Did you know cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) now is half as effective at treating social anxiety as it was inthe 1970s?
Researchers Tom Johnsen and Oddgeir Friborg found this after analyzing 70 studies using CBT from 1977-2014.
They believe it’s because of the “placebo effect.” When CBT was new in the 1970s, it seemed like an amazing “miracle cure.” And people naturally place a high amount of trust in whatever’s new.
Now that it’s been around for decades, its newness has worn off. People got used to CBT. And it’s no big deal anymore.
That’s just their theory. It makes sense. But it could also be wrong.
And now, a team of British and Norwegian researchers have found medication isn’t highly effective for treating social anxiety either.
While using medication alone works to treat depressive disorders, it becomes a crutch for people with social anxiety disorder.
Rather than making the condition disappear, anxiety medication reduces the symptoms. Researchers found this convinces patients they are “cured.”
Instead of taking action to gain the skills to regulate themselves and live happily, patients sit back and rely on the medication to do all the work. Eventually, the medication stops working or the socially anxious person stops taking it. And the anxious symptoms come right back.
But many psychiatrists and doctors don’t understand medication works like this for social anxiety sufferers.
To prove their theory, these researchers compared four groups of participants in a study:
- Group 1 got only medication
- Group 2 got only therapy
- Group 3 got therapy and medication
- Group 4 got a placebo pill
A year later, researchers followed up with the study’s participants, and found this:
- The therapy group experienced a 68% recovery rate
- The therapy and medication group recovered at a 40% rate
- The medication group (paroxetine) recovered at a 24% rate
- The placebo group experienced the lowest recovery rate – just 4%
So therapy alone creates the most potent results.
Why Else Might These Popular Social Anxiety Treatments Not Work?
Social anxiety isn’t just a physical, biological problem. That’s the most observable component given current medical technology.
Oh, and by the way, doctors, hospitals, medical technology corporations, and drug manufacturers make billions off this every year.
Your real problem isn’t social anxiety. It’s actually something else. I’ll show you why in a bit. But for now, you came here to learn popular treatments for social anxiety disorder.
So let me explain the leading ones:
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Though Its Effectiveness is Waning
CBT works to treat a number of mental health conditions. Social anxiety is actually just one of them.
With CBT, you take a rational, analytical look at your thoughts. The goal is to question the accuracy of those thoughts, and instead work on accepting more realistic ways of thinking.
It doesn’t look at your past in any way. It only examines what’s happening in your life now and how you perceive it.
Though contrived, this role-play doesn’t do too bad of a job giving you an idea of how CBT works with a therapist:
You can also get self-help books for doing CBT on your own.
However, CBT wasn’t designed specifically for people with social anxiety disorder.
I remember watching an episode of Scientific America with Alan Alda years ago. They did some research on the “placebo effect.”
Put simply, “placebo effect” refers to you improving from a treatment simply because of your belief that the treatment works. The actual treatment itself provides no real help. It’s common in studies to give some patients a sugar pill (but not tell them) to see how the placebo effect affects their recovery.
Anyway, in that episode of Scientific American, they found that the more elaborate a treatment became, the stronger the placebo effect. For example, someone getting acupuncture (because of all the needles and their precision placement) would be more likely to experience strong recovery from the placebo effect versus someone getting a sugar pill.
I don’t think this was in Scientific American, but I remember hearing a story of how a woman claimed she cured herself of cancer simply by laughing and watching comedies for months.
…Don’t try that one out by the way!
But it does show you a point: newer, more exotic treatments heighten the power of the “placebo effect.”
Why you might do it:
- Research proves CBT does work to a certain extent.
- It’s simple. Anyone can understand or do it.
- Doesn’t cost a lot if you don’t want it to. You can just buy a book to guide you through it.
- No side effects or any serious health risks.
- Easy. Won’t drive your anxiety through the roof to do it.
Why you might avoid it:
- Doesn’t always work.
- May not be any more effective than other treatments, according to many researchers.
- Not designed specifically for social anxiety disorder.
- Many therapists don’t know how to do it well.
- Can cost a fair amount of money if you do it with a therapist.
- Boring. Repetitive.
- Doesn’t really challenge you to get out of your comfort zone.
2. Medication, But It’s Only a Short-Term Solution
If you’re anxious (regardless of the type) and you go to the doctor, they’ll tell you it’s a biological problem and prescribe you a medication. They may prescribe:
Or even something else. You have many choices for social anxiety.
