Overcoming Social Anxiety: A Christian Counselor’s Magic Bullet
By Barney Armstrong, MA, LMHC, Bellevue Christian Counseling
Part 1 in a 2 Part Series
What Do You Want?
If you have ever thought of yourself as having social anxiety or low self-esteem, then you need to ponder this question: What do you want? If you could have exactly what you want from others in a social context, what would it actually be? Do you want others to like you? Do you want them to regard you highly? To value you? To admire you? To think of you as competent or valuable? Perhaps you would like others to welcome you, and to value your presence as a luxury. You may have never really given yourself permission to articulate what you want from others. Shame, the natural condition of the human person (Genesis 3:7-10), prevents us from exploring such desires – we are afraid of being shamed and so we don’t even think that way. We imagine that there are voices and faces saying things such as: “What, you? You’ve got to be kidding!” Or we think of other shaming expressions, some of which we may have actually heard while growing up. Try taking some time to review the above reasons for anxiety, or allow yourself to think of other reasons. This is just between you and God – find a way that sounds good to you.
We Find Answers in Faith
If you have welcomed Jesus Christ into your life, you have given up your stubbornness and your own ways. What comes down on you, to you, and in you is a boatload of answers. As a mental and emotional health professional, I can assert that ultimately all of the answers for mental and emotional well-being are given to us in Him. We can find them in His Word. We are often quite slow to recognize these answers and to make the connections. I suppose that this is partly because we look at the Bible rather one-dimensionally. We don’t go much beyond one-liners and we tend to view most of the situations that people dealt with in Biblical times as being concerned with tangible, material things, such as resources and physical health. As a result, we don’t integrate the Bible in our lives or connect it with our deepest needs. But when you do this, you often discover a real gem. Of course, you don’t just do that. In fact, we are predisposed against doing it, and we don’t naturally think in that way. That would require faith, which means hearing a message and recognizing its dead-center relevance to our lives. It means accepting the goodwill of the Author toward us and the effectiveness of His Answer in our lives. This is what we call faith.
The Magic Bullet: Think Highly of Others
What have we traditionally done with Jesus’ words to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”? We have commonly used them to scold children that they should think about what it would be like if they were hurt the way they had just hurt someone. Or perhaps we have sought to teach them to be more thoughtful and considerate of others’ rights and needs. That is all good and correct, but there is more. Try this as a prescription for whatever social anxiety you may be experiencing, or whatever lack of self-esteem you experience relative to others. That is, ask yourself: What is it that you want? Do you want others to think highly of you? If so, in your next social encounter try thinking highly of them. This is not about what you do outwardly, although that may be a natural result in unplanned ways. But if you are a believer and if you are genuinely thinking highly of others, then you will be in sync with the Spirit of God. I believe that you will find something changing in your heart.
Frank was talking with me about his social anxieties and we were able to conclude that he simply wanted people to like him. I asked him if he liked other people. It was an eye-opener for him when he said, “No,” but in a way it made perfect sense. Rejection rejects. If as a child he had felt that others did not like him, then the safest thing for his little psyche to do to protect itself was to not like others. Frank had a couple of social encounters on his docket and I made him promise to just mingle with people and simply like them. Things have really changed for Frank. He is now caught up enough with liking others that he no longer has to turn to his self-conscious dodging of others in a social context.
Christian Counseling to Overcome Social Anxiety
If you struggle with social anxiety and recognize some potential ground to gain in some of the above, speaking with a Christian counselor can help you gain a better bead on it and give form and feedback to your efforts.