the best thing I ever did for myself. I think back about how much learning speaking and leadership skills helped me and it just floors me. I don't know what would have happened to me without that out-of-character decision.

Doing nothing is a coping skill. You've now been given this label and although you likely do fit the "criteria" for the diagnosis, the diagnosis is not you. What you focus on is what you get, so focus on learning great communication skills (if not Toastmasters*, choose another leadership "program"). I can tell from how you wrote your question that you have very good communication skills already. Now you have to square your shoulders and up the ante. Consider learning CBT and/or RBT (Albert Ellis in particular wrote great books about how to reign in anxiety). But most of all, stay away from any form of victim mentality. You have it within your power to completely turn yourself around. I know because I did it. It took time and effort and it doesn't hurt to have one solid friend to talk to about everything. (*P.S. Toastmasters is usually free and if you choose the right one you will have great business mentors--spend time with people who inspire you).
posted by naplesyellow at 7:32 AM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

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