Overcome Social Anxiety And Change Your Brain

Discover Powerful Techniques To Transform How You Treat Yourself

By now you probably realize that being critical of yourself does NOT help you feel more confident. But how do we stop?

Join Dr. Aziz as he discusses the fascinating field of Compassionate Imagery with his guest expert, Dr. Lynne Henderson.

You’ll discover exactly what this technique is and how to use it to shift long-standing patterns of being hard on yourself, so you can feel more accepting and compassionate towards yourself no matter what.

Click below to hear this episode!

Show Notes

Lynne Henderson - How To Overcome Shyness

Click here to Learn more about Dr. Lynne Henderson’s work, including her books on overcoming self-criticism, increasing self-acceptance, and truly building social confidence based on your strengths.


Using Self-Compassion To Combat Social Anxiety

Hey welcome to today’s episode of the show. Today we’re going to be getting into the fascinating field of compassionate imagery. This is something that’s being pioneered by a fellow named Paul Gilbert across the pond in England and he is doing a lot of research and work with people on how do we really truly and deeply transform our relationship to ourselves to one of more compassion. And you’ve probably heard me talk about this a lot in the podcast. If you read my book The Solution of Social Anxiety, there’s a whole section on self-compassion. It’s also a theme in many of my programs in the Confidence Code that helps people build self-esteem and Confidence Unleashed which helps people activate a sense of courage, all that stuff relates back to self-compassion.

It’s a theme that runs through everything that I teach because without that, you got nothing even if you’re succeeding on the outside, even if you’re excelling and achieving, even if you’re making money or getting the job or getting the girl or having the relationship, it might all look great on the outside but I’m sure you felt this where you could be having a success on the outside but in the inside you’re critical of yourself, you’re discounting it, you’re saying “Yeah, but that’s not good enough” or all those people are just saying that to be nice or whatever you do to twist it so that you can still keep beating up on yourself, attacking yourself, criticizing yourself, hating yourself. And I’m speaking from personal experience here and this is something that I continually – I mean, just night and day, I used to spend 95% of my time in self-criticism and now it’s probably about 5% of my time. I mean, it’s a huge transformation and life is immensely better as a result. That’s what I want for you and that’s what this episode is going to help you learn how to do. But it still creeps up, right?

I mean I don’t know anyone who is entirely free of it and when it does it’s like I’ll sometimes notice it maybe 10 minutes into it, 20 minutes and I’ll be like, “Wait a minute, wait, wait a minute, what’s going on?” And I will voice that part. So, just the other day, I was just feeling really agitated all day long, just irritated, tense, frustrated and I got home and I was sitting there and just hanging out with my wife and my little son and just like everything was good right at that moment. I’m like “Why am I so agitated? Why am I so agitated?” which is like I don’t know. “What if you just took a moment and breathed and pay attention.” How’s that for a wife who is supportive, right? She’s awesome.

So, I did that and sure enough what I noticed underneath was I was feeling sad and as soon as I noticed I was feeling sad, this voice came up in my head and I was like, “Oh, God, there you go being sad again. What’s wrong with you? You’re always sad. Come on, man. How long are you going to be sad?” I was sad about something that happened a couple of years ago and I was like, “God, you’re still upset about this? What’s wrong with you?” and it just lazed into me. And I was like, “Oh, wow, there’s this huge critic that’s coming about being sad.” And then I do what I suggest in my book and other places, I just voiced it out loud and I said it in kind of in a funny voice like it’s like the critic saying, “Oh, God, here you go again being sad” and I just kind of put a silly voice to it and like halfway through I just started laughing and it just helped me totally dispel it and then I could just feel the sadness which was there for me maybe like 10 to 15 minutes I just breathed.