Doctors aren’t wrong. Anxiety does have a biological component.
But you’re in a real pickle if you want the medication to do all the work. That’s because medications only numb symptoms. Instead of feeling tense, tight, and like you have prickling needles poking you all over, you feel less of that.
You don’t become an extrovert. You don’t become happy and one with the world. You have less anxious symptoms.
Doctor Hans M. Nordahl found the big problem with medications: social anxiety sufferers rely on medication to fix them. They don’t realize they have the ability to regulate their anxiety successfully on their own. When they go off the medication or reduce it, the anxious symptoms come right back. And they don’t grow or change as people.
Basically, you miss out on life.
- Medication works quickly. Usually a few weeks to a couple months.
- It can reduce your symptoms so it’s easier to work your way out of it.
- Easy to do. Just take the pill.
- You may have to try several meds before you find one that works.
- Doctors can be arrogant and judgmental while you try to get on the right meds. If you keep telling the medication isn’t working, they get angry at you.
- Sometimes your doctor makes you see a psychiatrist to get the meds you want.
- Insurance companies get in the middle and make things more difficult.
- You don’t get permanent relief.
- Medication trains you to be helpless and passive. You miss out on the excitement of taking risks, building relationships, and living life.
- You may experience significant side effects (confusion, dizziness, depression) with some medications.
- You may fall into the trap of going on a medication, and then taking additional meds to control the side effects of the med. Then, you end up worse off than when you started. This especially happens when you view meds as the only, and final, solution to your social anxiety.
- You do have to pay some money, though not usually a lot ($50 per year or so).
3. Mindfulness Meditation
For reasons I don’t understand, meditation is catching on like crazy in America. Don’t get me wrong…I think that’s awesome.
But what drives so many people to think it’s great now, and not 20 or 30 years ago? I’m just curious is all.
Evidence? Meditation App “Headspace” (you may know of it) raised $30 million in venture capital funding around September of 2015. If investors will pour serious money into something, they absolutely believe the general public has a strong interest in it.
Anyway, “meditation” sets off pictures of chanting “ohmmm” while sitting at the top of a mountain by yourself. You think of monks in a monastery thousands of miles away. Religious folks jump to the conclusion you’re worshiping false gods.
It’s strange. Different. Not something we’ve historically done here in the US.
That’s one way to do meditation. But it’s not the only way to do it.
And research at Stanford proves mindfulness meditation works to reduce your social anxiety.
Lead researcher Phillippe Golden used mindfulness-based stress reduction. His colleagues Wiveka Ramel and psychology professor James Gross exposed socially anxious people to 9 separate MSBR sessions.
The study participants learned to focus on their breathing or walking instead of their self-critical thinking. The also felt less depressed and improved their view of themselves.
Here’s a couple MBSR meditations so you can acquaint yourself, or even start meditating right now:
Why you might like MBSR:
- Easy. Painless. You listen to the guided meditation and apply the skills in your daily life.
- Doesn’t have any negative side-effects like medication.
- Little cost involved. You can use free MBSR videos from YouTube. I’m sure you can buy some too.
Why you might avoid MBSR:
- While some research supports its use, it still doesn’t have as much support as other techniques.
- The benefits multiply the more you practice. So, it could take years before you experience the full benefit.
- It takes a fair amount of time.
- Does require you to be a self-starter, which may or may not work for you.
- You might confuse it with your spirituality. However, realize it’s not a spiritual practice at all.
- Doesn’t challenge your social anxiety. How can you gain the skills to succeed in social situations without practicing them? May work best as part of an overall plan.
4. Systematic Desensitization
This one gets overlooked a lot. But many social anxiety sufferers do it, or try to do it alone. You probably have at least a few times.
The simple, informal way to do it is to slowly expose yourself to anxiety-provoking situations. First, you start with a fairly easy one. Then, you work your way up to one that terrifies you.
In a setting with a psychologist, you may do one of two kinds of systematic desensitization:
- Guided imagery where you practice deep breathing and muscle detensioning where you imagine being exposed to the threatening situation
- The same process, again with help from a psychologist, but where you’re actually exposed to what scares you
Joseph Wolpe is credited with inventing this therapy. It actually originates from a story that’s funny, and not-so-funny, at the same time:
An 18-year-old male had a severe handwashing compulsion (that’s characteristic of OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a fear of contamination from germs). After urinating, the young man couldn’t stop himself from washing his genitalia for a full 45 minutes.
