I’m sorry to hear that your social anxiety has been so debilitating :[
During some of the darkest times in my eating disorder, my social anxiety was pretty severe, so I definitely resonate with your struggle.
My advice is to:
1. Challenge your negative thoughts/fears.
There are usually specific thoughts and fears underlying our social anxiety. And from my experience, one of the best ways to combat the anxious feelings is to identify our fears and challenge them. Doing this has always helped me realize that whatever I’m afraid of is not as scary as I think it is, and that even if it is scary and difficult, it’s something I can survive or cope with.
An example would be something like:
- Anxiety: You can’t go out to that party. Everyone is going to think you’re dumb and ugly and awkward. You’re going to be ignored. No one is going to like you.
- Healthy voice: There may be some people at the party who don’t connect with me, but there also might be some people who do. And if certain people don’t like me, that’s okay. It doesn’t make me inadequate or weird or a failure — it just means that those people don’t feel a connection to me. And that isn’t some fundamental failing on my part. That’s just life. Not everyone is going to like me and I’m not going to like everyone and that’s okay. It’s normal.
- Healthy voice: And if people do make judgements about who I am, they’re not a reflection on me — they’re about them and their own insecurities and limitations and I don’t have to internalize that. Ever. Those kinds of people’s opinions aren’t a reflection on my worth and they don’t discount all of the friends I have who do value me.
- Anxiety: But what if they laugh at you? What if they tell you that the things you like are weird?
- Healthy voice: I can’t control what other people say or how they treat me, but I can control how I respond to them and how I treat myself. And no matter how anyone else treats me, I can always choose to treat myself with kindness and compassion. I can choose to walk away from unsafe situations and toxic people. And I can choose to reach out to my friends for support.
- Anxiety: But what if you have a bad time?
- Healthy Voice: Then I can leave. But what if I have a great time? What if I make a ton of new friends and have fun? What if I laugh and connect with people and feel seen and heard? What if I find people who make me feel like I belong?
2. Recognize that you don’t need anyone’s acceptance or validation to be good enough.
Your worth as a person isn’t attached to other people’s opinions of you. It’s something inherent. You exist and therefore, you matter. Your thoughts matter. Your feelings matter. And your happiness matters. And with or without anyone’s affection or approval, you are enough. You have important things to contribute to the world. You have a unique set of strengths and talents and insight and love and kindness to offer. And nothing that anyone thinks has the power to discount that, or your value.
3. Know that it’s impossible to please everyone.
No matter who you are, what you look like, or what you share with the world, there will always be someone who doesn’t approve. There will always be someone who thinks you’re too much or too little. Someone who thinks you’re too loud or too quiet. Too weird or too boring. Too overbearing or too uninvolved. Too emotional or too needy or too outspoken. And that’s okay. You don’t live for other people. It isn’t your job to conform to their idea of what constitutes a “worthwhile” human being. You are who you are, and you’re enough.
Instead of focusing on all of the people who don’t approve of you, try to take some time today to remind yourself of all the people who do appreciate and accept you. They’re the people who matter. Let go of the rest.
4. Trust that more often than not, people aren’t thinking about you.
When point in saying that isn’t to imply that you’re insignificant or invisible. Because you aren’t. My point is to remind you that despite the negative voice in our heads telling us that everyone is thinking badly about us, we’re not typically at the center of people’s thoughts.
Most people are so caught up in their own insecurities and life struggles and personal anxieties that they don’t have the time or thought space to think about us. They’re worried about how they’re going to finish all their homework or how they’re going to pay their bills. They’re thinking about someone they miss or trying to forget someone who hurt them. They’re stuck in a battle with their own negative thoughts, or their grappling with the same fear that they’re being judged. Whatever the case though, most people probably aren’t thinking anything about you.
5. When you start feeling insecure, check in with people.
Most of the time, our perception of what other people are thinking about us is way off and distorted. Something that helps give me a reality check is checking in with people about how they actually feel.
To give a personal example:
- Last year I felt certain that my roommate thought I was weird for struggling with an eating disorder and depression and anxiety. I was sure it made her think less of me, and I was convinced that it made her regret having me as a roommate. So, I checked in with her about it. I told her what I was feeling, explained my insecurities, and asked if she felt that way.
- She told me that although she didn’t necessarily understand my struggles and often felt helpless because she didn’t know how to help, that she never thought any less of me for struggling. She didn’t regret having me as a roommate because there was so much more to me and what I had to offer as a friend than my eating disorder. And she shared that if anything, she admired that I was open with her about it and was proud of me for being at school despite the demons I was facing.
So the next time you get caught up in your negative thoughts and insecurities, check in with the person about it. And remind yourself that just because you don’t like yourself and judge yourself for something, doesn’t mean other people don’t like you or are judging you.
6. Know that you aren’t alone in the way you feel or the things you struggle with.
Know that struggling in this way doesn’t make you weird or weak or inadequate. It just means that you’re carrying some painful thoughts and deep insecurities. It means that somewhere along your journey, someone or some experience sent you the message that there was something wrong with who you are.
But that belief doesn’t have to continue to be your truth. And in the same way that you learned to believe those negative things about yourself, you can decide to learn new, positive, self-loving and accepting truths.
It isn’t easy, but if you continue to challenge your negative thoughts, try to figure out the source of your insecurities, reach out for support, check in with people you trust, and even get help from a therapist, I promise that things can get better.
Sending so much love your way,