by Bertil Hjert
If fear of rejection has led you to distance yourself from people, especially groups, there are several specific things you can do.
First and foremost, you need to build a sense of your own self-worth. In addition to this, cognitive-behavioral therapy offers three specific types of interventions:
• Social skills training
• Graded exposure to social situations
• Cognitive-behavioral group therapy
Social skills training may be appropriate if you feel at a loss about how to converse with people in small or large groups.
You can gain proficiency in starting and maintaining conversations, drawing other people out, listening, maintaining good eye contact, and achieving self-disclosure through role-playing these skills with a family member or a therapist.
You can also role-play more specific activities such as interviewing for a job, using small talk at a party, or asking someone out on a date.
Once you gain confidence in such skills with a supportive friend or therapist, you can begin to try them out in real life.
Graded exposure to social situations involves setting up a series of specific activities that you commit to doing, either with the help of a therapist or on your own.
The series of activities are arranged in a “hierarchy” from easiest to most difficult. A typical hierarchy might look like this:
1. Call two stores to ask if something is in stock.
2. Call a counseling hotline and talk about yourself.
3. Attend a small meeting and say your name.
4. Attend a small meeting and make two comments.
5. Repeat 3 and 4 with a small group of friends.
6. Attend a social gathering and stay for twenty minutes.
7. Same as 6, but stay for an hour, responding when other people talk to you.
8. Same as 7, but you initiate at least two conversations.
9. Initiate conversations while waiting in line with people you don’t know.
10. Walk up to someone in a shopping mall and make conversation.
You might also construct a hierarchy for one specific type of behavior, breaking it down into a series of steps. For example, in learning to ask someone out for a date, you might practice with people listed through a dating service before you try walking up to someone at a party.
Cognitive-behavioral group therapy, if available in your area, is perhaps the optimal way to overcome social anxiety and a fear of participating in groups.
In such a group you work on challenging and countering socially phobic thinking i.e. self-statements such as “I´ll humiliate myself,” “People will think I´m weird because I don´t know what to say,” or “What if they see me blush?”
In addition, you practice speaking up, expressing your ideas, sustaining conversations, asking for what you want, responding to criticism, and engaging in other types of activities relevant to participating in groups.
By continually practicing activities you previously avoided in a supportive group setting, you can learn to desensitize to them and gain confidence in yourself.
If cognitive-behavioral group therapy is not available in your area, you can still do the work with a therapist experienced in working with social anxiety or social phobia. Then you can try out what you´ve learned in various group settings, beginning with situations you deem “easy” and progressing to more difficult ones.
Learning to speak up or express your ideas, for example, can be practiced first in a class or workshop and ultimately at a toastmaster´s meeting or a similar training in public speaking.
Overcoming long-standing shyness or social anxiety takes work and sustained commitment on your part. You may find it somewhat easier under the guidance of a skilled cognitive-behavioral therapist who is familiar with social anxiety and social phobia. In some cases, medication can also be helpful.
Current treatment strategies for more severe social anxiety combine therapy with an SSRI medication such as Paxil (or a benzodiazepine such as Klonopin). This combination of therapy and medication seems to be very effective for many people.
>> Download your free eBook “Stop Panic Attacks and Deal with Your Anxious Thoughts” at Panic Goodbye.
See more articles by Bertil Hjert.
Bertil Hjert is author of the Panic Goodbye program.
This program includes 7 eBooks about:
- relieving Panic and Anxiety Attacks,
- OCD, and
- Social Phobia;
- using Abdominal Breathing & Meditation,
- Body & Mind relaxation,
- Yoga & Progressive Muscle Relaxation.