So, you’ve got a party to go to and you’re already thinking up ways to back out. What’s it going to be? Do you fake a sudden illness or pretend you got the date wrong and now you have another engagement?
Now, ask yourself how often you feel this way and go through this routine. This avoidance dance can get tiring, and you might also have to swallow the weighty dose of guilt that can accompany the excuses. For some people, social get-togethers aren’t the fun and excitement they are designed to be but instead cause stress or panic.
What is the first thing that popped into your head when you heard about the party? Is it something similar to the following?
- No one is going to want to talk to me.
- I don’t have anything to wear; everyone else is more stylish.
- I’m afraid of making some kind of mistake and everyone will notice. How embarrassing!
- I’m so out of shape in comparison to them all.
- What happens if I don’t know what to talk about? I’ll feel so stupid.
- I feel so uncomfortable at these events. Everyone must know what a loser I am.
- Everyone else has these fabulous jobs; there is nothing about myself worth talking about.
If you identify with any of these thoughts, it is understandable why you would hesitate to go out. The negative self-talk statements listed above are reminders to you of all the reasons you supposedly aren’t good enough, skinny enough, handsome enough, stylish enough, confident, nor successful. In essence, the message you give yourself is this: I’m not worth it, so why make an effort?
Reversing negative self-talk, improving self-worth, and diffusing anxious emotional reactions to social situations requires a change in how you think.
Feeling less in comparison to others can make all events in life challenging and cause anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness. Over time, these emotions may lead to isolation as you cut ties with friends to prevent social threats from entering your life. If you are having these negative thoughts and they are contributing to unmanageable anxiety and/or depression or are interfering with your ability to maintain relationships, you may be experiencing a social anxiety condition or low self-esteem.
Reversing negative self-talk, improving self-worth, and diffusing anxious emotional reactions to social situations requires a change in how you think. Somewhere along the way, in your past, you may have made an interpretation that you aren’t as worthwhile as everyone else. This way of thinking may have followed you into adulthood (this valuable exploration, when conducted with a licensed therapist, may help you discover how your self-perspective was formed). Now, with your adult brain, it’s time to challenge that line of thinking.
Below are three strategies to try out. The goal isn’t to become a perfect social butterfly, but rather to be able to participate in social situations, to find a way to be comfortable, and, eventually, to discover the joy that comes with connecting to the people around you.
Seems too easy, right? You’re probably saying, “Of course I’m going to breathe!” But the breath that is helpful here is one coming from both your chest and your stomach. Take a big breath that fills them both while slowly counting to five, and then exhale to a count of five. Slow, deep breaths can help calm your heart rate, which helps relax your body. When your body is relaxed, you are better equipped to think with reason and clarity. Feeling calm may allow you to talk to yourself with more positive and realistic statements.
Practice deep breathing a couple times a day (i.e., while driving or waiting in a line) so that when you need to calm yourself during challenging situations, you can rely on it.
2. Make a New “Recording”
When you experience recurring negative self-talk, it can be like having a preset recording playing in your head over and over. Time to erase this recording and replace it with one that is more positive and encouraging. Write down a few of your common negative self-talk statements. After each, create new statements that more accurately reflect your abilities and other possible outcomes.
For example, from the list above, the negative statement, “No one is going to want to talk to me” could be replaced with, “There is no reason for me to believe that no one would want to talk to me,” or, “In the past, I’ve found people will talk to me, and it’s okay to be a little nervous.”
3. Refrain from Mind Reading
It is impossible for anyone to know for certain what other people are thinking. Yet we speculate about others and believe our speculations. The negative self-talk we engage in is evidence of that.
Decide today that when mind-reading speculations enter your self-talk, you will ask yourself for the proof. When something isn’t known with certainty, agree to replace the statement with something factual. In addition, keep in mind that as much as you think people are looking at you, discovering your flaws, examining your clothes, and scrutinizing your hairstyle, the reality is in most instances they aren’t. It is typically only in your own mind that you are standing there with a neon sign around your neck.
Now, back to that party invitation. Perhaps there is a part of you that doesn’t want to miss it. Maybe you are finding it isn’t comfortable to sit on the sidelines, just as it isn’t comfortable to be in the game. When both options aren’t ideal, perhaps it’s time to experiment with some strategies to make social events manageable. It is important to remember that behavior changes may take time. Be patient with yourself as you adopt new ways of thinking and engaging in new behavior.
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nancy Warkentin Houdek, LPC, NCC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert
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