I thought I would post an update today about where things are with me at the moment as I’ve not posted much recently.
As you may know from my previous posts, I did a 16 week high intensity CBT course to target my social anxiety and finished this at the end of June 2017. After this had ended I was also due to start a further course in a ME/CFS group in January 2018.
Looking back to my last CBT session, I remember it being very emotional and didn’t end quite as I’d hope, however I do not blame myself for what happened as the content of the session was triggering a lot of emotion in me. As it was the final session we summarised the past 16 weeks and I was asked questions about how the problem developed, what kept the problem going, what were the most important things I learnt in therapy, what coping strategies I found helpful and what my future goals were. I will share this with you as you may be able to relate to it or find it helpful in some way. Also it would be interesting to know how you think your social anxiety developed.
I think my social anxiety developed as a result of my upbringing and personality. I can remember school reports when I was always described as quiet. I would dread my parents reading them. I was made to feel that being quiet was a negative quality and thus I began to have low self-esteem and confidence issues and probably where I began to compare myself to others and feeling like I was always the lower option/inadequate. I am an introverted person and luckily I am now aware of that. I never knew introversion was a thing until quite recently and it was a big relief and thankfully I can say that I am on the beginning of the journey of accepting myself for who I am. In that sense I feel that I am making improvements in my own mental health and headspace. It is not always easy to be kind and compassionate to yourself but it does seem to help when you can.
With regard to my upbringing, I just feel that I didn’t have the support that I required. I became very independent and wasn’t comfortable sharing problems with my parents. I think there were times where my opinions/thoughts were belittled or when I spoke up I was made to feel embarrassed about what I’d said and therefore I started to believe that my opinions were not worthy/right. I became fearful of sharing something with them and getting a negative response.
I found the below quote on Pinterest which I thought was very inspiring:
The next question asks what kept the problem going and over time you start to have negative beliefs about yourself which become hard to break. I felt that because I was quiet, I was boring, no-one would be interested in knowing/talking to me, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my opinions/thoughts so I felt I lacked substance. I wasn’t assertive and felt like a push over and this is still something I am working on. I find it very difficult to be assertive and therefore I go along with things I wouldn’t usually or I agree with things that I don’t truly agree with. I valued other peoples opinions more than mine. I didn’t challenge others. I began avoiding social situations. Social anxiety eats away at your ability to create connections so my circle of friends began to diminish. Today, I would say that I don’t have any friends and it saddens me. Anyway, I basically lost my way, lost my self along the way and am only just now trying to figure out who I am and what I want from life.
You may have heard that you develop safety behaviours which your mind creates as a form of protection and the more you continue doing this the more ingrained they become. For me I guess it was always going to social situations with a friend, or avoiding certain situations completely.
The most important things I learnt from therapy were that continuing to use safety behaviours was only going to perpetuate the problem. I became more aware of what I was thinking and doing and was able to question anxious thoughts and be more rational or even challenge the thoughts with social experiments. Often when I had a preconceived idea of what was going to happen in a certain situation, it didn’t turn out to be the case and it was actually a lot more positive than I had anticipated. This means that by challenging my thoughts this way I began to see that I couldn’t predict what would happen and in most cases the outcome would be a lot better than I thought. Honestly, this is a daily struggle so it is something you have to keep working on. As they say the problem didn’t happen overnight so it won’t go away overnight either, it requires dedication. Fighting anxiety is tiring but remember to be kind to yourself and acknowledge how well you are doing.
The coping strategies I was taught and will use going forward are :
- Thought records
i.e challenging your initial thought to find a more rational response.
- Behavioural experiments
i.e starting conversations, entering situations to find the outcome.
- Positive data logs
i.e finding evidence to dispel a belief about yourself, for example, “I’m not boring” because someone was interested in what I had to say.
- Being more kind to yourself
Ask yourself what advice you’d give to a friend in your situation
If you have any questions about these strategies, please pop me a message and I can go in to more detail.
So that was the end of my CBT, I was sent on my way. I started a course with a ME/CFS (chronic fatigue) group in January and I will discuss this in a future blog…….