Discover The Real Cause Of Shyness And Social Anxiety
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Shyness – Anticipating The Worst
This is our second show. We made it through the first one and everything went according to plan without explosions. And today is a particularly exciting show because today we’re going to get into what is the cause of shyness and social anxiety. When we strip away all of the ideas that we tell ourselves, all the reasons why things are going to go wrong, all of the self criticisms, all that stuff that makes up social anxiety, what’s underneath that? What is the cause of this challenge?
Because if you understand the cause, then you can start to work towards the solution. This material is incredibly valuable to the people that I share it with when we explore it in confidence coaching sessions, and people start to see what the cause is. There’s this light bulb that starts to go off. And you realize that, “hey, wait a minute, you mean the cause is just this one thing that I’m doing repeatedly in my own mind and there something that I can do about it?”
So I’m going to get into that in this episode. And I hope it has as big an effect on you that it had on me when I first learned this. But I want to start with though is just a brief review of what is shyness. As we talked about the last podcast shyness consists of two things. That is the prediction of a negative response. There’s someone you want to talk to and you don’t because you predict something negative will happen or you are already talking to that person and you have, whether there’s something specific you want to say or a joke you want to make but you don’t.
And that’s because you’re predicting some sort of negative response. And then as you remember the second part of the shyness is that you inhibit yourself. That means you predict the negative response but you don’t go do it anyway. You conclude that it would not work out. It would go poorly and so you end up not saying anything. And as you’re listening to this, you might be thinking, “well, I don’t know. I don’t know if I really predict negative outcomes like that. I mean I think I just feel nervous.”
Well, let’s explore that a little bit because I think there is something underneath the nervousness. Or another way of saying that is there’s something that causes the nervousness. So take a moment to imagine a scenario and let’s just see what emerges for you. So go ahead and close your eyes. If you’re driving, that’s probably a bad idea. So just visualize this with your eyes open, imagine it in your head.
I want you to think of being in the supermarket that you shop at most regularly, where you get all your stuff and you’re in the supermarket, and you see a beautiful, compelling woman that’s just your type.
And let’s say you’re single. And if you’re not right now, just imagine the time when you were and you were hoping to meeting someone. Would you go talk to her? It reminds me of the movie “Speed” which I was a huge fan of when I was a kid, watched it multiple times. One of the few movies that I owned on VHS and there was a line that went something like this: “there’s a man holding a woman hostage what do you do?”
What do you do? That’s the question here. It’s like there’s a woman that you’re attracted to in the supermarket, there’s an opportunity to talk with her. Pop quiz! What do you do?
Well, if you were like me and most guys that are shy, you don’t go talk with her. That’s the first thing that you certainly don’t do. I spent many years in a place where that was totally off-limits. And I have my reasons. Now, I want you to think about it — if you weren’t going to talk with her — what would be your reasons?
In fact, why don’t you think of several reasons what would you tell yourself that would stop you from going over there and starting a conversation with her. Give me second just to do that. What I’m going to do in a minute is I’m going to read a list of the top 10 reasons that a guy might not go talk to a woman, a shy guy might talk himself out of engaging in starting a conversation with that woman, even if he was attracted to her, even if he’s single and looking to meet someone.
These are actually drawn from my new book – The Solution To Social Anxiety, which is available at Amazon.com. And there’s a section in there called the top 10 reasons why you might not start a conversation. And so here they are. And you might relate to some of these. These might be building on some of the thoughts you had or they might be different thoughts than you have.
Top 10 Reasons To NOT Start A Conversation
The first is the idea that that would be weird. Some would think that was strange. It’s unusual.
Two, she would think I was hitting on her and then get annoyed with me, irritated with me. That’s a huge one for guys is that somehow my attention, my attraction, me being interested in you is somehow repulsive. This is one of the most painful aspects of shyness. And this gives a clue as to what the cause is.