But that wasn’t all. He followed that up by washing his hands for two hours, and then taking a 4-hour shower.
He was afraid to contaminate others with his own urine.
So if you’re counting that right, he spent a full 6 hours and 45 minutes cleaning up following his use of the bathroom.
I’m familiar with OCD and understand how debilitating it can be. At the same time, you gotta chuckle a little bit at the craziness of it all. My own social anxiety is equally crazy, so I have to laugh at myself a little too.
To treat this unfortunate young man, Wolpe placed the young man in a state of relaxation. He started with a low-threat stimulus, discussing a hypothetical image of an unknown man touching a full water trough with just a single drop of urine.
Eventually, Wolpe presented a real bottle of urine to the young man at a distance. The bottle of urine, over the course of several sessions, was moved closer. Finally, Wolpe placed drops of diluted urine on the back of the patient’s hand without causing any anxiety.
A follow-up session four years later revealed the patient no longer struggled with compulsive handwashing.
In this video of systematic desensitization, Jackie (oh my heart breaks for her and laughs at the same time) works on overcoming her fear of feathers (Yep. Feathers.). She believes she will die after exposure to one:
Why you might like systematic desensitization:
- It works well for treating phobias, including social phobia.
- You can control the pace at which you’re exposed to anxiety-provoking events.
- It takes several sessions to work, which could run up your costs.
- You don’t depend on the therapist to get you through it. You gain the skills and become able to function independently.
Why you might avoid it:
- It doesn’t necessarily work well if you have a hard time imagining anxiety-provoking situations.
- If you have to experience the situation in-person, that can be, well, downright anxiety-provoking.
- If some your anxiety is biological, systematic desensitization probably won’t help. It’s based on the theory that you learn your phobic reactions.
5. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) May Work When CBT Fails
Since CBT doesn’t always work for everyone, you must have some solution available, right?
Dr. Marsha Linehan invented DBT when she worked with suicidal women who often also had borderline personality disorder. For them, CBT did not have much of an effect, if any.
CBT’s techniques were too “invalidating.” Patients felt like something was “wrong” with them. So, they didn’t buy in to the therapy.
Because (and this is my non-expert guess), suicidal women clearly had something awful happen to them that led to their thinking of that as a viable solution. And based on their experiences, though not typical, their thinking likely was reasonable.
For example, many women get sexually abused as young children or teenagers. They learn all men are “assholes.”
In their experience, that’s true. And maybe it’s true of men beyond just that. But it’s not true of every man.
So Dr. Linehan realized her patients needed a form of therapy that acknowledged the truth of her client’s experiences. Today, DBT focuses on allowing two opposing truths to exist at the same time.
You may need acceptance of your experiences, and your resulting worldview. In addition, you realize that may not always be true and see the necessity for change.
When treating anxiety, DBT:
- Teaches you how to describe and observe your emotions
- Gives you skills to regulate your emotions
- Shows you how to act the opposite way your emotions indicate
- Helps you understand a situation from a factual position
- Finding ways to change the event prompting an emotional reaction, if possible
DBT aims to change and influence emotions. But it first starts with where these emotions come from and why they arise.
In DBT, you work with a therapist and a group, and your therapist may be part of a larger treatment team.
Watch the video below of Dr. Linehan as she uses DBT to work with a man who’s physically abusive to his significant other:
Why you might like DBT:
- You get to understand why you are the way you are.
- When you change, it’ll be amazing.
- Acting opposite the way your feelings tells you often leads to amazing benefits and experiences.
- You’ll learn how to live in the moment. Social anxiety always pushes you into the past or future.
- Working on fitting verifying your feelings based on the facts is a great skill to learn to reduce your social anxiety.
- The “radical acceptance” skill shows you how to acknowledge reality as it is, without necessarily approving of it.
- Some of the skills you learn in DBT will improve your assertiveness.
- It’s more complex. Technically, you can always improve your skills.
Why you might want to avoid DBT:
- It’s painful. You have to change. That’s never easy.
- You’ll be confronted with parts of yourself you don’t like. And everyone has parts of themselves they don’t like.
- CBT’s more popular. It may be harder to find a DBT therapist.