I did some tapping exercises which I actually teach in the Confidence Code and it just helped me be with it for 10 or 15 minutes and it was totally gone and the next day I woke up feeling energized and excited about life. So, this critic is something that we all have to keep dealing with. But the more tools you have in your belt, the more quivers you have or the more arrows you have and your quiver, the more quickly you can find out what’s going on and neutralize it so you can just be with the feelings, be with yourself and move through things much, much more quickly and then life is better when you do. So, we’re going to get deeper into a powerful tool today called compassionate imagery and Dr. Lynne Henderson has been doing some awesome stuff with this. She’s actually written an entire book on the subject so it’s going to be great to hear her thoughts on that. So, we’re going to jump into our interview right now. We’re going to take just a quick break and then we’re going to jump into our interview with Dr. Lynne Henderson.

Expert Interview With Dr. Lynne Henderson

Dr. Aziz: But how do you help someone who is operating with that strategy? Because I think it’s really common as a way of trying to deal with shyness is just to try to be perfect all the time.

Dr. Lynne: Right, right. Well, one of the things that we sort of have on our side is that the research has shown, I think this was study done by Gwen Albern at UBC British Columbia is that if people are friendly or feeling shy and were friendly people respond well to us. They looked past any awkwardness. What they’re looking for is friendliness because we all need the same thing. The other thing is shyness is a universal human emotion and Ernest Carducci’s work has also shown that most people, I think it’s only 3% of people that will even say they never felt shy. So, the percentages of people who are shy at least some of the time is as much higher than people frank. So, when you can educate people about that sort of thing that’s a bit comforting.

But I think what you’re mentioning about the perfection is really important because if we think of ourselves and maybe we’re at a gathering and somebody looks really, really perfectly poised, how do we feel? We’re more likely to feel intimidated and other people are too. If somebody is really perfect, you also don’t tend to trust it. You have a feeling that it’s a performance because we often know that everybody feels insecure sometimes. I mean, we probably all experienced this, you look a speaker on the podium and the person says, “Well, I’m a little nervous” or “But I think I’m…” and what happens? Our sympathy goes right to that person. We think “Oh, my God, what a relief. I’m not the only one.”
And that kind of disarming that people are willing to do and usually people with strong social skills are able to do that because they understand that it’s universal and when one person in a room does it, everybody else gets to do it, too. You say, “Oh, I can relax. I don’t have to be perfect.” But I think when you’re isolated as somebody who is been trying for a while, we get scared. We think, “God, I don’t want to let anybody know I’m insecure because that’s just going to confirm what I’m afraid of.” So, you don’t get the opportunity to test it out and hence the other person say, “Oh, my gosh me too.” And then be able to relax together.
And I think that’s one of the biggest things about group is that you get a chance to see how warm and skilled and nice somebody can be and still have these feelings and thoughts that there are something wrong with me or not be perfect and is the perfectionism that keeps us really, really sad in a sense. Because you don’t get to do the behavioral experiments that say “People like you just fine if you’re not perfect. They like you better.” Because you don’t have to hide and the thing that makes — that helps us really connect with each other is being genuine and then we can learn from each other. We don’t have to pretend. It’s like not asking a question in class because you’re afraid you’ll lose face.
On the other hand, you’ll get the learning. Oh, and that was another interesting study, Jennifer Beard did at Berkeley where they found that people who label themselves as shy, who thought shyness was a biological trait were much less likely to take social risks than people who were shy, who didn’t see it as biological, who thought it’s learned.
Dr. Aziz: Interesting.
Dr. Lynne: And so, if you don’t take the social risks, just like if you don’t take risk asking questions in class, you don’t get the chance to learn.
Dr. Aziz: Wow. That just shows the power of identity.
Dr. Lynne: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: If I see myself, this is how I am and this is because of my genes, because of how I was born then you tend to play that out again and again and I think that’s such a key piece of what you teach in the social fitness model is that this is something that can be developed even if you never want to be the center of the party and the crazy extrovert. That’s you don’t have to. You just have to be good enough in the areas that you want to create what you want in your life.
Dr. Lynne: Exactly.
Dr. Aziz: So, it’s a very empowering approach. You know one thing I wanted to ask you that you mentioned earlier is around compassion and that has been my experience with working with this in myself and helping others is sometimes no amount of reframing, no amount of questioning of my beliefs does anything to help my emotional state. And sometimes, I have done something that’s – I’ve seen this a lot in myself and others, you really push the edge. You do something outside of your comfort zone that ultimately is really good for you. It really strengthens you.
Dr. Lynne: Yes.
Dr. Aziz: But right afterwards, there’s what I called the backlash which is when that wash of shame comes over you and my mind has able to identify “Okay, this is not realistic. This is not – and I cannot buy into the thoughts but my heart and my chest and my stomach are just throbbing and they’re sort of a need to just kind of wait it out in a way and it will go away in a day or two.” But I’m really curious about the work you’re doing around compassion and compassion imagery and the mindfulness stuff because I think that it goes beneath the level of thoughts and really targets those feelings of shame at their root. So, I’d love to hear ideas you have about that particular exercises or strategies you have to work with that shame on that level.
Dr. Lynne: Okay, that’s a good one. One of the things that I was working with this wisdom was that we did find that simple mindfulness techniques, focusing on your breathing, focusing on staying on the presence, focusing on your inner experience, those things particularly with practice just watching your breath and coming back to it again and again and again, those things in the long run particularly if you practice every day just quiet your mind so it’s easier to see what’s really happening. Because when we’re aroused, when we’re scared, we get really tunnel vision so we only see what we’re scared of because we’re scanning for threats.
And that’s when I got interested in the work of Paul Gilbert in England. He was doing compassion-focused therapy and I went over to train with him. I went to a workshop that they were having over there and then he asked me if I also wanted to write a book on compassion-focused therapy for shyness and social anxiety and I jumped at the chance because it gave me an opportunity to learn more about it and work with it clients. So, you start with these mindfulness techniques, these meditation techniques and then you move into more compassionate thinking. Paul has a really nice image that he uses when you think of self-correction or compassionate self-correction versus the kind of self-correcting that can be very self-critical.
You imagine a school teacher, a very warm school teacher who really focuses on a child’s strengths and helps them build on those strengths. So, instead of saying oh, you really blew it or what, it is like, “Well, you work with this part and you got this part more than what you wanted it. How did you do that? Maybe you could apply that to the next thing?” So, talking to the self very differently, you know that’s different than challenging automatic thoughts like we were used to doing. And it’s very interesting to me and also ACT therapy doesn’t try to change automatic thoughts. They just put those people on the bus that you’re driving and you go in your valued direction with those thoughts. Because sometimes you’re saying that if you try to control thoughts, they get worse.
So, if you can just be with them and do what you want to do anyway that’s another way to work with them. So, we use even – that wasn’t Paul’s work, that was ACT work. But I think people learn the techniques they used, they need to use at given time. So, sometimes, they’re going to challenge the negative thoughts but if that isn’t helping the feeling state then you can move to compassionate self-correction and work with that or you can if you want to in that situation, put those thoughts on the back of your bus and still go where you want to go. But I think I found that part very interesting and then it also works into what we’d call compassionate imagery. And that’s very, very powerful because imagery tends to stay with us longer than thoughts do.
And there’s a person named Tobyn Bell in the UK who has this great image on a slide where you can see this chocolate cake and it’s all dripping with frosting and stuff and then you can see this other sentence that says, “Oh, a yummy chocolate cake” and the difference you get literally when you look at the picture versus when you look at the words. So, we know that imagery is powerful and so what people do if you can imagine a very safe place and you can work with that and you can imagine a compassionate friend and have them speak to you in a very compassionate way, just your ideal compassionate person who is warm, who cares about you and who cares really about your welfare and accepts you unconditionally. And if you practice this kind of imagery, you actually get changes in the brain.
So, Paul has these three circle models in compassion-focused therapy. You got the threat system which you and I’ve been talking about where you get the tunnel vision and you scan for threats. And then you got the drive system and that’s where you’re really going forward. You’re going after what you want. It’s very goal-focused. And then the third system is the soothing system. And one of the things that they found about western cultures particularly is our soothing system are not well-activated. We go often from threat right into drive. So, “Oh my gosh I failed. I’m going to work harder. I’m going to do better” and we can actually believe that our self-criticism helps us do that. Well, in fact it’s not nearly as effective as treating ourselves with compassion and comforting ourselves and focusing on our strengths and helping ourselves practice, that actually turns out to be more effective in terms of learning because you got more of your brain available to you.
So, the idea is that if you can go from the threat system right into the soothing system before you go into the drive system, you go with more of your heart and mind with you so you got more resources at your disposal. So, we can use all these techniques to soothe ourselves which then help us get back into the world in a place where you don’t have to deny your vulnerability. You can go with it but you can care about yourself just like you care about a beloved child or a sibling or a parent.
Dr. Aziz: We’re going to pause for just one second and then we’re going to jump back into our interview with Dr. Lynne Henderson.

Dr. Lynne: You can take those feelings with you into the world and of course what are we all drawn to in each other warmth. You’re thinking the warmth with you, warmth toward yourself, compassion toward yourself and the more compassion you have toward yourself the research is showing the more compassion you have toward other people. And Kristin Neff and Chris Germer also have compassion explained but I think it’s also very effective. That what you’re doing is you’re cultivating a compassionate warm attitude towards yourself. So, then when we failed, we can keep our warmth and we can learn and we can move on. But I love that new image of a toddler who goes off and falls down and just goes back to the mom for a little while and just comfort and gets cuddling and then there they go and they’re off there again and that’s what we’re looking for with the soothing system.
There’s one more piece in that though that we have to be careful with and I’ll be really interested in what you think about this Aziz is that what we found is that people who patented a lot of this work, I was observing the same thing at the clinic. He and I were both interested in shame. But – oh, sorry, I lost my train of thought. Oh, I got it. What can happen is when we’re very self-critical you tend to be afraid of compassion and Paul developed questionnaires for that called Fears of Compassion Scale and we can give them to our clients. We can take them ourselves and see how scared of compassion we are. So, it makes people resist the imagery in the beginning but if we can explain that and talk about it and understand it better, then it helps to be a little more receptive because compassionate imagery is very powerful and people are afraid that they won’t – they seemed to motivate themselves with self-criticism so they’re afraid they won’t be able to motivate themselves.
But of course, you just motivate yourself in a different way. You motivate yourself with care and compassion and encouragement. But I just thought that was fascinating and I’ve seen it happen in terms of resisting it. There’s one other thing that’s useful here and this is something that Chris Germer talks about and he calls it backwash. And what can happen is that when – also, when we start to become more self-compassion, it can bring up a lot of grief. And so, it’s not unusual when you start to practice self-compassion to actually have the same and the grief activated and as long as you know what’s going on, you just sit with it in a compassionate way and it just moved through you. As an ACT therapy when they talked about it just watching our emotions come and go. But I think that’s really interesting and something to pay attention to in our clients and in our own self.
Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. And that reminds me of a quote, I don’t know if it was Robert Blye or someone who was encouraging people to follow the grief down and I think that is underneath a lot of this.
Dr. Lynne: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: And there’s so much pain that we carry around that – well first and foremost that harshness with ourselves is continual wounding in our heart. I think it’s very painful to be operating in that mindset and the only way to deal with it is to kind of harden ourselves and harden our hearts and unfortunately for a lot of people that started when they were children and the parents kind of had that attitude towards them as well at times and there’s like this hardening of the heart and to really be soft and nurturing and compassionate with ourselves absolutely then we’re making contact with that reservoir of grief. And I think that the two biggest ways I see people resist it, well several. One is — it’s almost interesting. It’s like there are fears but when it gets down to it, they emotionally react with like aversion towards it. There can be sort of a numbing or a checking out like, “Oh, I just couldn’t quite, I couldn’t quite feel it.”
Dr. Lynne: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: It felt sort of distant or just heady to me or another one which I think is even harder to break through in some ways is like a shell of cynicism kind of deriding it or mocking it or making it seemed stupid and foolish which is a very kind of strong form of aversion and contempt in a way for it.
Dr. Lynne: You know that’s really interesting that you said that because we did a bunch of testing for anger at the clinic and we saw that in the data is the tendency to be sometimes cynical as a way to protect ourselves. And it’s funny because it can give you compassion for parents and kids alike, particularly in the generation where parents learn spare the rod and spoil the child and so, everybody is trying to do their very best. But the research they don’t have the current research that we have. It shows that compassion actually works better. You think of all the parents that sort of had to break the rules in order to sometimes give kids the compassion they needed. I mean I just think that stuff is fascinating in terms of how we as kids learn some of those things we learned. The other thing I think is really interesting here is I heard somebody talked about the other day not in the context of shyness but I think it really fits is post traumatic growth so that when people have a really big backlash, they feel a lot of shame and grief and they can work with it then they often get really interesting growth spurts after that. You’ve probably seen that, too.
Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. Yeah. If they can find some of those deeper values or reasons and then there can be a strong forward movement and I really think it helps if you can be in that activate that soothing cycle because then – yeah, there’s this attempt to go from the threat to the drive cycle immediately and kind of bypass this soothing compassionate part.
Dr. Lynne: That’s right.
Dr. Aziz: And it doesn’t really work very well. I mean, it might work in the short term and the person can go do more but they’re doing in a way that’s like hardened or kind of grinding inside of themselves and less easeful…
Dr. Lynne: Yeah, excuse me. I interrupted you, go ahead and finish that.
Dr. Aziz: Oh, I was just going to say and it’s more easeful in a way when we can do it that way.
Dr. Lynne: Yeah, yeah. I really believe that.
Dr. Aziz: So, I think these are very powerful tools that people can use in their lives and if someone wants to go deeper with some of the things that you’ve shared, you’ve mentioned a lot of different outstanding research that’s being done, you mentioned different authors. Is there a place that you recommend people go to find out more about what it is that you teach, how they can learn some of these techniques and books they can read. Just what resources would you recommend for people listening?
Dr. Lynne: Well, you can always visit our website www.shyness.com. There are resources available there and there are – there’s a list of resources around the country and it talks about the way that I treat shyness.
Dr. Aziz: That brings us to the end of the interview and almost the end of our time together. But there’s one more thing, right? We can’t end the show without your action step.

