Social anxiety is the elephant in the room
I have found myself in situations where I find it really awkward to be with people, and it just doesn’t feel right. Over the years I have gone to churches, and I have just stepped into the building and I left the building quicker than Elvis or lightning! I have been in social engagements where there were many people and only wanted to make a courtesy greeting and leave. I have been in meetings where I just wanted to be invisible. I have declined invitations to all kinds of social functions and make excuses to not attend. I have found that I am more comfortable being alone rather than engaging with other people, and yet I want to be with people. There are people that I get along with very well. There are other social gatherings and engagements that put fear right into me. All these social gatherings trigger all kinds of responses in me.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a disorder, also called social phobia, and is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive or unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged and criticized by others. When I look at this definition I realize just how much my life has been and continues to manifest social anxiety as I engage with people in social situations.
This issue has arisen several times over the last year, to the point that my wife has addressed it and discussed it with me. She has had dealings with this for herself and has done much in overcoming this kind of anxiety. I have done a lot of reflecting of late on my life, and especially so during this journey with breast cancer (hereafter referred to by the acronym MBC), and with my recent social interactions with people.
Don’t get me wrong, I love people, I really do
I have been in many social contexts where I have had to be in front of the public, to speak, make a presentation, teach, preach, and in my army days, take control on the parade ground, control and oversee rifle ranges, conduct training for as many as several hundred men at a time. So you would think I do not have a fear of people, wouldn’t you? I thought I was fine with people too and social gatherings, but I have only been deceiving myself.
Last week I found myself among a crowd of about a dozen people. I knew some of them, including the hosts and facilitators. I knew a few others. I had made up my mind that I wanted to be with a small group and get to know people in the fellowship, and that I would limit my engagement and participation, as one of my core beliefs is that everyone should have a voice and an opportunity to share it in a small group. Every comment and insight is worthy to be heard in the discussion. I have championed this view all my adult life. It was no different in this context.
In this group I found that there were comments and statements that were being made that I wanted to comment on. Reflecting back, I realize that my body stiffened, and my palms were sweaty, and I was forcing myself to be heard when I spoke, and it came across as gruff and tense, even edgy anger could be perceived, if people did not know me any better. I was not angry in the least. I wanted to challenge some statements. What I have come to realize is that I have been manifesting forms of social anxiety disorder. My voice changes in settings like this. I can sound hard and opinionated. I realize that I have a fear of being rejected and judged by others. I remembered over the last week, previous instances in my life, where I ended up sabotaging situations and relationships simply because of a perceived fear of being rejected or judged or feeling unworthy. This was all a startling revelation to me. It shocked me. In fact it still shocks me as I even write this out. So, I have determined that in this fight that I am in right now with this MBC, I am going to continue the “inner work” of personal transformation. I am going to continue to grow to become the man I need to be, and the man that God desires me to become. It is one step in a very long journey.
So what am I going to do about this social anxiety disorder?
I have chosen to walk with an expression of the body of Christ, like I never have before. I am walking with people whom I deeply care for and want to share my life with. They have expressed similar expressions of support and encouragement and a desire to share in the journey of life together. As this is foundational, it will require of me to change in many ways and be will to change. My heart is willing, and as Paul said, my flesh is weak, but I will persevere in the process of change and transformation.
- I will breathe calmly when I am about to speak in a social setting. I will speak in a tone that is honoring and a blessing to others. I will attempt to communicate in calm body language.
- I will look people in the eye when I speak. This is always a challenge for me. The sense of being rejected and judged is very real. I have often looked at people and through people rather than in the eyes of people. I want to be more conscious of what I do, and correct myself and adjust my gaze and look into the eyes of people.
- I will consciously uses terms and language that is easily understood and not speak at people or over people, but speak conversationally with people, and seek to interact with and not stop the interactive flow of conversation.
- I will continue to attempt to greet people by name, look them in the eye and engage in meaningful dialog and show interest in them, without feeling intimidated by them. They are people just like me.
- I will attempt to trust more and be more open and vulnerable with others, and let them into my personal space.
- I will attempt to engage in the same way with others and get to know them as well and their own journey.
- I will be conscious of my verbal and body tone, and be aware that I may be communicating to others my sense of rejection and fear, and that it may manifest in a gruffness or rudeness which is not my intention.
- I will endeavor to engage in social environments that would normally cause me to shy away and disengage or leave.
- I will deal with my shyness by engaging, even with a few people in tangible and real engagement and conversation.
The realization really hit home at the birthday celebration of my mother in law, Joyce
On Thanksgiving Monday, I posted about my mother in law and her birthday celebration. It was while at this celebration that I discovered a revelation from God Himself, that I was a person who has been having issues with social anxiety. I realized that I had hidden my whole life behind “shyness”.