- The number of skills to learn can be overwhelming.
- Treatment can last quite some time – six months to a year.
6. Exercise Helps, But Isn’t Necessarily a “Cure”
early every person who advises you on reducing your social anxiety tells you to exercise.
And again, they’re right. You should. It helps. No doubt about it.
One Turkish study of university students who did not get any regular exercise found 30 minutes of daily activity (gymnastics, volleyball, other types of athletics) reduced their anxiety 15.4% after 6 weeks reduced their anxiety 15.4% after 6 weeks. Those effects actually increased after 5 weeks, eventually topping out at around 24.1%.
In my own life, I’ve found intense cardio exercise works best. I’m not a long-distance runner. In fact, I hate running. With a passion.
I’d rather do thousands of other things, like slowly driving wooden pegs under my finger nails…
I’ll run about 3 miles from time-to-time. That takes me 35 minutes these days (yikes!). For me, running that distance completely consumes and exhausts my body.
After I take a shower, some days I literally feel 100% confident, like I can handle anything with no social anxiety at all.
I can tell you with 100% certainty that I feel like a completely different person. To maximize this effect, I’ll run on hot and humid days when it reaches the mid-80s or low-90s here in Wisconsin.
If it only worked that way every time…
But it doesn’t. I can’t tell you why. That’s just the way my body works. Perhaps you’re different. And I hate the actual process of running, so I don’t do it that often.
Instead, I play basketball. Because, I loooooooooove basketball. Can’t get enough of it. I don’t run quite as hard when shooting around by myself. But I do get up and going when I play with some friends. And that gives me a similar effect to running 3 miles.
And of course, it’s not practical to run for 30 minutes or 3 miles before every anxiety-provoking situation in your life.
I used to lift weights too. While it makes me feel macho and manly, I haven’t noticed it being as effective as running or playing basketball.
You just can’t do it.
But in my opinion, regular exercise (around 3-4 days per week) of this intensity helps to keep your overall social anxiety levels down.
It won’t cure or transform you long-term. But it helps. And besides, it’s healthy and you should do it anyway. For me, it helps keep my blood pressure down.
How much exercise do you need? Mayo Clinic recommends:
- 30 minutes of physical activity (any kind) every day
- 2 hours, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (fast walking, mowing your lawn, swimming, or playing basketball by yourself) weekly
- 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (running, aerobic dancing) weekly
- One set of strength training exercises, 12-15 repetitions, twice weekly
Sound like a lot?
It is. Personally, I get angry at these recommendations because honestly, I have a job and family responsibilities…how do I fulfill all these too? Maybe if I had a doctor’s salary….
For now, I aim to achieve the cardio recommendations. I don’t use lack of time as an excuse to not exercise at all.
So if you just can’t make all of the above happen, do the best you can.
This guy does gives a real nice, practical talk (free of dense medical lingo) on the benefits of exercise:
Why you might like exercise:
- It’s fun, and especially so when you find the kind of exercise you like.
- Can really feel like a “natural caffeine.” Gives you a burst of energy and joy…without a crash.
- It could lead to you making new friends. You also get more out of your exercise when you do it with others too.
- Your self-esteem will improve…even if you don’t get that perfect body you envision.
- You’ll achieve things others don’t who choose to watch TV or spend time on Facebook instead.
- You could get injured. It happens sometimes when you exercise.
Why you might not like exercise:
- It can be hard, boring, and repetitive. But if it is, find a new kind of exercise you enjoy.
- It could trigger your social anxiety to a degree. Not all exercise can be done at home. Gyms can be intimidating.
- You may be tempted to compare yourself to others and feel bad about your performance or the way you look.
- You may worry about your ability to do the exercise right.
7. Online Advice
The internet certainly isn’t a bad thing. Although it absolutely can be a great source of misinformation. If you want to learn something, you’ll definitely Google it.
…But how do you know that advice will have any positive impact on your life?
You don’t. And that even includes information you find from reputable studies. Because sometimes, studies can be funded by companies (think natural supplements) with a large material interest in the study supporting a certain view.
I can’t say online information as a whole is “bad” or “good.” You simply have to cross-reference what you find in one place at other sites.
You also hear many people’s personal stories. You’ll learn things that worked for others that might work for you. Or you might hear the right words or phrases that inspire you to try something new.
