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Improving Social Anxiety: Begin With Acceptance

Jan 30, 2008
There are many ways of improving social anxiety, but as a personal development coach and a former social anxiety sufferer, I have learned that one of the easiest and most productive ways to increase feelings of well-being in social situations is to practice the art of self-acceptance.

A very common scenario that I hear from coaching clients is this: they desperately want to feel better about themselves in social situations, but the fact that they DON'T feel good in social situations right now causes them to judge themselves very harshly.

This produces a "catch 22" situation, because by not feeling good about yourself right now -- just as you are -- you unknowingly make it much more difficult to feel good about yourself when you're with other people. By withholding self acceptance, it is easy to fall into a vicious circle of nervousness and self criticism, which can make social interaction even more difficult.

But the way to stop this "Loop" once and for all is to decide today -- right now -- to accept, love and appreciate yourself exactly as you are. This means that if you should feel uncomfortable in a social situation, you must understand that it is okay, and refuse to judge yourself harshly because of it.

When I explain this "acceptance first" strategy to clients dealing with social anxiety, some of them will ask, "but if I simply accept my social anxiety, won't that just make it worse?" The simple answer is "no." The thing that makes social anxiety problems worse is non-acceptance. In my experience, people do not get over problems like these by being disgusted with themselves because they have the problem to begin with.

Improving social anxiety requires self acceptance. Too often we look at these problems backwards. For example, a client once told me, "Fine, I'll start accepting myself as soon as I don't have social anxiety." The problem with this thinking is, without accepting yourself FIRST, you will never get to the point where you are comfortable in social situations.

So to begin improving social anxiety you have to do something which I call, "putting the cart ahead of the horse." This means you must decide to accept yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses -- everything about you, and practice self acceptance on a daily basis.

Don't make the mistake of thinking you'll feel better about yourself once the social anxiety goes away. That's backwards thinking. Feel better about yourself now, and you will see an almost immediate improvement in your social anxiety.

Now here's the tricky part for some people: they may have built up very strong habits of judging themselves unfairly, and withholding self acceptance. I won't kid you: if you have been thinking this way for many years, you will have certainly built up very strong habits around these self-destructive thoughts, and they are unlikely to simply go away overnight.

But here's the good news; you can begin accepting yourself today. Maybe not 100%, but a lot more than you have in the past. Making an effort is important -- every little bit counts! So if you try to begin accepting yourself as you are right now and find it difficult, don't give up. Practice going through the motions of self-acceptance if you have to -- even if you don't really "feel" that way deep down.

If you do this on a daily basis it will certainly have an effect on your self-esteem, and improve your social anxiety. Consistency is the key. I recommend that clients take a little "timeout" twice daily to practice self acceptance. And remember, it's easy to accept our strengths and successes; the real test of acceptance is whether or not we accept our weaknesses and failures.

Improving social anxiety begins with accepting every aspect of our self, including those areas where we still need a lot of work.
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