Imagine finding yourself in the only social event you will go to for the day, ready to talk to people. You’ve prepared yourself for the moment. You know you’re deathly shy and scared of talking to new people. But if you don’t take action in this one moment, you will regret it. There won’t be many more chances to make new friends or meet a hot date.
But despite your preparations, you freeze up when it’s time. You find yourself doing anything except talking to other people. Then, the event is over.
You are kicking yourself in your head and you dwell on the fact that you did nothing for the next hour … or even the entire week.
I’ve been there. I’ve had crippling shyness. It sucks. It still sucks. But you are not alone. There are hordes of perfectly kind, mentally healthy people who are just too shy to do meet others. To this day, I still run into people (even successful, attractive young women) who struggle with these issues and fail to reach their potential.
I’m going to show you a path you can take to overcome shyness and social anxiety and achieve the friendships and relationships you have always wanted. Sound too good to be true? I understand. With such a sweet deal, you have to do something in exchange. And that is to be patient and consistently work through the process. It will take time.
Prefer to listen rather than read? Listen to the podcast version of this:
Out of all the introversion and shyness books I’ve read, the book Single, Shy, and Looking for Love: A Dating Guide for the Shy and Socially Anxious by Dr. Shannon Kolakowski (affiliate link) is the best. Don’t get put off by the title. It’s a great book even if your social anxiety issues have nothing to do with dating; there are many great passages in the book on how to stop being shy and why you have it, for whatever goal you’re after (to succeed at work or make more friends).
ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
The book revolves around a new method of dealing with social anxiety called acceptance and commitment therapy (Dalyrmple and Herbert 2007). You allow your fears to be and see them as feelings that will come and go rather than try to cope with them. There are six parts of ACT:
- Accepting and embracing experiences rather than avoiding them.
- Being present in the moment.
- Cognitive defusion: seeing how your thoughts affect your behavior.
- Self-as-context: figuring out how your self-concept affects your coping style and breaking free of past constraints so you can be yourself.
- Values configuration: figuring out what you really want.
- Committed action.
How to Deal with Anxiety with Rejection
Symptoms: You feel lonelier and disliked after the slightest conflict. You’re likely to expect potential romantic candidates to reject you. You have strong anxiety associated with the expectation of rejection.
Practice meditation with mindfulness awareness of your emotions as they pass through. There are plenty of guided meditations on Insight Timer that have this theme. Labeling emotions leads to lower fear and anxiety even if you can’t accept them (Kircanski, Lieberman, and Craske 2012).
Find out which situations involving potential rejection trigger your anxiety so you can be more aware of how you’re feeling when it happens. For example, I get anxious when:
- I feel slighted or put down in social interactions. I sometimes dwell on this for too long.
- I enter a new group. I can assume they would rather me not be there.
- I am around an attractive woman, even if the interactions have been platonic or we’ve never spoke. I assume she can sniff out that I like her if I interact with her and then, she’ll reject me.
Realize your anxiety can distort reality and make something seem like a rejection when it isn’t.
Expecting Rejection Makes It Worse
Studies consistently show that expecting rejection makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think a woman is getting less interested in you, you tend to start behaving in ways that make her more interested even if she wasn’t actually less interested (Downey et. al 1998).
You may find yourself being hyper aware of every social interaction because there’s always a chance for someone to reject you or think negatively of you. But this can be painful and anxious way to view the world, as you know. You can feel like most or all people are mean.
While there are cruel people out there, realize that most people aren’t out there to tear you down.
Rejection Isn’t Always A Judgement Of You Or Because of You
If someone rejects you, there could be a variety of factors that have nothing to do with you. Maybe she just got out of a tough relationship. Maybe she’s later for a job interview. Maybe she’s homosexual.
There are a flood of possibilities. Don’t automatically assume it’s because of you or you may cause yourself unnecessary suffering.
If someone makes harsh judgements or acts rude to you without warranting it, then it’s a reflection of who that person is. They can’t possibly know how you truly are as a person from such a short encounter.
Realize Emotions Don’t Last Forever
Realize that your negative emotions won’t last forever. Anger, anxiety, or fear have to subside at some point.
Interacting and Engaging On A Date
This section helps you:
- Stop second guessing
- Stop walking on eggshells to avoid messing up
- Stop being distracted
- Be more present and aware
- Decrease worry
- Increase your openness to whatever happens
- Connect with your emotions and your date
What is Mindfulness?
