The Secret To Meaningful, Fulfilling Social Relationships (How To Remove Social Anxiety From Your Life)
Hi Celes, I’m have social phobia/anxiety. [When I'm around people,] I can be relaxed sometimes, but most of the time I get nervous and I can’t think of anything. I want to be sociable and talkative like other people. What can I do? How can I overcome this? Please help me. Thanks a lot – Enes
Hi Celes, besides professional help, do you have any tips for someone who suffers from social anxiety? – Tina
Do you have social anxiety? Do you feel anxious when you are around other people, especially people you are meeting for the first time? Are you worried about how people may perceive you? Do you fear interacting with other people, because you are afraid you would slip up, make a fool of yourself, and create a bad impression in others’ minds? Do you sometimes go to great lengths just to avoid facing or interacting with other people?
Social anxiety is a common problem many face, perhaps more than one may realize. For every run of Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program and Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program, I often read about participants who have social anxiety problems, beginning as early as when they were young. Some of them face mild anxiety problems in the form of sweaty palms and mind blocks when they meet new people. Some face more severe problems, where they experience intense fear of being around people, even going to great lengths just to avoid such situations.
In today’s article, I’ll be sharing the one fundamental reason why people have social anxiety. (And no, contrary to what many of you may think, it really has nothing to do with lack of confidence or fear of interaction.) I’ll share the fundamental mindset shift that, when you apply it, will eliminate social anxiety from your life.
Even for those of you who do not experience social anxiety, this “tip” that I’ll be sharing will help you increase the quality of your relationships by 300 to 400%. You will realize that whatever disputes, anxiousness, unhappiness, and fear you may experience in your relationships are totally redundant. This is the mindset which I’ve been using for the past 3-4 years and has helped me gain tremendously in the area of relationships.
Enter Tom, a Shy, Socially Anxious Person
To illustrate the essence of what I’m going to share, I will use an example.
Imagine Tom, a shy, secluded, and socially withdrawn person. Like most people who are socially withdrawn, Tom has social anxiety problems. Whenever he meets someone new, he tends to clam up and not know what to say. He also feels nervous as he wonders whether he’s doing anything stupid which may give the person a bad impression of him. Sometimes he blabbers off and says something silly, makes the situation worse. Awkward silences are all too familiar to him. The situation worsens by two to three fold when it’s a girl, because he has a high tendency to turn red which gives his anxiety away.
Here, you see multiple signs of anxiety at work. Lack of confidence, mental block, nervousness, second-guessing himself during the interaction, stuttering, flushing, and so on. For those of you with social anxiety (be it mild or severe), you can probably relate to this.
Now, let’s examine Tom when he interacts with people he knows, such as his good friend Chandler from high school, whom he has known for more than 20 years. Chandler is like his brother. Tom has no problem talking to him, asking questions, making small talk, answering questions, and having a conversation in general. He feels at ease and behaves totally like himself. Tom also does not feel any need to please or instill a good impression of himself in Chandler – because that’s Chandler, his best bud, right there. Chandler knows him, he knows Chandler, and there’s no distance between them, so to speak.
What just happened here? As you can see, Tom is able to behave totally normal when he’s with his best friend. But why is it different when he’s around other people?
The Reason Behind Society Anxiety (and the Key To Meaningful, Fulfilling Relationships)
This difference in behavior is because Tom perceives other people in a different manner than he perceives Chandler.
You see, in Tom’s mind, he perceives Chandler as his very good friend whom he trusts, relies on, and enjoys spending time with. There’s no reason to be nervous around Chandler since they are so close to each other, like brothers. It’s like Tom being nervous when he’s by himself. It’s silly.
On the other hand, Tom sees people he doesn’t know as people who are separate from him – distant, ambiguous, and alien. Not knowing who these people are, how they are like, and what their intentions are, he views them with great caution and keeps them at a distance so as to protect himself. He also feels a need to project a certain image around them, since he wants to give others a good impression of himself.
He does this to everyone he meets, until time passes, trust is built, the walls come down, a relationship is formed, and it is proven that the people he is with are good-hearted, trustworthy, reliable, and genuine people.
Tom’s perception of people is pretty much the same way most people out there view others. Most people in our society perceive other people as foreign, unknown beings who have no place in their lives (that is, until their paths cross). They view people as separate from them, until they get to know the other people well enough to consider as a part of them. This separation mindset is the source of all your social anxiety and relationship problems.
Separation Mindset: Viewing People as Separate From You
Characteristics of Separation Mindset
Here are the typical characteristics of someone with a separation mindset:
- You see people as separate from you. They have no connection or relation to who you are.
- You are often worried about the opinions others have of you.
- When meeting someone new, you are obsessed with giving the right (first) impressions, rather than fostering a connection.
- By default, you do not open yourself up, nor do you fully give your trust to someone, until he/she has proved deserving of it. This is a safeguard to prevent yourself from ever getting hurt.
- Because of that, you take time to warm up to people, before you become at ease around them, and reveal who you really are. Before that happens, you usually project a front that is totally different from how you normally are.
- You see the world as a cold, dark, and dangerous place with malicious people out there to hurt you (or others). E.g., If someone approaches you in a foreign land, your first instinct would be to wonder if the person is trying to pickpocket you or rip you off, rather than anything else.
