“Leaving Loneliness: A Workbook: Building Relationships with Yourself and Others”
by David S. Narang Ph.D
Naming My Social Anxiety
Everybody has social fears or social anxiety. With Attachment Avoidance, the nature of those fears often revolves around not being enough for others, such that they would not want or need you because your performance is not up to standard. You may at times feel excessive pride when you are good at something, but the flip side is that you are overly dependent on being good at things. On a deeper level, there is likely an assumption just outside of your awareness that if others do not need you but do know you for who you are, they would not see much there or wouldn’t like what they see.
Social Anxiety. This is why those with Attachment Avoidance can be exceptionally private with anything remotely personal, though upon finding somebody they allow themselves to trust, they may almost compulsively “tell all” in order to at last meet the pent-up need for somebody to know them. This creates a wide divide, where the public self becomes very different (e.g., performing, joking and/or entertaining, or simply hiding by being serious/silent) from the private self. There is always some gap between private and public selves, in that we do not tell everyone everything truly on our minds, but in this case, that healthy gap may become a problematic gulf, leaving you feeling unknown by others.
Social Anxiety. What is your biggest social fear (e.g., being rejected, disrespected, ignored, mocked, not measuring up in some way, feeling humiliated about not knowing how to connect, etc.)?
Social Anxiety. If that fear came true, what do you imagine is the worst thing that could happen to you?
Social Anxiety. If the fear has comes true, how will you go about recovering?
Social Anxiety. Do you fear turning in a less than strong performance (as at work)? If so, how do you fear others’ opinions of you would change if you began to falter in the standards you have set for yourself?
If you find yourself fearing being unneeded and wind up helping others compulsively, consider this: If nobody was highly dependent on you (e.g., for concrete assistance, for entertainment, for money or sex, etc.), what is it about you that would keep them coming back? If you currently feel the answer is nothing, how do you want to change your view about your value so that you can answer this question differently a year from now?
Social Anxiety. As a follow-up question to the last, again only if your fear relates to being unneeded: In addition to help and assistance, what do you think keeps people bonded over time? Please be detailed and specific as you respond. What types of safety do you need from yourself and from a relationship that make it easier to share your true thoughts and feelings with another person? What is in your control in building that safety you need in order to be freer and to truly be yourself? If you want to further develop your own qualities that bond others to you over time, even when they generally need little from you, what is your next step? (Completing this book is also a significant step in that direction.)
Healing My Deeper Emotional Injuries. Social Anxiety
“Now hold on,” you might say. “Things might not have been perfect, but I would not say I have been injured.” If you have Attachment Avoidance, you probably have injuries that you do not initially see, and thus do not attend to. Unseen but powerful, they may control your ability to get closer to other people, outside of your conscious awareness and control. You can take the power back from this insidious, pervasive influence. Doing so requires acknowledging the possibility that you might have some emotional damage, so that you orient to the focus of doing the work to start healing the wounds.
Social Anxiety. Avoiding this work leaves you wide open to taking in the human equivalent of strays, and they will indeed do what strays do—they will bite you. Certainly, they cannot nourish you, except perhaps by giving you the fleeting pleasure of being briefly powerful in feeling as if you have the capacity to help them. If you do not work on this issue, you may remain in a position of wanting to save others, thus attracting weak strays that eventually sap you dry. Worse, distracted by the dramas created in being with such people, you won’t get to know yourself deeply, and thus neither will anybody else. Having Attachment Avoidance suggests that sometime in your childhood, your primary caretakers showed you that they were either too intrusive or angry to be worth getting their support, or they were consistently incapable of giving you warmth and affection.
Perhaps they even had a little warmth, but the cost to you of getting it (e.g., denying your own personality and becoming exactly who they wanted you to be) was too high. Perhaps your primary caretaker was downright emotionally or physically abusive (incest more commonly predisposes one to develop anxiety in attachment rather than avoidance), or maybe he or she was so morally repugnant as to disgust you into keeping a distance, despite your emotional needs. For example, if your father had warmth for you but was violent with your mother, your disgust with his abusive behavior toward her could have precluded you from opening yourself to any warmth he possessed for you, even if you were lonely.
1) Social Anxiety. What is a memorable experience regarding the parenting style you received in your early childhood that showed you that you could not depend on Mom/Dad for warmth (or perhaps repulsed you so that you did not seek it)? Write about the experience, in good detail, about what you saw, heard, and felt at the time (i.e., don’t use generalities that allow you to avoid the emotional experience of what you are writing).
2) Social Anxiety. Regarding the story you wrote above, if you could tell the person who hurt you about the pain he/she caused you, what would you say?
3) Social Anxiety. What made that person incapable of responding to you in a warmer way (e.g., he/she was brought up harshly and/or abused, etc.)?
4) Social Anxiety. How did this experience, and perhaps others like it, lead you to stop trusting that love and warmth would be available to you?
5) Social Anxiety. Instead of seeking affection from this person, what did you turn to when you needed comfort (e.g., obsessing about a desired girlfriend/boyfriend, possessions you wanted, food, alcohol or cigarettes, etc.)?
6) Social Anxiety. Travel back now, with the wisdom and wider experience you have today, and talk to your younger self. What supportive and encouraging things would you tell your younger self, and how would you help your younger self understand the pain you experienced back at that time (e.g., helping yourself understand parental limitations that had nothing to do with you, helping yourself see a larger world filled with others capable of being supportive, etc.)? What you would say to your younger self?:
As a physical expression of support, hold yourself, rub your hands across your chest and stomach, and let each hand come to rest on your opposite elbow. Squeeze a little—giving yourself a good hug.