During one of my earliest therapy sessions some weeks back, I explained to my therapist that I tend to see everything through a very negative filter, even for the most minuscule things. I could sneeze on the subway and my heart inadvertently speeds up as I wonder if I just pissed someone off by spreading my germs (even though I sneeze into my sleeve if I don’t have a tissue on hand). I’ve walked into Starbucks wanting to greet the barista with “Hi, how are you?”, but then I start wondering if I’ll come across as annoying. Instead, when it’s my turn on line, I get tongue tied and just spit out a quick “Hi” before I say my order.
I think my constant fear of saying the wrong thing before I even say it is linked to my negative filter. The most frequent habit I remember having since childhood is not being able to respond if I was asked a question I felt uncomfortable answering. This later turned into me actually having anxiety (heart palpations, sweating, dry mouth, frequent blinking, fidgeting) if I didn’t know how to respond to a question. Instead of focusing and working on answering, I would do everything in my power to avoid answering because trying to fight back from the anxiety felt too hard for me. I believe this contributed somewhat to my decline in verbal communication because I made an effort to avoid talking if I could help it. For a long time, I could only mostly communicate by writing because that’s where I felt most comfortable. Recently, I had my first real life conversation with my brother about my social anxiety and how it influences my behavior. I told him about why, in the past, I wouldn’t answer people if they asked me questions. And he told me that for the longest time he thought I was not answering people and/or ignoring people on purpose to piss people off.
I always feel the instinct to retreat and withdraw every time I’m presented with something that frightens me. I retreat into silence if I don’t know what to say in response to a question, or if I’m afraid to say what’s on my mind. I clam up when I feel overwhelmed and anxious meeting new people, even within my social anxiety meetup group. I avoid situations that I don’t want to deal with, which is actually not helpful since it’s only a temporary reprieve until I have to face the same situation later. The bad thing is these coping mechanisms don’t help me, and they’re the opposite of how I truly want to be. I want to be open and friendly to those I meet in the group, but my terror overrides this.
The way to change is to start small, I think. I used to not even be able to say hi to cashiers, but I can now because I kept making myself do it. I can say I still get mild anxiety saying it, but it’s better than having severe anxiety. I am trying to work up the nerve to say “how are you?” to at least one person. And I have to do this because it’s a homework assignment that my therapist gave me. Aaah. I know I’m agonizing about such a small interaction that might seem like it’s a big deal when the reality is whoever I say this to will be a stranger who won’t even remember me by the end of their day.
What are some tips you use to motivate yourself into breaking your bad habits/coping mechanisms?