So the next one, number three is she will be freaked out at the idea. So she’s going to be bothered or disturbed in some way by you starting a conversation with her. This one, number four is great. Other people will see me get rejected and then judge me. And they won’t say a thing but they’ll think like, “oh God. That guy is such a loser. What a weirdo, loser.”
That fear, the bystander effect can cripple us from going out there because we just get locked in our tracks of, oh my God. What if that person saw me?
Or we get really limited like, “well, I could only approach someone if no one else was around was in ear shot.” And that’s incredibly limiting. It’s one of the many things that we can say to ourselves that prevent us from putting ourselves out there.
Number five is “I don’t have anything good to say.” I’m going to actually get into all of these in the later episode where we’re going to break through and bust them so you can not believe them as much.
But that’s a really common one, the idea that we have to have something incredibly articulate, hilarious, and witty. Something that’s so amazing and just blows the other person away in order to just start a conversation with them.
Number six, she’s probably in a relationship already. So I just won’t go talk with her. That one is my favorite because it’s totally unverifiable unless there someone with her that clearly looks like her boyfriend or husband and they’re walking arm in arm buying groceries together.
But this often is used even when there’s no person around. She’s alone, and we say, “she’s probably in a relationship,” which is when you think about it, just a reason to not go talk with her. And I’m going to get into a minute why we have all these reasons. They stem from this deeper cause or root of shyness and social anxiety.
Number seven is “she’s out of my league.”
Number eight is I don’t have enough money so what can I offer her.
Number nine, there’s no way that she want to be with a guy like me.
And number ten, it will go terribly wrong and then I’ll feel embarrassed afterwards and awful about myself and just beat myself up for the rest of the week. And that one is the one that can hold guys hostage for the longest time.
Not the actual rejection from the woman or the person I want to start the conversation with but the self rejection that follows for the next hours, days, sometimes even weeks following an event like that.
So what’s going on here? Why are we talking ourselves out of doing something that we ultimately want? And there are few other ways that we might talk ourselves out of like we might say, “well, I’m not really into a relationship right now. I don’t really want this.”
And that’s just something we can sometimes tell ourselves because it’s too painful to realize that we really do want it but we’re too scared or we’re too paralyzed by worry about rejection. That just doesn’t feel very good so we try to feel better about ourselves by saying, “yeah I could, but I don’t want to.” Another thing which I like is the, “well, she’s not that attractive anyway,” excuse. That’s a really common one.
When I start working with guys and we go out to a place to practice in the field and I say, “what about her?” They look at her and say, “yeah, you know she’s alright but she’s not really attractive to me.” To which I respond, “yes, but this is just practice. This is not about finding your new life partner. This is about getting yourself out there.”
Then they say something like, “yeah, I don’t know she’s not that attractive. So I don’t want to.”
It’s just this excuse that we use because we’re nervous, we’re scared.
And where are all these reasons coming from? Why do we have so many damn reasons to prevent ourselves from going and talking to a woman or talking with a group of people or developing friendships or doing anything that involves reaching out to people? And the reason is, there is one cause deeper than all of these excuses and reasons that we give ourselves in our head, and that is driving us to come up with this stuff. It’s driving us to not go interact with her, to inhibit ourselves and it’s driving us to predict negative outcomes.
False Causes Of Shyness – Eric’s Story
I want to tell you a story about a man named Eric. Eric is a guy who came to see me. He’s 22. He lives with his folks. He just finished college and is now in the process of trying to get a job which he was struggling with. He was also having a hard time sustaining friendships. He had a few acquaintances. He had an old friend that he actually had a hard time being around and he did not have a girlfriend. He had no prospects or opportunities when it came to dating and relationships.
And as we started to explore his life circumstance, I asked him what he wanted. Sure enough, he wanted to have a job in a field that was satisfying to him. He wanted to be able to deepen friendships and hang out with his old friend and really enjoy the experience like he used to. And he, of course, wanted to be able to meet women, pursue women that he found attractive and compelling and then have a girlfriend, have a great relationship with someone that he really loved and cared about.
