Fighting social anxiety with developmental experiences

Social anxiety is your body’s “fight or flight” reaction to social situations you’re uncomfortable in or unfamiliar with.

This obviously isn’t pleasant, but it’s justified. In our modern world, being physically hunted by a predatory animal is highly unlikely. But being negatively judged by your peers isn’t uncommon; It can lead to you being ruined socially in the worst cases.

To at least reduce social anxiety, you have to go through social situations and developmental experiences, then develop beneficial, tested internal schemas about how the social world works. Then those schemas will guide you through future social experiences, making them go more smoothly than your past ones.

If the fraction of your identity that comes from your relationships with your peers or authority figures is antagonistic or one where you aren’t accepted by them, that isn’t good news for your internal schemas.

Maybe you were shy or considered weird or an “other” around your peers growing up, and you learned to see yourself as an outsider among them. Or you grew up anxious and self-effacing, and you don’t expect to have power in social situations. Or you’re possessed by an ideology that teaches you you’re a victim of an oppressor. So when you have a normal interaction with someone where there’s a healthy balance of power, it sets off an alarm inside you. You don’t believe that situation’s possible or you don’t know how to act in it, so your mind starts rationalizing reasons why the other person actually doesn’t like you, is secretly judging you negatively, or is of bad character.

Developmental experiences reduce or cure social anxiety, and that’s only if you go in and out of them with an open mind. If your mind stays closed, your pre-existing biases will override anything you may learn from a developmental experience.

If you go to your first teen or adult party and you get shitfaced to the point of passing out, you can either be ashamed of the experience or develop from it. You’ve learned about your alcohol tolerance and whether you enjoy the type of party you went to.

If you suffer a loss, you can either let the loss define you or make you grow. Instead of angsting about what could have been, you can be grateful for still having everything and everyone else in your life, and be inspired not to take them for granted.

If you demonstrate your romantic or sexual interest in someone and get shot down, you can either see it in terms of how they see you or in terms of your own behavior. Are you universally undesirable or were you just pursuing someone you weren’t compatible with?

Developmental experiences are usually mundane, like an amazing experience at a summer camp or having chemistry with someone unlikely. Sometimes, they’re tragic or grandiose, like losing a loved one or winning an athletic competition. Other times, they’re illogical, like having a drunk crying fit over something that isn’t real or observing something in the social world that defies your pre-existing schema of it.

Inner schemas

Good men exist, good women exist, good people can do bad things, bad people can do good things, “good” and “bad” aren’t sufficient to describe a person, but what if they are? What if men or women are universally amoral?

No one understands the world perfectly. Everyone has their blind spots, areas of inexperience, and ineffective internal schemas. Hopefully, your experiences will show you that reality is actually much more complex than your pre-existing schemas of it.

Everyone believes most strongly in what’s been concretely proven to them. Our experiences build systems that explain how the world works in our minds, then that internal system affects the world around it.

Atheists believe there’s no God because they’ve seen religious people do bad things justified by blind faith, or they haven’t consciously experienced a higher power’s influence.

Religious or spiritual people believe in a God or a higher power because they’ve felt its influence. In their experience, science doesn’t sufficiently explain the universe and how it works, or they’ve seen religion and spirituality empower people morally and pragmatically.

On a more relevant note, a woman can believe that all attractive men are lustful and emotionally unavailable, because those are the men she has experience dating. She expects men to use her for sex, be unable to commit to her, and to constantly be tempted to cheat on her if they do, because her and her friends’ past crushes and boyfriends have done so. Then that frame of reference shapes her reality. She may say she’s worthy of an honest, attractive man of integrity, but she actually doesn’t believe she is.

A man can believe that all attractive women are emotionally manipulative, sex and status-obsessed, and that they have to be manipulated into dating or having sex with a man, because he’s never felt like he could attract a woman without manipulating her. Then he only goes for manipulative women, ignoring all the emotionally healthy, well-adjusted women out there in favor of the types who fit his internal schema.

Maybe you’re on the autism spectrum. You think you can’t make any friends who aren’t autistic like you, or maybe any friends at all. You think you only belong in “nerdy” spaces, or spaces that aren’t geared toward socially competent people. The gym isn’t for you, bars and clubs aren’t for you, and regular social interaction will never be for you. You’re stuck in the archetype of “that weird nerdy kid” that came from how you were treated by kids in school who didn’t understand you.

I believed as a very young adult that people were absolutely incapable of liking me upon first impression. They could only like me or want to get to know me if I could impress them somehow, because that’s how I got most of my stable social connections in high school. I ignored or devalued most people who actually did like me or find me interesting upon first impression.

Maybe you deal with social anxiety. You associate social situations with fear, anxiety, or a need to prove yourself. You think people judge you as strongly as you judge yourself when they actually don’t treat you differently from anyone else. Maybe you don’t identify with your anxiety, but you still identify with what you think others think of you.

The girl who self-perceives as an anxious mess no one likes strongly self-identifies with her anxiety. She can’t believe anyone can value a girl who isn’t a social skills goddess, so she misses out on healthy relationships with people who like her for who she is.

The guy who thinks his friends like him for his athleticism, his intelligence, and his accomplishments is wrong. He misses the fact that his friends like him for the experiences he shares with them, not for his prestige.

The girl who thinks her value is mostly sexual bases her relationships on sexual manipulation. They’re commodified and transactional, not personal and unconditional. She’s an empty shell of a person who thinks she’s worthless if she can’t be sexual.

Anxiety and self-devaluation, comparison to other people, commodity, and image are all bad relationships to have with yourself because they’re based in narrative, on a script instead of in proven reality. Maybe you were valued mostly for your superficial and quantifiable traits early in life, or you still are, but people and their values change and grow. You’re blind to the people who value you for your character, if you have any character.

The first step out of that story is to strongly self-identify with your behavior. If a strong part of your identity isn’t a consequence of your behavior, kill it.

“But the Anxious Mess behaves anxiously! Isn’t that a behavior-based identity?”

No, because the behavior is a product of her identity, not vice-versa. Her behavior is anxious because she expects it to be. Her thoughts shape her reality. Internal schemas are self-fulfilling prophecies.

If you go into a social situation believing you’re socially undesirable, your belief will shape your reality. Even if you act “normal”, your mindset will trigger subtle cues in your behavior that’ll communicate your self-perception. Then you’ll be perceived as socially undesirable, not because you’ve been unfairly chosen by life to be beneath other people, but because people don’t exist in certainty.

No one is born knowing the rules of the social world, or anything at all besides what they need for survival. From birth, everything we learn is learned through experience, whether it’s concretely lived or vicariously lived. We look to other people for knowledge, especially people with concrete life experience. To know how to treat a specific person, we first look at how the person treats themselves, then how they treat us and other people.

You just read a sample of my course: Get ahead in the social world.

In this course, you’ll learn:

  • How to have a solid identity that’s impossible to threaten.
  • Proven mindset principles that augment your social status and your social ability.
  • Deconstructions of the dating and friendship processes.
  • Tested dating advice that works.

Are you ready to actualize your potential as a friend, a lover, and a force of nature in the social world?

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