Self Compassion and Social Anxiety – Hypnotherapy in Ely and Newmarket
When I used to struggle with social anxiety, perhaps one of the most detrimental things I used to do came from the excessive level to which I would be hard, negative and harsh upon myself. Never mind what anyone else was thinking (probably nothing if we are honest), I would chastise, criticise and berate myself over any slight perceived failing or embarrassment. If I felt I’d said something stupid, done something not quite perfectly, or if I missed the opportunity to do something positive, then that self-critical inner voice would be there.
And, with social anxiety, that inner voice and the way we communicate with ourselves, probably won’t stop with just the current perceived self-failing. In my case, it will probably then also drag out a whole load of the other past mistakes and other justifications for considering myself to be a failure, stupid or an idiot in some way. A lack of self compassion, self encouragement and support can easily exacerbate and consolidate that social anxiety and the worries about failing or being judged negatively by others.
A lack of self compassion and kindness to yourself, and a habitual tendency towards self-criticism and negative self judgements, can feed your ongoing social anxiety and contribute to more generalised anxiety, lowness, perfectionism and low self esteem.
Yet, of course, just because your social anxiety patterns of thinking and feeling currently lead to worry, negativity and lowness, doesn’t mean that you are stuck that way. It is possible to learn how to be more balanced and rational in your own thoughts and feelings towards yourself, to even encourage yourself sometimes, to recognise that sometimes things do go awry and to to feel more comfortable in your own skin so that you can be more relaxed around other people.
Self Compassion and Social Anxiety
Self compassion refers to having an accepting and caring orientation towards oneself. It’s about being kind to yourself and being able to use self-reassurance and self-soothing in times of adversity. It includes being non-judgemental about yourself and recognising your experience as part of the human condition.
Someone with a healthy level of self compassion will likely feel more comfortable in their own skin and more relaxed in who they are, what they do and what they consider to be important to them. They will feel worthy of their achievements and successes. And they will recognise that sometimes things they do don’t go to plan and mistakes can happen, and even if they feel disappointment from this for a while, they will demonstrate resilience and learn from what they have done. Healthy self compassion has, unsurprisingly, been associated with beneficial effects on mental health and well-being.
In contrast, negative self rumination and self criticism involves being harsh and judgemental about yourself and is associated with feeling isolated and exacerbating a sense of threat in difficult times. It’s been associated with many mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Two of the main characteristics of social anxiety are high levels or excessive levels of self criticism, and a high concern about how others perceive you, evaluate and judge you and your actions.
This worry about being judged negatively can lead someone with social anxiety to fear social situations, to avoid social situations and to spend many hours ruminating and feeling anxious about situations they have experienced and about what may happen in future social situations. I can well remember the worry and anxiety before a work meeting or social occasion and all of the obsessional thoughts about what I might do or say wrong that would mean failure or ridicule (that in my distorted thinking would be out of all proportion and would somehow seem to mean the end of all things for me). After a social interaction I would then replay aspects of what I said and did, honing in on certain moments (which probably no one else remembered or even noticed at the time) whilst being self critical, worrying about being judged negatively and having a fear of having messed up or done something stupid and how devastating that would now be.
And, with social anxiety, it isn’t always just the dread and worry about what people might think of your perceived failures, it can also apply to positives and successes too. I’ve worked with many people where they have a fear of success because others may view them negatively as a result of what they may achieve. Any form of standing out and being noticed can be a source of potential discomfort and distress.
All of these characteristics and thinking patterns of social anxiety suggest that increasing your ability for self compassion could help with managing social situations, keeping perspective and objectivity about any perceived social mess ups and just generally treating yourself more kindly in your own self perceptions and emotions.
Given that self compassion has been associated with increased life satisfaction and social connectedness, as well as lessened self criticism, rumination, anxiety, depression and perfectionism, it is likely that someone with social anxiety will demonstrate less self compassion compared with someone without this anxiety.
