My Experience of Social Anxiety group # 4/5

Well your wishes seem to have worked!!!

I went to the last meeting, probably as calm as I did the first meeting. I think I am becoming more relaxed with the others in the group. I am beginning to finally, in an unconscious way, to feel comfortable with the others; in much the same way that over time we become comfortable in the presence of our friends. In other words, you do not think to yourself “ I am comfortable with these friends” you just are…”.

But before I begin to digress too far from the events of the meeting I would like to add that having a common goal and knowing others are in the same position as you; e.g., finding it difficult to get the time to satisfactorily complete the social anxiety homework, makes me feel like we are in a way kindred spirits.

So to the meeting: As usual Odhran asked us how we got on with our homework, was there anything to report on our social interaction for the week previous week. In my case it was not very exciting as my social encounters were routine. It is not always that easy for me, in a normal working week, to find encounters than evoke socially anxiety, unless they are, sort of, contrived, but in that case, I believe they could be considered biased.

As opposed to splitting us into groups, he left us continue to contribute to the discussion on “the safety behaviours we employed….” on an individual basis. I think he is starting to believe we are becoming “kindred spirits” and confidently able to express, individually, our ideas.

The main points of our brain storming were to compile a list our various safety behaviours. These included:

1. Rehearsing the encounter,
2. Feign interest in the conversation;
3. Putting the feelings or others ahead of your won &
4. A need to feel you have to humour the others….

The group was then divided in two and were asked to consider the advantages/disadvantages of such behaviours. One group was to argue in favour or such behaviours being disadvantageous and the others for it being advantageous. Different opinions were proposed by each group but in essence the findings were:

1. In the short term these avoidance behaviours relieve our anxiety.
2. In the longer term constant use of these techniques, as an avoidance mechanisms, were counterproductive

Constant use of these behaviours can lead to social isolation and this can be self- perpetuating; the more we avoid social events the greater the chance of us no longer being asked to social events which in turn further reduces self-esteem…

Ironically, there is one advantage to safety behaviours: “they prevent the premature onset of stress related wrinkles”. However, it was acknowledged that they could be used in specific encounters where safety behaviours are normal; e.g. appeasing someone is advantageous if that person poses a physical threat.

So how are our safety behaviours seen by others: without trying to frighten any of you or too sound pessimistic, socially anxious people who utilize avoidance safety behaviours, can come across as: cold, aloof, arrogant and even shifty. Think for a moment of the above behaviours and you can easily see why: someone who avoids eye contact comes across as potentially sneaky or shifty. Never forget “actions speak louder than words”

Now ask yourself, who would you rather spend time with: an anxious person who talks incessantly or a cold person who does not want to talk. This rejection by others, brought on by our safety behaviours, only reinforce the view that we are weird, unlikable, or the myriad of other descriptions we use to describe ourselves. Odhran then explained that we need to add dissonance to our behaviour system; e.g. to act as if social situations are relatively safe (i.e., letting go safety behaviours). This is not in unison with anxiety (created by the belief that social situations are dangerous) and can, as mentioned in my last blog, confuse the mind. Essentially this is what we (the group) are going to try and do. Modifying our anxiety driven safety behaviours will add dissonance and have the effect of reducing anxiety as these behaviours are, at the moment, inextricably linked, to our anxiety.

One of the ways we are going to achieve this is by using a “recovery journal” to pay attention to the world around us and how people interact at social event; .e.g. what is the content of their chit-chat. Now for the fun bit: “we act it before we feel it” the relevance of the phrase will become apparent in the next few lines.

The home work that was set for this week was to ‘draw’ what we feel when we are in a heightened state of social anxiety. (Odhran provided us with some examples for inspiration). He then informed us we would have to explain the visual representation and to encourage us, told us that the first person to come before the others and explain their picture would have the privilege of choosing the schedule for our role-play: act before you feel. The added bonus, of course, is that it may someday make us famous as it is going to be recorded for posterity via a video camera: “ I am going to role-play in front of the others and also in front of the dreaded camera”. I will give ye more information about this “monumental event” in my next social behavioural therapy blog.

After such great news Odhran gave us a fond farewell and told us “not to worry too much – at least ye will having something to talk about in the pub”. Well he was not wrong there, but not quite as much as one would presume. You would imagine a bunch of socially anxious people who have just been told they have to act in front of camera would talk about nothing else.

In the pub we began, albeit briefly, to talk about the upcoming role play but then switched to talk about more “mundane” stuff. We even began to talk a bit about ourselves. I suppose it is bringing us closer together, much like “soldiers before they enter an impending battle [think of band of brothers]”.

In conclusion, we began with a discussion on the short and long term effect our safety behaviours and began to ask how we are perceived by others when we exhibit these behaviours, which does not show us in the best light. This clearly showed why it was time to act to change or paraphrase Odhran “ act it before you feel it.”  This meetup seems to have been a watershed in that we are moving from a more theoretical analysis of social anxiety to apply methods to overcome it

Moreover I am no longer overly concerned about not having my homework completed or that the others may laugh at what I say. I know they will be there to support me in my upcoming, monumental, film in which I will have the main role [possibly the only role]. I do not know exactly what I intend to do but whatever it may be,  I must ensure it will be challenging; it is unlikely that I will get another chance to deliver an Oscar winning performance anytime soon.

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