Time For Action

For today’s action step, can you guess what it’s going to be? That’s right. Use compassionate imagery. Practice what you’ve learned, apply what you learn. That’s why I have these action steps because if you don’t apply what you learn, it will be interesting as you hear the show, it might be a little intriguing, you might feel a little bit better but to really truly transform this so you can overcome the shyness that’s holding you back and really just step into your life fully. Don’t just get to adequate levels of confidence but exceptional levels of confidence.
If you want to take things to the next level and be a leader in your life like Dr. Lynne Henderson talked about in last week show, you want to become a CEO of a company, you want to create the ideal family life, you want to meet the woman of your dreams, you want to really kickass in life, then you got to do these action steps. This action is where your life will transform. So, do the compassionate imagery. Take three or four minutes and do the exercise. Close your eyes and really create that image of a compassionate figure. Go through the stuff that she talked about and really apply that in your life and help yourself, give yourself a gift of compassion because you’re worth it. You’re deserving of love. I mean anything that told you otherwise, any BS stories, and any mistakes of your parents, any terrible kids that you went to school with, that is all bullshit.
The truth is you deserve tremendous amounts of love and compassion and respect. Not because you achieve something great but just because of who you are and you can really internalize that and know that in your core then your life will never be the same again. So, thanks so much for listening. By all means go to the site shrinkfortheshyguy.com, leave me a message and I would love to get back to you and get into a conversation with you and until we speak again. May you have the courage to be who you are and to know that you’re awesome.

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