Here’s an example of what it’s not: missing an exit driving on the freeway because you were thinking about work. Or thinking about what you will have for the dinner when you are exercising. Or thinking about work when you are eating dinner.
Mindfulness is being keenly attentive to the present moment.
Mindful acceptance is the process of responding and accepting your present thoughts, feelings, and urges with openness and kindness and without judgement. It’s about accepting things for how they are rather than thinking how things should be.
Regular mindfulness meditation can:
- lower anxiety and increase self-image and ability to cope with stress (hoge et al. 2013).
- make relationships stronger, closer, more secure, more satisfying, and more understanding (Atkinson 2013).
Practice Mindfulness and Mindful Breathing Meditation
Has been officially one year since I started meditating. Thanks to new research on habit formation that I have been using, I’ve been pretty consistent on a weekly basis with meditation and a number of other habits like exercise. I do feel like I am getting a head start compared to some people yet to others I feel like I am behind them. Everyone has their own pace. I started meditation mainly for success reasons. There is a decent amount of scientific literature and successful people who owe a lot or prove that meditation helps the performance of your brain through neuroscience. After a year, I’m here to reports the truth with no BS or hype. It is not a magic pill. I don’t think I have transformed my physique, my social skills, my focus, or my creativity. However, I can confidently say that there is a definite 2 to 5% increase there. if the rate of increase continues for the next 10 years, maybe it truly is a miracle cure. however, I’m sure there are diminishing returns. Ultimately, so far, I’ve only seen increases in performance rather than declines. I have the time and I will do everything I can to increase the odds in my favor.
Be present in the moment with your breathe. It’s harder than it seems. Notice how your belly moves. Feel the air move in and out of your mouth. Notice any sensations. Don’t try to change your breathing or anything else. Just pay attention.
Part of mindfulness is noticing when your mind wanders and bringing it back to the breathe.
Accept Rather than Deny Your Negative Emotions
Studies show that denying or avoiding negative emotions, like anxiety, makes it worse compared to accepting them as is (Kashdan, Zvolensky, and McLeish 2008).
Remember that those feelings will still be there even if you try to avoid them. Realize that showing emotions sometimes doesn’t make you less of a man.
By avoiding feelings of embarrassment from rejection, it can cause you to react or think more about it, for instance. Instead, accept them as is and their power over you diminishes.
You tend to focus on the anxious, negative consequences, but keep in mind the positive possibilities and feelings too.
Do This Mindfulness of Emotions Rating Exercise
This is based on urge surfing and dialectical behavioral therapy.
- Label the emotion.
- Rate the intensity from 1 to 10.
- Look for willingness to feel the emotion rather than push away.
- Accept the emotion. Even if you know you don’t want to, look at it with kindness and compassion, understanding it’s part of the natural human experience.
- Notice any urges based on the emotion.
- Ride out the urge, realizing you don’t have to do it. For example, “I want to leave because I’m uncomfortable in risky social environments, but I won’t because there’s also a chance I will improve my life staying here.”
How to Deal with Anxiety from Potential Embarrassment
- Put less of an investment into it so the fall isn’t as great (e.g. don’t go to expensive restaurants far out of your way on a first date if you fear being stood up).
- Have more options so that one loss isn’t as catastrophic (e.g. more dates or more potential women you can ask out).
- Reframe how you perceive the trigger (rejection, being stood up, etc.) for the embarrassment. Often, you’re viewing it as a reflection of you as a person, which isn’t true. It’s not a true reflection on you because it can be entirely their own issues that cause it. Maybe they were super busy or had a bad day.
- Assess your thoughts and feelings objectively. Get some distance from them to see if they’re rational.
- Realize that everyone goes through embarassing events and it’s part of the journey. Understand that it’s not really catastrophic in the grand scheme of things.
- Come to terms with any shame you feel and realize it’s okay to want what you want. Likely, you’re ashamed of expressing sexual interest in someone. You may think it’s not okay. But realize that it’s a normal human experience that all people have and you don’t have to hide it.
Learning from Embarrassment
Become the objective observer of your thoughts.
Answer these questions in a journal:
When you feel embarrassed, what other emotions do you notice besides anxiety and embarrassment? Shame. Low self esteem. Catastrophe. Defensiveness (“Oh, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t care anyways.”) Wanting to run away, not be the center of attention, and/or change the subject.