Online advice can be both valuable, and foolish, at the same time. But a lot of it presents the same stuff in an interesting way, like this video on depression and anxiety:
Why you’ll like online advice:
- You can find lots of new and unique ideas for healing your social anxiety.
- Doesn’t cost anything.
- You can find someone’s story you relate to, even if you think yours is the only one.
Why you may want to avoid it:
- Typically, you hear the same thing over and over.
- Anyone can anoint themselves an “expert.”
- You have to piece it together to create a system that works for you.
- You have to start all this yourself and keep yourself accountable, which is hard for most people to do.
- You’ll hear all sorts of conflicting opinions and won’t know which to believe.
- A lot of it is boring.
- You can get overwhelmed. That leads to trying to many things inconsistently, which impedes your progress.
But Here’s the Thing: None of These Approaches Address Your Real Problem
Believe it or not, social anxiety isn’t your real problem. Nope. Not at all.
I used to think that. It’s only the surface issue. And yes, you can say all these symptoms (fear of what others think, fear you’ll fail, feeling like a stranger etc…) qualify as “social anxiety.”
…And that’s the way most clinicians understand them. If you seek treatment for social anxiety, you’ll certainly get some relief.
I’m not saying it’s “bad” or “wrong” to incorporate any of the approaches discussed. Science proves they work. I don’t question that.
But, they fail to address your core issue: severely low self-esteem. And that’s why researchers have such a difficult time creating a treatment approach with a nearly guaranteed success rate.
At your inner core, you feel worthless. Inadequate. Unlovable. Alone. Afraid.
From that core comes all these symptoms you experience and associate with social anxiety:
- Fear of people
- Terror of what they think
- Isolating yourself from others
- Not trying because you know you’ll fail
- Always feeling like an outsider
- Sweating and shaky palms in performance situations (you know you can’t do it)
- Feeling petrified of authority
- Not saying what you think
- Blaming others for your fear
- Constantly thinking “what if”
- Ruminating about the past
- Fearing the future
- Intensely criticizing yourself
- Always feeling attacked
- Ruminating on your flaws
- Hating when people compliment you
- Focusing on what’s wrong with others
- And whatever else you experience
Nathaniel Branden, a leading thinker on self-esteem (now deceased), who wrote more than 20 books about self-esteem over seven decades, defines self-esteem like this:
Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness. It is confidence in the efficacy of our mind, in our ability to think. By extension, it is confidence in our ability to learn, make appropriate choices and decisions, and respond effectively to change. It is also the experience that success, achievement, fulfillment – happiness – are right and natural for us. The survival-value of such confidence is obvious; so is the danger when it is missing.
You see that bold sentence? When do you feel like that? Have you ever felt that way?
If you notice, it’s the exact opposite way your social anxiety wants you to feel. You tend to feel unworthy. You don’t enjoy your life. You don’t feel fulfilled. And you certainly don’t feel successful.
I know I haven’t over my young life.
Interestingly, I could not find a complete list of what people with healthy self-esteem think. I found lots of partial lists.
So here’s some of the traits you feel when you have healthy self-esteem:
- You don’t take criticism personally
- You feel comfortable sharing your weaknesses and vulnerabilities with others
- You actively seek work you enjoy
- You take responsibility (and action) for making your life better
- You avoid self-destructive behavior like addictions, poor financial decisions, reckless driving, and dangerous relationships
- You help others feel good about themselves
- You usually like and think positive things about yourself
- You take calculated risks
- You’re comfortable making mistakes
- You don’t accept abuse and poor treatment from others
- You don’t hide the best parts of yourself
- You feel proud of what you do accomplish, whether big or small
- You can make your own decisions without approval from others
- You generally feel comfortable around others
- You accept compliments gracefully
- You’re generally not jealous or envious of others
- You know you can find a solution to problems that arise, rather than wallow in self-pity
- You respect differences between yourself and others
- You feel “whole”
- You show gratitude for what you do have, even if it seems like you don’t have a lot
- You’re not easily offended
- You don’t dwell on the mistakes or shortcomings of others
…That’s just a partial list.
But when you compare that one to the symptoms of social anxiety earlier, do you see how they’re exactly the opposite of each other?
You can easily notice the symptoms.
…But what causes them?
How Do You Transform Your Core?
Wow. Now we’re getting into deep stuff here.
Western science tries to say a malfunctioning amygdala causes your social anxiety. And that’s right.