And when we explored, “what’s getting on the way? What’s stopping you from doing this?”
And he had lots of ideas. “First,” he said, “you know, I’m not that interesting in conversations. I’m kind of boring. And I just, I don’t really see why anyone would like me. And I don’t have much to offer. And I don’t really even like myself. I’ve got nothing going on. I live in my folk’s house. I’m kind of a loser. And it’s very unlikely that someone would want to hang out with me because even if they did for a little while, they’d realize I was a boring loser and then they’d be done.”
And this was just about hanging out with his friends or finding friends to hang out with. This was not even in a realm of meeting women, dating, and relationships. When we got to that it was, “well, look at me. I mean, I’m overweight. I got glasses. My hair doesn’t fall right. It’s a little grimy. I don’t have really good clothes. I’m awkward when I try to talk to women, especially ones that I’m attracted to. I don’t have any money. I live in my parent’s house. I mean come on!”
I’m going to stop here but it went on and on…
It was like he’s building a case as to why there’s no way in hell anyone, male or female, would want to be his friend or his girlfriend or his lover, anything. He told me, “It’s like I’m repulsive to everyone.”
Isn’t that interesting? That is a hint. That is a clue as to what the source of social anxiety and shyness is.
But the strangest thing about this story is that, from my perspective, none of it really seemed true.
I mean from the outside, Eric was a relatively good-looking guy. He wasn’t a supermodel but he wasn’t like a mutant or something like the way he has perceiving himself. He was moderately attractive, he had good features. He was a little bit overweight but with the shirt on and his clothes on, you couldn’t really tell. It wasn’t like he was busting at the seams. It’s like probably if you took his shirt off, you might see a little tire around his waist area or some love handles or something. But he was in no way grossly overweight.
He said that he was not really capable when it came to getting a job but he did well enough in school. And when I talked to him, he sounded relatively intelligent. He wasn’t slow processing what I was saying or he wasn’t really impaired in his ability to communicate with me. So I’m looking at this guy, and I’m thinking, there’s nothing really majorly wrong with him.
And yet, in his perspective, in his mind, he had nothing to offer, he was no good and there’s no way that anyone could ever want to hang out with him.
And so his shyness did not come from his appearance or his abilities or his likability like he was thinking. I’m not good looking because if I was better looking, I wouldn’t feel shy. This is something that is one of the most common things that I hear. In fact, this is what I believed for many, many, many years. I remember when I was in high school, that was a major period of shyness for me.
Especially talking to women and developing relationships, I sort of missed that whole stage of development and did not really have any relationships in high school with women. And there was one exception to that which I’ll tell in a later podcast but let’s just say for the most part, I barely interacted with women and I certainly wasn’t high on the list to be dated by women, and had the awesome experience of going to winter ball and prom-type dances with the a girl who made it clear we were “just friends.”
I don’t know if you had this experience but it went something like this. It’s not like I went to the dance and said, “yeah, this is my girlfriend — we’re into each other.” It was more like, “all the other guys are taken. I guess we can go as friends if you want.” And I was like “all right, it’s the best I can do, maybe I’ll make something happen, maybe I’ll climb out of the friend zone.” Yeah, that didn’t work. But… where was I? I lost my train of thought, my brilliant tangents. Okay, so yes, Eric thought he needed to be better looking.
That’s what I thought in high school. I would look over at the popular, attractive guys who seemed to have clicks that had friends that were women or dating women. I would just spend hours wishing that I was like that person, that I looked like that person, that I moved like him, that I was him. I’m just really wishing that I looked different and was different. And this is one of the most common things that I hear from people early on when I start working with them.
So many people tell me, “I’m not good looking enough, and I wish I was more attractive.” And that’s obviously strongly impacted by our society and the messages that we get about how we should look. But I want to let you know that is not the source of your shyness and of your social anxiety and any lack of success that you have in terms of your profession, your relationships, your friendships, and meeting women, dating and having romantic relationships.
