Now that I had peeled back the layers and uncovered the source of my social anxiety and poor self-esteem, I had to determine the best way to interrupt the negative cycle that had developed over the years. Attacking it head-on seemed pointless – it was too powerful and had way too much momentum.
I needed to start by creating a clear mental picture of the sequence of events within that cycle. Once I established this in my mind, I would slowly start introducing changes.
My daily thought process consisted of six steps – this is how social anxiety disorder warped my thoughts on an on-going basis:
1. Input from the outside world. This could be a conversation, meeting a stranger, sitting across from someone on a bus, a social gathering, communicating with co-workers, a dating situation, a business meeting – whatever.
2. Information was processed and interpreted by the brain which used a built in belief system to arrive at conclusions for each bit of input – words, actions, facial
expressions, and pretty much everything happening at that time, in that setting.
3. Because of bad programming and inaccurate beliefs, my brain processed this information in a decidedly negative manner.
4. The brain then generated automatic thoughts and subsequent actions. Conclusions had been drawn and this was the response stage. The automatic thoughts included feelings of inadequacy, resentment, jealousy, and low self-esteem. The automatic responses included quietness, negative facial expressions and an overwhelming need to exit the situation as quickly as possible.
5. After everything was said and done, the brain needed to extract some truth from the ordeal. This truth could have been factual or fictitious; it made no difference as long as the brain truly believed it. If it received any negative feedback (regardless of how small) from the encounter (for example, someone making a sarcastic comment, or giving a certain look), it would use that to reinforce what beliefs it already held. In fact, my brain was biased in this regard – it wanted negative feedback. This negative feedback was, quite often, so subtle that others didnt even notice it. In many instances, there was no negative truth to be gathered at all – except what the brain wanted to believe.
6. The brain treated this truth as pure and unquestionable. It was not challenged and was regarded as absolute. With this, it re-programmed its belief system ever so slightly. The new updated program was now ready for new input. Back to step one.
This horrible cycle controlled every aspect of my life. It was so automatic that I didn’t even have to think about it – it ran the show, and I was along for the ride.
To begin making any improvement, would mean disrupting its cozy routine. I would have to start thinking about things, instead of running on autopilot.