I discovered a universal law that COMPLETELY changed the way I approach my social anxiety.
It’s this one phrase:
“We all have a responsibility to find the truth“.
This blog post is a special, more profound edition of the “You go girl!” expression – especially created for people with social anxiety.
You probably know what I’m talking about when I say:
“What I hate about anxiety it is that it keeps me from doing what I WANT to do.”
Anxiety keeps you from doing things you are excited about.
When you just came up with the greatest or funniest idea… It makes sure you re-think it 12 times so you end up NOT doing it.
Isn’t that right?
Let me talk specifically about social anxiety.
That means that any idea that pops in my head gets judged by a voice that says:
“That will make you look stupid”,
“They’ll think you’re so arrogant” or
“They’ll find out you’re not really like you say you are”.
Worrying about other people’s opinions keeps me from doing SO many things I want to do.
(Can you relate to that?)
In this blog post I’ll share:
- What that responsibility to find the truth means and looks like in real life
- What social anxiety did to me (when I didn’t know we were all responsible to find the truth)
- How my approach to anxiety drastically changed (after I really understood what that responsibility to find the truth meant for me, personally)
We are all responsible to find truth
So… “I have a responsibility to find truth” you say?
What do I mean by that?
I mean that it is up to every single person on this earth to look for, gather and acquire as much information and context that’s needed to see the truth.
It’s not up to someone else to do that for you.
It’s on you.
It’s on me.
To explain why it’s on all of us personally to find the truth of any situation… Let’s admit: I am pretty f*cked up.
We ALL are. If you are alive, you gotta be a little crazy. This world is insane.
Anyway, I have a huge set of (f*cked up) stories and beliefs in my head about the world.
This is how I see the world and it is shaped by my past experiences.
At any moment, I create all kinds of stories about the situation I’m in and the people I see.
This is just how I process the world.
We all do.
We fill in the gaps.
A real life example of being responsible for finding the truth
So, with that information, let’s look at a practical example:
I see a man standing at the street with his cellphone to his ear.
The story I immediately create about him is: “What a jerk, he’s not even paying attention to the people in front of him. He thinks his call is too important. He must be a successful business man who is always working and doesn’t have time to spend with his family.”
While that MAY be the case, more often than not that is NOT the reality.
It’s NOT the truth.
The meaning I give to that situation is completely dependent on what stories are running in my head.
The story that he must be a jerk and he must always be away from his family is purely based on my personal experiences and even books I read and movies/series I watch.
It has NOTHING to do with the truth necessarily.
But, I create those stories because want to fill in the gaps in information.
But it’s not on that business man to make sure I get the full picture.
It’s not HIS responsibility to go tell me: “Hey, in case you might think anything bad about me: It’s not true, look I’m actually a super nice guy.”
To think it is on HIM to prove himself to ME is ridiculous.
I have a responsibility to find the truth.
If I see or experience something that upsets me…. It is on ME to find out why I feel that emotion.
It’s on ME to find out where the problem lies.
Is it REALLY the other person?
Maybe I need to look inside and check why I’m thinking the things I’m thinking. Check if I am not too quick to judge because I believed a story I had created in my head that has nothing to do with reality.
99 Percent of the time, it is ME that is filling in the gaps of missing information. And it is ME that gives meaning to that story I create which might have ZERO to do with the actual truth of the moment.
And so, I learned that it is not the responsibility of ANYONE to justify themselves to me.
It is MY responsibility to check in and see what automatic thought patterns are activated that cause me to create a story in my head about that moment or person.
And if there is so much missing information to see the complete picture, the best way to fill that gap is to ASK for information. Not create it myself based on my subjective world view and set of beliefs.
This sounds great.
But let me tell you: I did not know and really believe or understand this until recently.
What social anxiety did to me
So, let’s put me in the situation where I am being observed by other people.
In any situation where I might be seen or judged by other people, I would do the opposite of what I just told you.
I WOULD worry and think: “It’s on ME now to make sure that everybody who sees me gets the complete picture of me”.
“I have to make sure they don’t think I’m a jerk!”
So, what did I do?
Laying low and playing it safe
I did one of the following two things:
- I laid low and hid. I made sure to not speak up, not raise my hand and not to be noticed. That way it was impossible to give people the wrong impression anyway.
- I played it safe. If I was going to be seen, I was going to be as neutral as possible, as to not step on anyone’s toes.
And hey, it’s a good strategy!
Well, to be honest, it’s a mediocre strategy.
I mean, it worked well as to not offend people, but it’s not perfect.
For one: there are just too many people around so it’s literally impossible to manage ALL of those people’s impressions of me, even when I’m keeping things neutral or not even showing up at all.
And secondly, the amount of suppressed feelings, desires and thoughts that were never expressed create a real burden inside.
I mean, not expressing is great for the goal of that strategy (to not make anyone think bad of me) but it’s horrible for my wellbeing.
But this all changed when I realized what that responsibility to find the truth meant for me…
How my approach to anxiety drastically changed
#1 It was recognizing that everyone sees the world through their lens, first.
I learned this because the more I talk to people, the more I see that we can all give very different meaning to what we observe.
#2 Then knowing that this means they also see everything that I do as a person through that lens.
This is a simple step to make and it just solidifies the claim that everyone has a subjective opinion that might not represent the objective truth of the situation.
#3 And acknowledging that the lens they’re looking through might be pretty f*cked up because of past experiences, the fact that they’re having a bad day or simply because they obtained some wrong information.
This last step is KEY. And I also learned it by looking at my own thoughts and stories I created when I watched someone. I would notice that my imagination would go WILD. I mean, any situation: watching that business person talk on the phone on the street, watching a keynote speaker of a big marketing event, a coworker, a friend that I see in the distance. Whatever. My mind will fill in ALL kinds of stories for information that’s missing in that moment.
MY responsibility in a LIVE example
Like, right now, as I am writing this. I am watching the gardener water plants. I have said no more than “good morning, how are you?” to him this morning. For the rest, I’m just seeing him do his work.
“Oh he looks a little upset, he must not be liking this” or even “I bet he thinks I’m a jerk, sitting there in the sun all comfortable with my laptop while he’s working hard”.
Do I have ANY INFORMATION at all to prove these claims?
But my mind will fill in the gaps.
And the problem for people with social anxiety is that those gaps of information almost ALWAYS will be filled by negative thoughts about themselves.
Just like I can create negative images and thoughts about a situation, so can anyone else.
And just like how my opinion is completely subjective to MY brain, the way other people will perceive me is completely subjective to THEIR brain.
And I need to do MY work to improve my brain health.
To decrease my level of judgement.
To not base my opinions on prejudice.
So in this example: It’s MY responsibility to ask the gardener if he likes his work, before judging him.
It’s not the gardeners job to come up to me and say “Hey, in case you were wondering, I do like this work. I just thought I’d tell you because you might be thinking otherwise and I wouldn’t want you to think that. Just saying, so you can get the full picture.”
And so the same way, whatever situation I am in…
I can just save ALL my energy I waste on worrying and trying to convey a complete picture and trying to battle prejudice in others and leave that to themselves.
I can do what I’m doing and let other people run their brains and create stories because just like me, they are just filling in the gaps with their own experience and stories.
And it is THEIR responsibility to go and find the truth.
They can follow their story in their brain and miss out on who I really am.
Or they can invest in analyzing their thought patterns and prejudices and obtain more information by asking for it.
It’s beautiful right?
We all have a responsibility to find truth.
And it’s exactly that responsibility that frees us from worrying if people are not thinking bad of us.
So in short, I think this was a special people-with-social-anxiety edition of ” You go girl!”.