My beliefs about myself and about the world have significantly changed over the past few years. But why hasn’t that lead to any significant changes? Why is my thinking still so irrational during social situations? Why is change so slow? In theory, I know I’m fine. I know I’m smart and I know I can carry on a conversation and I know I’m fairly attractive. In action though (when I’m in the midst of a social situation) I tell myself I’m an ugly idiot who can’t engage socially with others. There’s a huge disparity in how I look at myself in the comfort of my apartment or even in therapy (objectivity) versus when I’m in the middle of a group social situation (subjectivity).
I want to look at some examples. I’ll start with a belief about myself I know is true when I’m not in an anxious social situation, and then I’ll counter it with what I believe in a social situation (in bold).
- I am not ugly. I may not have been the best looking during my formative years, but I’ve changed. I no longer have bad acne or an under bite. People are staring at my jaw. They can see my under bite. I wish I didn’t have these scars from acne. Why do people always have to just stare at me? What can they see that I can’t?
- I’m intelligent, witty, funny, and interesting to talk to. People don’t want to hear what I have to say. They’ll laugh and think my opinions are stupid. I just won’t say anything at all. But I really want to say something. Maybe if I just say some joke really quickly that will be enough. Why can’t I just feel calm and relaxed and speak about myself like everyone else. Why can’t I be witty and funny like everyone else?
- Nobody is inherently better than me. Some people may be better at some things than I am, but I’m better at some other things. Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses–that’s what makes us human. These people are beautiful and perfect. They have no flaws that I can see. All my flaws are exposed. People can see them. I can’t hide. They can see right through me.
- People are not talking about me behind my back. They are not laughing at me. They do not have a secret system setup (of glances, of nods) to subtly communicate with one other about me. People are talking about me, telling one other how awkward and stupid I am. They are also laughing about me. What else could be so funny? At the very least, everyone is having negative thoughts about me.
There’s more but I have to stop there. This is too hard for me.
So what’s going on here? If I truly believe my thoughts outside of social situations, then they should carry over into social situations. Why don’t I believe them? It’s because I tell myself that no matter what I’m going to fail. It doesn’t matter what I believe. It doesn’t matter how smart or funny I am–I’m going to fail. But I don’t think just changing those thoughts will help. I can’t just say, “I’ll be fine in this situation” or “I’m going to wake up tomorrow and not feel anxious.”
The work has to be done on changing my beliefs, but I need to have the overall belief that those changes will help–which I don’t have.
I think that changing beliefs works like this–
I state my irrational belief, then state a rational (counter) belief, and then hopefully a synthesis will occur: where I pick the truth from each belief, and hopefully that will change my overall belief to a more positive one. Once the belief has changed, I then test that belief in a social situation. So far, my new beliefs haven’t stuck and so I go right back to my old beliefs. But maybe, somewhere deep within, my beliefs have shifted a bit, and eventually the new beliefs will become set. It just takes practice and a lot of time to change–both of which I don’t feel like I have.
By the way, when I started writing this post I felt good. I felt calm and collected. Now I just feel terrible. I’m extremely anxious, and I feel depressed. Stirring up these thoughts hasn’t done me any good. Hopefully in the long run this blog will help, but right now, in the present, it’s doing more harm than good.