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Imagine you’re sitting in a public place minding your own business and someone walks up to you and says…something.
But what did they say and why didn’t you hear it?
Your chest starts pounding and your head feels like it’s going to explode.
And you still haven’t replied to them.
I had sold my voice to a sea witch. Disney princess Ariel or “the little mermaid” also made a deal with a sea witch. For the price of her voice she had the opportunity to try to win a gentleman’s heart. The deal was if Ariel could get Prince Eric to kiss her than she could stay on land with him and regain her voice. If she failed she’d have no man and no voice. Unlike our friend Ariel I didn’t sell my voice for a man. But like her, I sold it for the sliver of hope I would be better off. I call my contract ‘Social Phobia’. The National Institute of Mental health says social phobia is the fear of being judged by others and as a result being embarrassed. It’s said over 15 million Americans suffer from social phobia but it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a hypothetical ‘kiss’ in your future.
The first step in finding your voice, of breaking this contract, is about your perception of self. The definition of social phobia is literally “being afraid of what other people think of you”. People will tell you time and time again, especially if you’ve been bullied, “what they think doesn’t matter”. I’m not going to tell you that. You’ve heard it; obviously what they are saying matters to you on some level or another. It’s a basic human need to be liked and nothing to be ashamed of. What I am going to tell you is that you need you like yourself more. To focus on figuring out what who you are and what you stand for as a person. What makes you passionate? What makes you angry? What makes you happy? How do you find peace? In the past, for me that meant volunteer work. I have volunteered at many different places, my favorite was Haven. For those of you who don’t know Haven is a shelter for domestically abused women and children. I helped prepare their garden for winter and on another occasion sterilized their children’s playroom. Being proud of what you do is essential to ridding yourself of this fear. For me being able to say “I’m an Oakland University student and I’m getting a degree in communication” was a huge boost in esteem. This will and must evolve overtime. When I first wrote this piece the above volunteerism and degree was my passion. Now a few years later my needs and passions have changed. I’m passionate about the poetry I write and the photos I take. I’m proud of the Internship I did with Habitat for Humanity to help boost their social media following. The important part is that you’re proud to say you’re doing it or did it. This can be anything that makes you happy. What moves you?
The next step and this is the hard one, get out there and do it. Join a club, any club there’s so many options. A yoga class, book club, people who think the 80’s are making a come-back. It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is whatever you do, do it full heartedly. Put effort into making that club better and actively being involved. This is where you can mesh step one and two together. As long as it motivates you, it counts. I have a couple of tips to help make this adventure easier.
1. First, bright colors will make you look more outgoing. If you’re a little uncomfortable with the outfit just try to pretend you are in your pajamas or favorite outfit.
2. Looking people in the eyes is a cultural thing, and in America it indicates that you are paying close attention to the speaker. That they are worth your time. If you can’t look people directly in the eyes if you look at the space between their eyes, they won’t know the difference. This is just a way to help you get used to looking at people in the face. It does get easier as you practice to actually look people in the eyes. The point of this is to put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable, it helps build confidence. You’ve got to dive straight it and you’ll adjust to the water temperatures.
The next important lesson and my personal favorite is talk about yourself. This is my favorite because I instinctively blurt out an embarrassing fact or story about myself when I’m uncomfortable. While you might not want to follow in my footsteps with this tactic there’s really nowhere to go from this spot then up. If you’re quiet and never offer anything about yourself people think you’re uninterested in them. Most the time, this isn’t the case but it’s a natural progression of human thought. It actually makes people feel more at ease with you, even trust you more. The more personal people perceive what you told them to be the better. For someone with Social Phobia this is going to be difficult, but it’s all a process that gets easier and easier as time goes on.
There are so many ways to overcome social phobia and shyness in general. These are things that allowed me to gain back my voice. But everyone with anxiety has their own unique contract. Something different works for everyone. How you let others make you feel has nothing to do with what they say. It has everything to do with loving your authentic self.