But I only partially agree. Because science hasn’t invented a medical procedure or medication that fixes your broken amygdala.
Not yet anyway. And I think we’re farther away from any such solution than the arrogance of science and medicine says.
You can’t touch “low self-esteem.” We don’t have a SSRI or benzodiazepine medication that fixes your broken self-esteem. You can’t magically get healthy self-esteem.
So what do you do?
Are You So Screwed by Social Anxiety You Can’t Actually Do Anything About It?
Absolutely, unequivocally. No.
You can heal your social anxiety and low self-esteem. You can be completely the opposite of the way you are now.
It’s just not a fast change.
If you couldn’t change anything, why even bother living?
Your life has no point if you’re born one way and die exactly the same way. You might as well just go flip on the TV 24 hours per day and quit.
Without the possibility of change, your life ceases to have meaning.
How To Transition from Low Self-Esteem to Healthy Self-Esteem
I can’t write a complete guide on this part. It’s too amazingly in-depth. But I can fill a whole blog with my own experiences and strategies for doing this.
You could spend your whole lifetime studying self-esteem. And you may arrive at different answers from others.
Personally, I don’t think one “right way” exists. The world’s too complex. Nearly infinite variation exists.
But I do think general principles for finding healthy self-esteem exist.
For example, the Dalai Lama has encouraged Tibetan Buddhist monks to participate in research on the brain and meditation.
And you know what research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found? After tens and thousands of hours, the Tibetan Buddhist monks fundamentally altered the structure and function of their brains.
Western society places high value on research and science. Nothing wrong with that. But, I think it narrows your focus too much on what actually works if that’s all you examine. In the case of the Tibetan Buddhist monks, they’ve had awareness that meditation changes your life…for thousands of years.
And here we are…just figuring it out now.
So, the East, which tends to be more reclusive, certainly knows stuff we don’t. And it’s also good we have science and research to show what works, what doesn’t, and the most effective way to do it.
You Have Fundamental Needs Just Because You’re Human – Everyone Does
Every human has basic emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs. When you don’t get those met, you experience distress and inner turmoil.
I can’t tell you how many social anxiety sufferers say they have a family who doesn’t understand their condition. Family members say things like:
- Just do it
- You have nothing to be afraid of
- You’ll be fine
- It’ll be okay
- You need to open up
They want to help. But really, saying those things lead to you feel unloved, unwanted, unaccepted, inadequate, unworthy, alone, afraid, and weird.
Your family may have other phrases of choice. Your family may abuse or neglect you outright. Some get so consumed with their own issues (alcoholism, drug addiction, workaholism, gambling or whatever) they don’t have the capacity to help you with your social anxiety.
Others don’t care. Others have never had healthy relationships with themselves or anyone in their own family. And still others think psychological conditions don’t even exist.
Then, compound the hurtful things your family does over the years and decades, and the fact that you naturally don’t know how to deal with all this yourself, and suddenly when you’re an adult, you find you have social anxiety disorder (and maybe other issues too).
You hate yourself. You’re terrified of others. You prefer not even to leave your room, home, or apartment.
Put simply, you never learned how to have a healthy relationship with yourself.
How can you live happily and have healthy relationships with others if you never learned that yourself?
…And I’m right there with you. Because, not only do I have social anxiety disorder, but I’m also a recovering addict.
I not only learned how to have an unhealthy relationship with myself. But I also learned how to abuse myself and make myself hurt 100 times more with an addiction.
And Society Broadcasts Crazy Messages about “Normal”
For example, porn is now mainstream. Many people, perhaps some in your social circles, think porn is “no big deal.” It’s “normal guy behavior.”
…Until you learn the sick and depraved acts porn depicts as “fun and exciting.”
Or, you hear the stories about the crazy workaholic CEOs who spend 7 days per week in their office and have billions to show for it.
But you don’t hear about their daily lives.
How does their family feel about that?
For example, legendary General Electric CEO Jack Welch got divorced twice (once after an affair). He’s now on wife #3. He’s never made any secret about his disdain for work-life balance.
Anyway, when you look at it, while Welch scored billions of dollars, he’s never had a healthy relationship with himself or any of his wives. He doesn’t have the time for it.
I’ve tried working nearly every day of the week. And it sucked. It made me miserable. And I don’t think people who actually do it realize their own misery.
They’re too busy thinking about work to consider it!