So, I have decided to leave behind my shyness and engage with people. At that reception and meal, I discovered that as I roamed around the room, the more I was away from larger clusters of people, the more at ease I became. I realized that as I gathered with friends and family that were more familiar, the more at ease I was. I realized as some of the guests at the larger tables were not intimidating at all, and they were friendly and open. Those who knew of my situation were very sincere in their conversation with me, and personally engaged and caring. There was no need for me to have any kind of anxiety. These people respected me and accepted me and there was not need to anticipate rejection or judgement from these people. It was quite a revelation to experience. There was this FLASH of light that went off inside me that revealed the anxiety to be something that I could handle.
I knew I had discovered something when I got up to speak
There was this impromptu program where people could speak about my mother in law and make tributes to her. Tim, the host of the evening, opened up the floor, and my wife Lori volunteered herself and our two girls to plunge in and start us all off. Lori introduced Erinn who got up and played the piano. She was beaming with confidence as she played. It was lovely. Then Lori introduced Caitlin to come up and make her beautiful tribute to her grandmother. Caitlin just beamed up there and exuded much confidence. My wife Lori had prepared a short speech. It was a great little speech and she was so relaxed. I found myself wanting to imitate her. So, Tim asked if there was anyone else to share. I waited about ten seconds, and then I bolted up to the mike totally unprepared. It felt fantastic. I looked around the room. I looked directly at Joyce. I spoke softly and tenderly. I shared from my heart in a calm smooth voice, and no wavering in my speech. It was quite amazing. I had overcome a social anxiety moment, right there in front of these incredible people.
This is a great thing for me to know and to be consciously aware of and work on
I know that I can improve in this area and I intend on doing so. I am so thankful for the opportunity to grow and change, even in the midst of great challenges in my life. God has revealed this to me and God will help me deal with it, one moment at a time, one day at time. God is faithful and the people He has put in my life will journey with me as we grow and become the people that we were always intended to be. God is faithful. God is good, all the time, and all the time God is good.
Today will only come once
I know some people are having a great challenge to face this day, to arise today to the simple challenge of just making it through the day. You can make it! You really can! You can get up and out of bed! You can make your bed! You can take a shower and get dressed! You can face whatever lies before you. You can make yourself breakfast and have a cup of tea or coffee. You can sit in that quiet place and shut out the world and breathe. Just close your eyes and breathe. Nice and slow. Breathe in and take in the life giving Spirit of God. I face my day and I say, “Lord Jesus, I receive your breath of life today.” I breathe in and repeat those words. I exhale and say “I let go of all my cares and anxieties that I am facing today. I give them to You.” I repeat this throughout the day whenever I get anxious, or whenever I am just having a rough go of it. As you face to day, you only have today to be lived out. Embrace the day. Embrace each moment of the day. Each moment is unique in and of itself, and the compilation of the moments make for a beautiful day that will only happen once in your lifetime. Make today count. Seize it. take it. It is yours. It is worthy to be lived to the full. You can arise today! You can embrace today! It is your day. Remember, it is YOUR day. You can change your day, by just shifting your mindset and attitude of the heart. That is the power that lies within your heart and will. Peace. May you feel the love and grace and acceptance of God today.
My desire for you today
May you all seize the newness of this day, as yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is yet to be. Seize this day as it gives you a new everything. When you arose, you arose to a whole new adventure in front of you, with new vigor and new strength, new thoughts and a renewed heart and mind. Seize today, make it count. Do all you can with the strength you have for today. Touch lives, and give away the goodness that lies within your heart. Help make today a better day for another person. Release that cheerful spirit inside you just waiting to break out and spill over. A smile. A laugh. A look. Reveal that love and grace and acceptance that flows within you. Reach out, in spite of the situation you find yourself in. As you reach out, you will find the grace, the joy, the peace, that you give others, will come back to you, and cheer your soul and make for a brighter joy filled day. I wish all of you peace and much love and strength today. Carpe Diem.
An incredible beginning to my day today
Lori and I had an incredible morning today. We had coffee together, and shared in the Eucharist, and we prayed for our family and friends, and for grace for today, and courage and strength for this battle we are in. Tears flowed. Peace and comfort came. It was a great and incredible beginning to this new day that the Lord has made. We choose to rejoice in spite of our circumstances and know deeply how Jesus is in the midst of our suffering. Peace and grace to all of you.
ISAIAH 53 [The Message]
1 Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
2-6 The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.
7-9 He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn’t true.
10 Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.
11-12 Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
will make many “righteous ones,”
as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep.
Embrace your day as fully as you can
LAMENTATIONS 3 [The Message]
22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.
God is faithful. You can trust Him.
Peace of Christ be yours.