In fact, Werner et al (2012) carried out a study to examine this and found, unsurprisingly, that people with social anxiety disorder reported less self compassion than those without social anxiety. This lessened self compassion may result in an increased difficulty keeping negative events in perspective, and a greater likelihood of experiencing anxiety after a stressful experience.
This study was the first to show diminished self compassion in people with social anxiety disorder and people with social anxiety tended to report less self kindness, greater self judgement, less emotional balance in the midst of negative emotions and feeling more overwhelmed by negative emotions. People with social anxiety viewed themselves negatively and engaged in excessive post event rumination (distorting their view of themselves in social situations).
It is possible that these traits of someone with social anxiety may contribute to it continuing to affect you over time. This lack of self compassion leads to negative thoughts and feelings and can then feed into them becoming habitual and seemingly automatic, persistent and things that you can’t control. The fear of negative evaluation by others can seem immense and overwhelming and these distorted thinking patterns prevent you from a more balanced assessment of things.
As the study authors note, people with social anxiety disorder may have a reduced ability to generate positive thoughts and warmth and kindness towards themselves, and whatever ability they have may degrade over time. And so it may be important to develop self compassion to buffer against the negative cognitive biases and the excessive self criticism characteristic of social anxiety disorder.
That is, developing more positive thoughts and feelings towards yourself can help with reducing social anxiety symptoms. Learning to be kinder to yourself, developing more self assuredness and reducing self criticism and negative self judgement, can all contribute to you feeling better in yourself and more comfortable in social situations. Being more relaxed in yourself and less concerned about what other people think means you can look forward to interactions with others and feel more at ease about your own actions and behaviours.
Certainly hypnotherapy can help you to tackle unwanted thoughts and feelings and to build your inner comfort and confidence (in fact, self compassion is the subject of this hypnosis download available through my website: Loving Kindness For Yourself). Mindfulness based techniques, hypnosis and cognitive behavioural therapy approaches can all help you to reduce the anxiety and depression symptoms of social anxiety and help you with increasing your self-esteem
Self Compassion Benefits
Whether you are struggling with social anxiety, generalised anxiety or low self-esteem, developing more self compassion can help you to alleviate the unwanted thoughts, feelings and behaviours that you may have been experiencing. You can feel more positive, comfortable and self assured in yourself, and you can feel more relaxed about your successes and about any perceived mistakes.
In another study, Krischner et al (2019) investigated the effects of two short term self-compassion exercises. Each of the groups in the study were exposed to different interventions. The two short self-compassion exercises involved two processes. The first had participants direct kind and compassionate attention to their body sensations; the second had them bring to mind a person they felt a natural warmth towards and to direct friendly wishes toward this person, before offering the same friendly wishes towards themselves. There was also a self-critical rumination group who were asked to dwell on something they felt they had not managed or achieved as they would have wanted to.
Self compassion led to positive effects on physical and mental health, with increased stress reduction, more self positivity and the ability to better regulate emotions. And as the study concluded, self-compassion reduces negative self bias and activates a content and calm state of mind with a disposition for kindness, care, social connectedness, and the ability to self-soothe when stressed.
There’s more self compassion in this earlier article: Why You Should Be Kind To Yourself – The Benefits of Self-Compassion
Developing your ability for self compassion can help you to reduce the unwanted thoughts and feelings of social anxiety. You can gain greater control over your emotional responses, feel more abler to connect with others and become more objective and relaxed about what you do and what you perceive that others are thinking about you. Rather than having a fear of social situations, you can learn to enjoy them, or at least tolerate them comfortably, and that freedom will mean you can start to feel better in yourself and in your life.
To your health and happiness,
Anxiety Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket
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Kirschner, H., Kuyken, W., Wright, K., Roberts, H., Brejcha, C. and Karl, A., 2019. Soothing your heart and feeling connected: A new experimental paradigm to study the benefits of self-compassion. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(3), pp.545-565.
Werner, K.H., Jazaieri, H., Goldin, P.R., Ziv, M., Heimberg, R.G. and Gross, J.J., 2012. Self-compassion and social anxiety disorder. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 25(5), pp.543-558.