Welcome to my Blog

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shouldn't We Just Accept Our Social Anxiety? Why Try to Cure it?

I thought about this question after receiving a few letters from people struggling with social anxiety. Why should we go to the trouble of curing our social anxiety? Why isn’t it okay just avoiding parties and gatherings of people because they cause us distress? Why can’t we just cower in a corner when it is too painful to engage with a group because we never know what to say?

The answer is that we human beings need one another. We are a herd animal. And how do we communicate? We tell each other our stories. Our lives are immeasurably enriched and our spirit is nourished by the most basic of conversations or kindly remarks, both those we give and those we receive.

A pleasant “Good morning” from a stranger you pass on the street says so much more than just those two words. It says I care about you. You are important enough to me to make the effort, to take the risk you will just turn away, and then I’d look the fool.

So then why are we so afraid of one another, and hide away our secret heart, ashamed. Perhaps we are so afraid because we are so necessary to one another.

I went to a neighborhood party last night and I tried to remain very aware of any anxiety I felt while engaged in conversations in the group. I found I could always drum up some fear if I really stretched for it. And my next thought was, so what are you supposed to do with your fear?

We’re supposed to push beyond our fear, and show some spunk rather than hanging back. That’s all. We’re supposed to use our courage. Make an effort to find some small thing to say. If this is difficult , we can always play the straight man, and give the other person all the important lines.

That is, we can ask where they live. Have they always lived here in the city? If not, where did they come from. Most people need very little encouragement to talk about themselves. And most people are grateful to have been given a little script so their own contribution to the conversation is easy for them, and they don’t have to dredge up something on their own in order to have something to say.

Dale Carnegie, author of that great classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, said that the most precious sound to any person is the sound of their own name. So when introduced, can’t you pay attention for 4 SECONDS, and REMEMBER at least a first name? Use the name, out loud, right away so you don’t forget it.

“So, Janna, do you live here in San Diego?

Or comment on the name.

“Janna is a very unusual name. Is there a story behind your name?

It helps to read a newspaper or some on-line news before going out so you have at least one thing you can comment on.

The sad thing is that most people in any group all have their own fears and anxieties. There is nobody alive who doesn’t want love and respect from his fellows. If you said to one of them,” Hi, I’m not a great conversationalist. I don’t do groups very well because I never know what to say,” most of them would admit to some weakness of their own. And you’d have a conversation going right away.

I’ve told this story many times because it is so memorable. I met an elderly man at a neighborhood party once. He was in his nineties. I asked him what he did that he looked so great for being 93. He said “Well, I try not to be too authentic.” What a great line.

I asked him what his career was—his parents had owned a bakery and he worked in it for most of his life. His work was fascinating. Getting up at 3AM to get the days baking started. Everybody’s life could be a novel, and everybody has a story to tell if you just encourage them a little.

And don’t worry too much about impressing others. They won’t notice your cleverness that much anyway, because they are too occupied with trying to be clever themselves. If given the choice, most people would prefer to be impressive rather than being impressed.

So maybe the whole secret to good social skills is to stop worrying about how you are coming across to the other guy and, instead, let HIM look good.

No comments: