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When I spoke with Mark he told me he had tried everything to overcome his social anxiety disorder. Nothing had worked. He felt hopeless, frustrated and depressed. He believed there was something terribly wrong with him, and he feared he’d have to live with his social anxiety for the rest of his life.
He had done all the work. He had seen a variety of therapists, read the social anxiety books and tried out several of the famous self-help programs that promise to beat your anxiety.
He had even followed a 3-week group boot-camp with a CBT therapist who specialized in overcoming SAD, done EFT by himself, faced his fears, done affirmations until he was blue in the face – basically tried anything and everything that was recommended. Still nothing worked.
I was immediately able to relate to Mark, because like him, and like many other people suffering from social anxiety, I had experienced the same frustrating results.
Mark had done all he knew and was capable of and yet he still got intensely anxious in social situations.
Maybe you can also relate?
Maybe you are wondering how this is even possible. As it turned out, Mark had been focusing all his efforts on “beating his anxiety”.
He was fighting the wrong problem.
This might sound strange to you, so allow me to explain.
As you read this, I suspect you’ve tried many things to let go of your social anxiety, and your results have either not been as great as you expected, or worse, they’ve been non-existent.
You might have made some positive changes, but these never seemed to last. And your progress
–if there has been any- has been frustratingly slow.
You might even have tried EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and have made more rapid improvements than before, but you still haven’t gotten the results that you are hoping for.
Overall, you’re still far from being anxiety-free and you are asking yourself why that is when you have worked so hard for so long.
So why is this?
Could it be because you’ve been fighting the wrong battle?
What if your social anxiety is not the real problem?
Let’s start out with why you experience anxiety in the first place.
You experience anxiety because your subconscious mind perceives you to be in danger, and to protect you from it, it fires off an inbuilt, automatic early-warning system referred to as the fight, flight, or freeze (FFF) response.
Every time this FFF response is activated, adrenaline gets pumped through your veins, blood rushes away from your head and your digestive system into your outer limbs, and your throat tightens up. Your heart races a hundred miles per hour, your mind blanks out and you feel a knot in your stomach or chest.
Does this sound familiar?
Or, when you’re in a difficult social situation, do you find yourself doom-thinking, seeing everything through the filter of possible danger, being hyper-alert to whatever you fear might happen?
This is the FFF being activated. All of these symptoms enable you to fight, run or hide from the danger your subconscious mind perceives.
You might recognize these symptoms as what we generally call “anxiety”.
Anxiety presents itself in a variety of ways, all of which are very uncomfortable. As a result, you are acutely aware of the anxiety as the one thing you most want to get rid of. It’s at the forefront of your attention.
But what you should know is that the anxiety you experience is only a symptom of a deeper problem.
We’ve established that anxiety is not the real problem, it is simply the set of feelings and physical symptoms you experience when your FFF is activated.
Let’s take a closer look at what happens in a typical FFF activation:
Your subconscious perceives a danger or threat and fires off the FFF response.
That FFF response sets off feelings of anxiety to prepare you to deal with the immediate threat.
Most SAD sufferers are too busy dealing with the aftermath of the FFF response to question what caused it to go off in the first place.
And what caused it to go off in the first place is what’s at the root of the problem.
When your subconscious perceives that you are not safe, it will activate your FFF response, which causes your anxiety symptoms to surface.
You can try to get rid of anxiety symptoms all you want, but until you address what activates your FFF response you’ll never completely overcome your social anxiety.
So the real problem is not your anxiety.
The real problem is that your subconscious mind perceives that you are not safe in social situations.
And because your subconscious mind thinks that your anxiety is warning you away from actual danger, it’s not going to give up that response, just as it wouldn’t give up using the same anxiety symptoms to warn you if you’re inside a burning house.
It’s your subconscious mind’s prime directive to keep you out of danger and since it believes it’s keeping you out of danger with the FFF response to certain social situations it’s not going to give up that response, no matter what you do.
It’s only going to stop firing off the FFF response once it believes you are safe in social situations.
Let’s go back to Mark. Mark had been fighting this subconscious resistance, and because his subconscious mind was far more powerful than his conscious wish to overcome his SA, he was fighting a losing battle.
It wasn’t until we started working to overcome his subconscious resistances, and the real reasons Mark was and remained anxious, that he started to make big improvements and was finally able to overcome his social anxiety disorder.
Subconscious Resistance is your subconscious mind -the deeper, more powerful part of your mind- resisting something you are trying to achieve consciously. In your case, it is specifically resisting your letting go of anxiety.
WHY does it do this?
Surprisingly, it has a very good reason. Its primary job is to keep you safe, to move you away from what it perceives may cause you pain or harm.
Currently it believes social situations may cause you pain.
It believes you are not safe in them, and it believes your social anxiety is actually protecting you from “dangers” that may bring pain such as rejection, embarrassment, looking foolish, getting criticized, experiencing conflict, getting hurt, and so on.
It also likely believes that there are all sorts of downsides to you being permanently free of your social anxiety.
It quite possibly believes that your social anxiety is in some way benefiting you, and that you will lose these benefits once you overcome it.
And it most probably also believes that change will be hard and challenging for you.
Therefore, it believes it’s neither safe nor beneficial for you to be free of your social anxiety.
And as long as your subconscious mind believes that it’s better for you to be socially anxious, it will overpower whatever attempts your conscious mind makes to get you anxiety-free. It is the more powerful party, after all.
To give you an idea of its power, your subconscious mind processes 40 million bits of information per second, whereas your conscious mind only processes 40 bits per second.
It holds every detail of every event that’s ever happened to you. It maintains all your bodily functions, your metabolism and it does all these things on autopilot so that you don’t have to consciously think about it.
And did you know for instance, that over 90 percent of your mental activity is subconscious?
So even though you consciously want to overcome your social anxiety, as long as your powerful subconscious mind believes you’ll be less safe without it, no matter what you try or how hard you try, you won’t get the permanent results you want.
As long as your subconscious is resistant, it will make sure you won’t change.
HOW does it do this?
It does this by sabotaging your conscious desires and efforts to beat your anxiety.
Have you ever felt committed to take steps to overcome your social anxiety, but then when it came time to take action all of a sudden you felt very tired? Have you ever found yourself procrastinating, using any conceivable excuse you can think of?
These are manifestations of your subconscious mind exercising its resistance.
Patterns of behavior such as feeling lazy, procrastination, not following through, not finishing things, not working on the right issues at the right times in the right ways, not knowing where to start, feeling overwhelmed, etc. are evidence that your subconscious mind is sabotaging your efforts because it thinks being free of anxiety isn’t safe for you.
There are some schools of thought that teach you to use your conscious mind to fight your subconscious programming, to force yourself to do certain things, to “go against your anxiety in order to beat it”.
In my experience, both personally from having overcome a severe social anxiety disorder and professionally from having coached many socially phobic clients, these changes might work for a while, bringing some limited relief, but the results are not lasting.
Just like how you can swim upstream for a little while, but eventually you’ll exhaust yourself.
In order to permanently eliminate your anxiety you need to get conscious and subconscious agreement that being free of your social anxiety is safe and beneficial for you.
Once you achieve this, you can enjoy effortlessly floating downstream and more easily and quickly get to your goal of releasing your anxiety forever.
To repeat once more, the real problem is that your subconscious perceives you as not being safe in social situations, which fires off your FFF response and naturally results in the symptoms you know as “anxiety.”
Overcoming this problem can be really challenging. It’s highly likely that your subconscious doesn’t just believe you’re not safe in social situations, it likely also believes that changing isn’t safe for you, and furthermore that being socially confident isn’t safe for you.
So the problem is a bit more complex as there might not only be a subconscious resistance to letting go of your anxiety, but there is also likely subconscious resistance to change, and also subconscious resistance to being socially confident. And often, they are in some way related to each other as well.
Knowing that the subconscious is more powerful than the conscious mind, can you begin to see that as long as you’re dealing with all these subconscious resistances, you won’t permanently change and get yourself to a place of being anxiety-free?
I believe this is the reason I have often read in books and heard on forums that anxiety is something you’ll live with forever. And I know from experience that this is false. You can completely overcome your social anxiety when you move past all the resistances and get yourself to a place of feeling safe.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, in my experience, the easiest and most effective approach to overcome social anxiety is to first get rid of your subconscious resistance to change and then to get rid of your subconscious resistance to having the worthy goal of social confidence.
This way, both the journey to, and the destination of social confidence become safe and beneficial for you.
Once you have achieved this, and the subconscious resistances to change and to the journey to the end goal have been diminished or released, you can then step-by-step work on getting rid of the reasons why you don’t feel safe in social situations.
By taking action in this way you make the journey to social confidence not only possible, but a lot easier.
You will be able to make changes because it is safe, and because the outcome that you’re moving towards is not only safe, but even exciting. So you are pulled towards your goal.
Plus, as you start making changes, you are no longer fighting the losing battle against your subconscious resistance to letting go of your anxiety, because instead of fighting the symptom (anxiety) of the problem (not being safe), you are now getting rid of the reasons why you suffer from anxiety.
By successfully doing so, you naturally get yourself to a place of feeling safe and the subconscious resistance disappears on its own along with the anxiety.
Here are 4 steps to take that may vary in order depending on your unique situation.
* This easiest way is not always possible as sometimes there is a back and forth between the various resistances required in order to resolve them all. In the more complex situations such as these I recommend getting outside assistance to help you out.
1. Change your negative perceptions about change (to make the journey safe)
2. Change your perceived downsides of being anxiety-free (to make social confidence safe)
3. Change your perceived upsides to staying socially anxious (to make social confidence safe)
4. Eliminate the reasons for not feeling safe socially (to make being yourself socially safe)
Let’s take a brief look at each of these so you can begin to fine tune your awareness of them and recognize them when they come up.
You want to get yourself to a place where both the journey towards getting there is safe, and the end destination of social confidence feels totally safe and beneficial for you as well.
Currently, you might be thinking that change is going to be hard. You may believe it can take a long time. And you might believe you may not have what it takes to keep up with it, and so on.
Maybe change has been really painful in the past. And maybe you’re afraid of change because
–fill in the blank-.
So it’s understandable that your subconscious might be saying to you: “It’s not safe to change. It’s easier to just stay where I am now. It won’t work anyway and it will be painful, so why bother?”
What if, instead, you listened to your subconscious saying to you, “Change is safe; what is not safe is to stay where I am! Change will work effortlessly. It will release me from all the pain I am in now. I can’t wait to make these changes!”
Can you see why changing these perceptions will help you overcome your resistance?
In order to make the journey safe, you want to change all these limiting convictions (beliefs!) and fears that are in the way of it being safe.
They aren’t even necessarily true (most often they’re not), and the ones that seem to be true to you now, can be seen in a different light, and can be turned around.
Once you have eliminated the resistance to moving forward, you can reframe your outcome of social confidence, making it effortless and safe. Let’s take a look at how we do this in step 2 and step 3.
I realize this might sound a bit whacky. What could possibly be a downside to being free of social anxiety?
Even though you may not know the answer, it doesn’t mean these perceived downsides don’t exist for you. Let’s see if we can begin to uncover some of your possible downsides.
Say that you wake up tomorrow and you are totally free of anxiety. You have no anxiety whatsoever. What would be problematic? Would there be any negative consequences?
Might you feel more pressure to perform? Might people expect more of you? Might you expect more of yourself?
Might you fear that once you are anxiety-free, people might not like you? Might certain people have a problem with it? Maybe someone close to you won’t like it? How would people react around you?
Maybe you’ll be worried you still won’t be able to get a girlfriend or boyfriend? Will having sex be scary?
Having gotten rid of your SA, you will no longer be able to use your social anxiety as an excuse. How will this be scary for you?
You may worry about who you will be and how you will act when you’re no longer anxious. Or what you’ll think about. And what others will think about you. You may be afraid of how they might judge the non-anxious you.
You may be concerned about what you would do with your life if you’re no longer fighting your anxiety. You may be worried that –fill in the blank-.
And because of these perceived downsides – they’re all just perception, they’re not real, but they feel real on some level, and therefore form an obstacle- to overcoming your social anxiety, it might not feel safe to be socially confident.
And as you now know, whenever your subconscious mind perceives an outcome won’t be safe for you, there is resistance to achieving that outcome.
Now aside from changing all these perceived downsides to being free of your social anxiety, there might also be perceived upsides to staying anxious. These need to change as well in order to make the outcome of social confidence both safe and beneficial.
The perceived upsides to having social anxiety are very similar to the downsides of letting go of your social anxiety and they can be just as hidden from us.
It might be difficult to believe, but your subconscious may perceive your social anxiety to be benefiting you in some way. It might perceive you’ll lose a benefit you have in your life along with your social anxiety.
You might have a lot of time for yourself now and you may worry you won’t have this any longer once you are socially confident.
Maybe you have a lot of privacy now, and worry you might lose this “privilege”.
And the following might upset you, and it may sound harsh, and I know you really want to overcome your social anxiety otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this, but it’s possible that on some level, some part of you may use your social anxiety as “an excuse”.
Maybe it serves as an excuse not to look at a bigger problem in your life. Or maybe it serves as an excuse not to work full time. Or to not move forward in life. Or it might be the excuse for your not being successful in –fill in the blank-.
And giving up this “excuse” might seem scary.
So your subconscious may see letting go of your social anxiety, and being socially confident as not being beneficial and safe.
Once you change all of the above, and make the journey to social confidence safe, and make the outcome of being anxiety-free safe and beneficial as well, the subconscious resistances to take the journey to social confidence are removed.
Now you can start working on the actual problem of not feeling safe socially!
Why is it that certain people feel naturally comfortable in social situations, while you are terrified of being disapproved off, looking foolish, or being rejected?
Is it possible that you have learned certain negative limiting beliefs that cause your subconscious mind to perceive social situations as dangerous? Is it possible that they are not actually your beliefs, but beliefs you got from someone else?
Read through this list of negative limiting beliefs and see if any of them sound familiar, or if you can relate to any of them:
• There’s something wrong with me
• I’m not good enough
• I have to be perfect to be loved
• People are mean
• People are out to get me
• People don’t like me
• I can’t trust people
• The world is a dangerous place
These beliefs aren’t there because there’s something wrong with you. They are there in response to certain traumatic life experiences you had.
During a trauma you experience such intense negative emotion that it completely overwhelms your ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience.
So in order to keep you safe from becoming overwhelmed, your subconscious mind in that moment makes a generalized split decision about the experience in order to keep you safe in the moment.
It registers all the information of this traumatic experience in memory and additionally, to protect you from having this experience again, your subconscious mind makes certain decisions which form beliefs based upon this experience.
So you might for example read out loud in front of the class and you are made fun of and you become totally embarrassed. For some reason this is traumatic to you and your subconscious makes a split decision about what this experience means in order to protect you from it in the future.
The decision may have been “it’s not safe to be the center of attention”.
This belief has now become part of your automatic (subconscious) operating system.
And because of all these negative limiting beliefs that you learned throughout life, your subconscious perceives you to be in danger in certain social situations and acts accordingly by firing off the FFF response.
Here are some social fears that result from the negative limiting beliefs that might seem familiar to you:
• Fear of rejection
• Fear of looking foolish
• Fear of criticism
• Fear of disapproval
• Fear of ridicule
• Fear of conflict
• Fear of not being liked
• Fear of embarrassment
These beliefs and fears cause your subconscious to read social situations as “not safe” and to do whatever it can to protect you from them.
That there is no real danger of a wild bear approaching you, but only the perceived danger of getting rejected makes no difference to the subconscious. It doesn’t have the capacity to judge or analyze the real facts or circumstances.
It simply acts on the data it has gathered earlier in life and on the belief that you’re in danger.
To get you to feel safe in social situations, you will first need to neutralize the negative emotions from the traumatic life experiences where you learned these beliefs that cause your subconscious to believe you are “not safe”.
The traumatic experiences are the proof your subconscious has to keep holding onto the negative limiting beliefs and social fears.
It can’t let go of the belief that people don’t like you because it still holds all the emotional pain from these experiences in the past where this was true. And it believes it has to warn you away from such people and situations because they are “dangerous”.
It can’t let go of the fear of rejection because the sting of rejection is still alive inside you. And when you are around others, your subconscious reads this as a situation where you may feel that pain again and fires off the FFF response to warn you away from it.
The anxiety is basically an alarm bell:
“Careful! This situation is just like X situations. You may experience rejection here again!”
Once you release the negative emotions from these traumatic life experiences and programming, you destroy the evidence your subconscious has been using to hold onto the fears and beliefs responsible for you not being safe in social situations.
Having done this, the negative limiting beliefs and fears that were causing your subconscious to perceive social situations as “dangerous” are likely a lot less intense, and possibly they are gone altogether because their roots have been eliminated.
From this place you can more easily overcome any possible remaining fears and beliefs and permanently overcome your anxiety.
Once you have eliminated the negative limiting beliefs you can now begin to communicate to your subconscious. You can now begin to build a friendship with it. You can thank it for all it has done from day one:
“Hey, thanks for warning me away from danger all that time because I wasn’t safe.” And, you can begin to bring it up to date with your new normal: But hey, those situations are no longer alive inside of me. They’re gone now. Shit happened, but it’s over. I survived.”
“These beliefs and fears I have today are no longer serving me. They’re no longer necessary to warn me away from danger because I am strong inside me now. I now have new resources and new points-of-reference to keep me on track to gaining total social confidence.”
You will have new convictions that any remaining beliefs and fears are now just trying to harm you, making being safe more difficult. You can remind your subconscious that “I am safe now, so I no longer need those fears and beliefs. I choose to let them go. Thank you very much for keeping me safe, but I can take it from here!”