What type of thoughts do you have about yourself or others when you feel embarrassed? “They won’t be my friends anymore.” “They will think I’m weird or creepy.” “Wow, they’re going to think I’m a dick.”
Do you consider some thoughts good or bad, or right or wrong? No. I think they’re valid emotions, but inappropriate overreactions. It’s not bad or wrong; it’s just not what I should be thinking. I’m judging my actions too harshly. Sometimes, my shame may be overkill and I’m overreacting to their harsh judgement.
Look at the large picture. What do you want from your dating experience? Lots of fun, enjoyment, and a good relationship with someone who is beautiful and admirable on the inside and out.
Does a particular embarrassing incident affect who you are as a person or the direction you’re headed in life? No. In fact, these incidents of past rejection are far behind me. They definitely won’t affect where I’m headed in the future on the grand scale of my goals, only if I act super creepy or robotic, like a pick up artist do I really deserve to take a second look at my character as a person. I believe I judge my worth as a person too harshly for potential rejection and still am held back by past trauma, even though it’s old.
It’s Not About Eliminating All Anxiety
If you take anything from this, it’s not necessary to eliminate all shy or anxious thoughts to live a fulfilled, rich life. Your goal is to be able to handle upsetting thoughts or feelings and still move forward with living a valued life.
Anxiety Snowball Exercise
Imagine your anxiety as a snowball rolling down a hill. Add every anxious thought to the snowball and watch it get bigger and bigger as it rolls farther away from you. Eventually, it stops at the bottom of the hill and starts to melt
This exercise is a reminder that your anxious thoughts aren’t you and that they don’t last forever.
Judging Yourself or Others Too Harshly: Practice Loving-Kindness
Goal of this exercise: Seeing the world and yourself with more compassion.Studies (Emmons and McCullough 2003) show that tuning into feelings of loving-kindness can be on of the most beneficial ways to improve mood, relationships, and outlook on life.
Use whatever phrases work best for you with this exercise.
- Close your eyes. Recall an instance when a friend, family member, or acquaintance said or did something that made you feel glad inside.
- Capture the feeling of warmth and happiness. Allow it to live inside you, and feel it in your heart. Extend that feeling out into your entire body. Say a phrase like, “May I be healthy, may I find peace, and may I have joy.”
- Return to those feelings of gladness and send that loving energy out to a friend, using a phrase that conveys your loving intention — for example, “May you be happy, healthy, and live with ease.”
- Repeat step 3 with a family member.
- Spread the loving-kindness to your entire family.
- Find those feelings of loving-kindness and send them to your coworkers.
- Repeat and extend your feelings to the entire state, then the country, and then the world.
- Reflect on your feelings of gratitude and peace. Let these feelings resonate with you after the exercise.
Judgemental thoughts tend to be negative and assume the worst in yourself or others. This practice will remind you that you have the capacity to be compassionate and kind. As you connect with these feelings, you’ll find it easier to embrace the good in others every day.
Social anxiety can skew perceptions and make people seem intimidating or scary. A daily loving-kindness exercise will help you be more attuned to people’s capacity for acceptance and caring. When reminded of the love you have for others, you see the warmth and joy in them.
How To Stop Being Quiet and Letting Others Slip By (The Laddering Up Technique)
I suggest using demonstrated performance and slow baby steps out of your comfort zone guide you. Start with who you are comfortable talking with. Maybe it’s old grandmas and young children. Practice with them until you can move onto something slightly more scary.
Maybe this time, it’s female sales associates at the mall. They’re paid to be nice to you so there’s less pressure that something bad will happen but it’s still scary because they are closer to your age. Don’t hit on them, just practice on getting to know them and interacting.
Keep laddering up and press the comfort zone. I’ve tried this technique numerous times and it works wonders. The only danger to look out for is getting lazy. If you slack off or delay the progress, you can easily slide back down the comfort zone. Smaller jumps to something more discomforting is usually a better progression than big jumps.
Many people let their shyness cripple them. They are too shy to make friends and they give up rather than try to fix it because it’s too hard. That person is not you. You’ve read this article. You’re willing to learn. Now, it’s time to take some action and do something from what you learned.
I learned that it isn’t about curing shyness. Those feelings may take a long time to get rid of or always be there. But by being mindfully aware of them and dealing with them in effective ways, you can become a confident introvert and get the relationships you always wanted.
Let me know in the comments one action you commit to doing this week, if not today, from what you learned here.