Now, that’s a bold claim. And you might think, look, that is patently untrue. I know there’s research that shows that better looking people achieve more and are able to reach higher levels in companies and that sort of thing. And yes, there is a societal bias. But on an individual level, if you really work on your social confidence and become a compelling, fun, engaging, comfortable person who is incredibly strong and firm and confident in yourself, then none of that applies.
I want to make one more analogy to the story of Eric. And that is, when I was listening to him tell the story of what seemed like falsehood to me, it made me think of the movie trilogy, Lord of the Rings.
I don’t remember which specific movie it was in but there’s a character named Wormtongue. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m sorry you’re probably not nerdy enough to listen to this podcast so we might have to end this relationship right now. Because there’s going to be a lot of nerd references in this show. But bear with me if you don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ll still get the point. But there’s a character named Wormtongue who somehow rises to the level of chief adviser of a particular King in a region.
And some of the main characters, protagonists of the movie are going there to try to beseech the King to give them some troops to help them in their battle for good, of course. And that’s a very no-brainer decision, a very good thing for the King to do. Everyone thinks he’s going to do it when they get there. But the King looks kind of sickly, just kind of glazed over. He doesn’t look quite right, quite like himself. And they notice that when they asked him a question, before he answers, he pauses and listens to his adviser who happens to be standing just over his shoulder.
And the adviser leans in, with his black greasy hair and gross tongue, and he whispers in the King’s ear. You can’t hear what he says — it’s inaudible. But you just see him whispering. And the King, almost like a robot — as if he’s being mind controlled says, “no, we can not give you the troops.” And this character Wormtongue has wormed his way into the King’s mind and trust. And he’s telling him falsehoods that prevent him from doing the right thing… Sound familiar?
Sound like someone you might know… perhaps yourself? On some level you have a Wormtongue inside of you that is telling you things and is convincing you of things that are not true. Stories that are false about who you are and what you’re capable of. So I want to get into now is how that, the message that Wormtongue conveys to you is the true source of shyness and social anxiety. In the next section you’re going to learn exactly what the source of shyness is and what you can do to start breaking free now.
The Real Source Of Shyness
So what is the real source of shyness? What is the cause of social anxiety?
It’s not your looks. It’s not your clothes. It’s not how much money you have. There was a guy I went to high school with who was a good friend of mine. He was fit, athletic, a runner, the body that looked like it could be on the cover of men’s health or men’s fitness, and he was just as shy as I was. And so that doesn’t shift that.
And I knew a lot of guys who are very shy and had a lot of money, and they’re still very shy. That didn’t change. And I know guys who are bald and a little pudgy and they can just take the room. Everyone wants to be their friend and talk with them. So it’s not these external things.
So what is it?
The real cause of shyness is a belief system that you have about yourself.
Specifically, you believe on some level, some version of the following. This is the core, the crux of shyness and social anxiety.
The belief that there is something wrong with me and that makes me unworthy of love and belonging. That’s it, that’s the source of shyness, that one belief.
All of the reasons that Eric gave or all the examples that I listed in the show about what someone says to themselves about why others might not like them is some version of I’m not going to be enough.
I’m not tall enough. In Eric’s case it’s “I’m overweight. I’m not thin or I’m not fit enough.”
In many cases, someone says I don’t have enough money. I’m not rich enough. So all of these reasons and self-doubts and self-criticisms we have come down to some version of I’m not blank enough. And I guarantee that you have your own list of “I’m not enough’s.”
Maybe for you, you don’t care much about money but you’re like, I’m overweight. Or you don’t care about weight and money, but you’re like “I’m not popular enough or I don’t have enough friends or I don’t have enough experience.”
There’s some list that we all have of how we’re not enough. And as a result of those insufficiencies, that inadequacy, we are scared that we’re not going to be loved. That on some level, we’re going to get rejected and expelled or cast out of the tribe or of the group.
Or in the case of talking one-on-one with someone, that person is going to reject us. So that’s the fear that underlies the, I’m not enough. I’m not enough therefore people are going to reject me. And here’s the thing about shyness and social anxiety is we carry that fear with us all or most of the time. That means most of the time you’re walking around, you’re thinking to yourself, maybe not consciously but unconsciously or subconsciously, you’re thinking to yourself, “there’s something wrong with me.”
And that makes me unworthy of love and belonging. That means people aren’t going to like me and they’re going to reject me. And that the thing, whatever that something is, might shift from circumstance to circumstance. In one situation, you get there and you’re like, “oh, my clothes aren’t good enough.” In other situations, you get there and you say, “oh, I don’t look confident enough.” In another situation, you say, “well, I’m not as tall as that guy or I’m not strong enough.”
It shifts but the underlying formula is the same. I’m not enough. There’s something wrong with me and therefore I’m going to be rejected. And here’s the thing about shyness and social anxiety is you believe that with a lot of certainty. You can believe that 100%. Like Eric for example, was absolutely certain that no women could find him attractive. I mean it took a while of us working together each week to help him break that belief.
It’s like the trance of Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings. The King has to be freed of the trance. And just like that, you have to start to become free of this trance.
The first step to that is asking the question. Is this really true?
And I’m hoping as you listen to this podcast there’s some part of you is having a little bit doubt. Like, “you know what? I’ve been telling myself this story for years. And I’m wondering if maybe that’s all it is. Maybe it’s just a story that I’m telling myself.”
Maybe there is something I could do about it. Maybe there is something I can shift. And if you’re having just that little bit of doubt, then I did my job today because that’s all I want you to be having right now. Next week, we’re going to get way deeper into your story. And we’re going to help you learn how to shift that using some very powerful techniques drawn from cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapies that have been shown to be really effective for shyness and social anxiety.
So we’re going to get deeper into that next week. But for now, I just want you to have that seed of doubt. That maybe all of your shyness and social anxiety are coming from the belief, the idea in your mind that there’s something wrong with me and therefore I’m going to be rejected by other people. And I’m not worthy of their love and their acceptance. And that maybe that is just a trance. Maybe that’s like Wormtongue.
Something that you’ve repeated to yourself again and again subconsciously or even directly, and it’s taking hold but it’s actually an illusion, and that to someone from the outside — just like I was sitting there with Eric from the outside — it seems totally untrue. And my sense is the same is true for you. So let’s end here with your Action Step.
Time For Action
That is the thing that you’re going to do at the end of the episode. It’s going to help you take what you’ve learned and apply it. Put it into action because if you take action, you get different results. That’s one of the major steps of breaking out of shyness is to take action and get a different result than what we expected, than what our mind predicts will happen, than the stories that Wormtongue tells us.
So the question I want to ask you and just write this down in a journal or a sheet of paper. Something to sit with is:
What will happen if you go talk with someone that you’re interested in starting a conversation?
Just pay attention to that this week. You’re out and about and you got work, and you see some people hanging out at the break room, and you don’t go talk to them. What did you tell yourself would have happened if you did go talk to them?
Or you’re in a coffee shop, and you see an attractive woman, you want to start a conversation with her, and you don’t. You say, “what did I tell myself would have happened if I were to go talk with her?” So just look for those instances where you would’ve liked to reach out and engage with someone whether it’s someone for dating or just a random person at the bus stop that you would’ve asked about their phone if you’d not been inhibited.
Just see what would’ve happened if I’d actually talked to that person? What do I predict in my mind? And go ahead and write those predictions down in your journal. In the last podcast, I suggested that you get a journal. So hopefully, you have one. If you don’t, that’s okay. You can just write it on a word file or a text file on your computer or phone. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s just getting these ideas out and having a record of your learning and of your progress.
So that’s our show for today. We’re going to go way deeper into your story, and how to identify specifically what it is, and how to break free of it in the next episodes. Stay tune for that. Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are.