Then you have all the other messages from companies that say you need this new smartphone, pair of jeans, or this car to truly enjoy your life.
The point is that society’s messages don’t show you how to have a healthy relationship with yourself. In fact, much the opposite. You’ll end up hating yourself and your life if you let those messed up messages become your primary reason for living.
What Are Your Most Basic Needs?
This could go on a long time…many books in length. And it’s been debated and argued for millennia. Here’s a basic, practical list that may make sense for you now:
- Acceptance and appreciation from family members and friends
- Love, encouragement, and support (you can do it!)
- Hope for a better future
- Purpose (greater than money)
- Romantic relationship
- Healthy friendship/connection
- A sense of belonging
- Physical safety
- To be understood
- A safe place to discuss your innermost thoughts
- Variety (at least a little anyway)
- Spirituality (gets overlooked in America)
- Pleasure activity
That’s a crude, informal list. But, it gives you an idea of what you need to feel happy and whole.
Because, if you’re like me, you’ve thought the point of life is to get a bigger check, larger home, newer car, cooler furniture, table PC, amazing vacation, the latest smartphone, or whatever the next big thing is.
Nothing wrong with having any of those things. However, if they become the primary reason for your existence (which I’ve certainly done at times), you become an unhappy and unfulfilled person.
Because, each of those only provides fleeting happiness. It lasts a few months. Maybe a couple years. But that’s it.
When you have those (mostly psychological) things from the list above, you feel happy, whole, content, and motivated. You don’t feel anxious. Not even a billion dollars can buy those things.
They can only be acquired through experience.
And How Do You Get Those Things?
You have to “practice the habits.” I think that’s a lifelong process. One you can never perfect.
You have to know what people with healthy self-esteem do that you don’t. And again, that’s a loooooooooong conversation. Even people with healthy self-esteem aren’t perfect and have personal stuff to work on.
But you might do simple things like this to begin the process of developing healthy self-esteem:
• Every time you think something negative about yourself, replace it with a positive. If you made lots of mistakes, tell yourself you’re on the way to finding what works. Doesn’t this seem like complete bullshit at first? It does. That’s because your anxious mind is so used to thinking negatively in unhealthy ways that it feels awkward to think a new way. Just like when you learned to ride a new bike at first. Seemed strange. Maybe scary. But pretty cool and fun once you got the hang of it.
• When you make a mistake and want to call yourself stupid, say,”I made a mistake. Humans make mistakes. That’s okay. That’s part of life. I completely forgive and accept myself for making that mistake.”
• Discuss your innermost thoughts and desires with someone you trust. That’s probably a therapist. If it’s not, don’t do it right away. You may push that person away by overdoing it. But, gradually build the relationship over time by sharing parts of yourself that you’d rather to hide.
• Not happy with your work? Take one small step to find new work. Maybe you consider self-employment. Perhaps you want a whole new career. Taking risks = living a happy and fulfilling life. Be ruthless and uncompromising when it comes to your own happiness and satisfaction. But be smart…don’t quit your job tomorrow if your family needs your income.
• Work on understanding others, even if they seem psychotically insane. The best way to get understood is to start by understanding someone else. Ask questions to get to know who they truly are. When they feel safe and comfortable you accept them, they do it in return for you. Keep a healthy distance if the person seems to have serious issues or you think you can’t trust them.
• End or reduce unhealthy relationships. Terrifying, isn’t it? Will you ever find new relationships with others if you leave the one you’re in? You will. You’re experiencing a common self-esteem problem: you don’t feel you’re lovable enough to be worthy of others’ time.
It’s a Long Journey. But Happiness and Peace Await You.
All the therapeutic techniques above help. They work in the short-term. A few weeks or months, and you’ll feel better.
But as you’ve seen, none of these techniques are guaranteed to work. You might feel a little better. You may feel a lot better.
None of them transforms your core, though. Who you are. I don’t know that can happen in just a few weeks.
That takes years.
But the good news is you don’t have to wait for years to have good things happen that lead to more happiness, peace, and confidence. You experience a bit more of each along the way.
Your social anxiety slowly fades away over time. And you have no reason to go back to it because you’ve fundamentally changed your inner person.
Purpose. Fulfillment. Satisfaction. Wholeness. Oneness. That’s what you can get over time. And I’m not sure any therapy, helpful as it may be, can do the same.