From this place where you have your subconscious as a “friend supporting you”, you can feel calm and effortlessly confident in social situations.
In an upcoming article, I will explain in detail how to do this successfully so that you have a roadmap to social confidence. You will be able to successfully eliminate your social anxiety and be able to gain an effortless social confidence for the rest of your life.
While this article may sound complicated, and while overcoming your anxiety may be a big challenge, realize that you’re not alone, that this process can be broken down in easily manageable steps, and that you can get out of the position you find yourself in one safe step at a time.
There’s nothing wrong with you. You have a challenge to overcome, possibly a big one. However,
YOU are NOT the challenge.
By continuing to take the right steps to overcome your challenge you will not only grow tremendously in the process of doing so, but you can fully overcome your social anxiety.
In summary, realize that your social anxiety is not the problem; the problem is not feeling safe.
And because you don’t feel safe your subconscious mind fires off the FFF response.
Since it believes this keeps you safe, it is resistant to letting go of the response.
Not feeling safe is caused by the negative limiting beliefs and social fears you learned throughout life.
In order to feel safe in social situations you need to overcome these negative limiting beliefs.
You do this by releasing the negative emotions from earlier traumas in life where you learned these negative limiting beliefs and social fears.
In order to start making these changes and to move towards the outcome of social confidence, there is a process of change involved. When the journey isn’t safe, there is subconscious resistance to taking the journey. When the outcome isn’t safe there is resistance to being socially confident.
So in order to overcome your social anxiety forever, and live a life of social confidence for the rest of your life, you have to:
As you follow the steps to overcoming your anxiety one by one, you will be able to finally live your life in a way where you can finally freely express yourself, connect and make friends easily, create the relationships you want and live your life to the fullest.
I hope this helps you, and if it did, please share this post wherever you can as there is a lot of people that falsely believe they can never overcome their social anxiety.
Wishing you effortless social confidence,
P.S. If you liked this article, you’ll love the world-class emails you get on how to step-by-step eliminate your social anxiety and create EFFORTLESS social confidence.
Excellent article. Thankyou for sharing.
Very welcome, thanks for your reply.
Great article Sebastiaan,
There are times in social situations I experience a debilitaing mind numbing, that pulls me inward, like a part of my brain has been powered down. I try so hard to stay present in conversation but I am pulled deeply into the malaise of this detached mental feeling. I can’t always connect the feeling to any trigger which makes it even more confounding. This makes my S.A.D skyrocket as I get pulled in by the very physical “mind freeze” feeling…..In the past SRRI’s would help cut through this “brain fog” type experiences but I am hoping EFT could eliminate these symptoms. Sometimes I think I just have a brain flaw, which is just another limiting belief I need to tap on! Thoughts?
Sure. The “mind freeze” feeling is the FFF being activated. And this always seems to happen at just the wrong time! And yes, nearly impossible to just stay present in that way.
The trigger that you’re trying to find, is not so much the feeling of brain fog, numbness, mind freeze, etc. Those are just the manifestations of the fight, flight or freeze.
What you want to get clear on, is what your brain is perceiving as dangerous. Why does it think you’re not safe? What do you fear happening? What’s the worst case scenario? How would you feel when you experience that? What does that mean to you? Those emotions and beliefs are what your brain is trying to warn you away from. THAT is the danger. Releasing those triggers will cause you to start feeling safe and the FFF will -eventually, once you’ve dealt with all the triggers- no longer need to be activated.
Also, the brain or subconscious is not flawed as it thinks it’s trying to serve you. It’s just running the programs it installed to keep you safe, based upon what happened to you in life.
Nothing wrong with the brain, so no need to tap on that belief 🙂
Hope this helps and thanks for your great question!
really nice article…
Glad it’s helpful.
A video I created for when you fear you’ll never overcome your social anxiety:
Awesome, glad it makes sense Andrea! It’s been a tough one to thoroughly understand, but it is very helpful to know the WHY of what’s going on. I’m creating a webinar at the moment, where I present this in detail, using a lot of images to simplify the concepts and understandings. If you haven’t already, you may want to sign up, I bet you’ll enjoy the presentation and there will likely be Q and A too. Thanks for your comment 🙂
FREAKING AWESOME INFO!! Thanks man I’m gonna study this and keep practicing. I’ve noticed a small improvement at school the other day and that’s enough proof for me that EFT will get me out of this soon enough.
Awesome, glad you liked it and great to hear of your improvement! It takes time, dedication, and effort, but with persistence you can totally become anxiety-free. Please share the article, if it helped you.