- By default, you question people’s intentions (especially if it’s someone you don’t know), because as your parents always say, “You never know if others have ulterior motives.” and you prefer to err on the safe side.
Problems with Separation Mindset
The separation mindset is one that is marked by fear. It is pretty much the source of all issues when it comes to social situations and relationships. (Note: by relationships, I’m referring to all kinds of relationships, including friendships, business relationships, romantic relationships, familial relationships, etc).
Here are common problems that someone with a separation mindset would face:
- It takes time for relationships to build. As opposed to getting right into the heart of connecting with people right away, there is often a lot of time spent dancing around the edges before you get to know the people better. For people with deep separation mindsets, it takes even longer.
- You create a lot of unnecessary tension for yourself, between yourself and the other person, and for the other person in a relationship.
- In social situations, you are often concerned with whether you’re giving the right impression, rather than focusing on the interaction between you and the other person.
- You drive away great people and great relationships (be it potential friends or potential romantic partners), without even knowing it yourself. That’s because you erect so many crazy barriers for someone to know you and to get close to you, such that it becomes a pointless endeavor for the other party at the end of the day.
- You are often second guessing other people’s intentions, rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt.
- You often have problems meeting nice people, be it friends or romantic partners. For some reason, you often attract fear-based people into your life. (That’s because a fear-based mindset attracts fear-based people, as I wrote before in Finding Love: 8 Tips on Attracting Authentic Love Into Your Life)
Oneness Mindset: Viewing People as Like Souls To Be Reconnected
The opposite of the separation mindset is the oneness mindset, where rather than seeing people as separate from you, you recognize other people are a part of you, and you are all one and the same. It is a mindset marked by love.
Characteristics of Oneness Mindset
- You see people as connected with you. Even if you may not know everyone yet, a connection already exists, and you just have to tap into that latent connection when you meet each person.
- You do not worry yourself with what people think of you. You know your intentions are pure and that’s what matters.
- Impressions do not concern you. You know the relationship is beyond the initial impressions, and it’s about building a real connection.
- You open up your authentic, real self when you’re around people you know as well as people you don’t know yet. Your heart is worn completely on your sleeve. You do not hide behind a mask or try to be someone you are not.
- The concept of “warming up” to others does not exist. You get right to connecting with people when you (first) meet them.
- You see the world as one, where everyone is interconnected with each other, separated only by the space between them. Each person serves a role in the grand design, and each role the person serves supports everyone else in the universe.
- By default, everyone always gets the benefit of the doubt from you, until proven otherwise. You see everyone as having genuine, good intentions in his/her heart, and there is no one out trying to hurt anybody. (An exception to the rule would be people in extremely fear-based consciousness, who have lost their way and resort to hurting others to let themselves be hurt.)
Benefits of Oneness Mindset
When you embrace the oneness mindset, you will experience quite a paradigm shift in your social relationships.
- There is no fear when you are around people, because you recognize they are all a part of you.
- Rather than spend time “building” the relationship (acquainting, getting to know the person better, knowing the person’s interests, forming trust, etc), you get right to fostering the connection right away. The notion of time has no significance in the growth of your relationship with others. You can be meeting people off the bat and becoming great buddies with them.
- People love to be around you because of the energy you exude. At the same time, you thrive in the presence of other wonderful people too. There are no barriers, separators, or distance between you and them, so to speak.
- You have little problem attracting good, high consciousness people into your life. Generous souls, kind angels, supportive spirits; these people keep entering your life one after another.
- You are much happier and at ease with yourself, compared to someone with the separation mindset.
- You stop worrying about making good first impressions and projecting a certain image of yourself, instead working on strengthening the connection between you and the other party instead.
Shifting from Separation to Oneness Mindset: How To Get Started
If you want to attract authentic people into your life, and if you want to achieve meaningful, fulfilling social relationships, the oneness mindset is the way to go.
Under the oneness mindset, the notion of social anxiety doesn’t exist, simply because there is no place for it. When you recognize that people are not separate from you but really are a part of you, suddenly it becomes obvious that all your anxiety in social situations, as well as your anxiety in relationships, is totally redundant. There’s no reason to be fearful at all, because others are not separate from you. They never were. It’s just like feeling nervous while you’re around your best friend; there’s no reason to be that way at all.
This guide will help you transit to this new mindset with ease.
1. Understand What’s Contributing to Your Separation Mindset
If there’s a part of you that refuses to let go of the separation mindset, try to understand what’s binding you to it. Why are you holding on to a separation mindset? Is it because you have been hurt before by others? Is it because people have said unkind things when you opened up, causing you to go right back into your shell? Is it because people have betrayed your trust before? Or is it simply because that’s way you have been brought up?
The separation mindset is what one adopts when one is on guard against others. But in this case, you are guarding yourself from nobody except a figment of your past. That’s imaginary and only in your head.
To truly embrace the oneness mindset, you have to recognize that no one is out there to hurt you. You have not been brought into this world to be harmed, betrayed, or violated. You have been brought into this world to be loved, cherished, and embraced. As long as you still hold onto the separation mindset, you make it difficult for yourself to achieve that.
If there have been people who hurt you in the past, it’s likely because they were acting from fear. Holding the separation mindset isn’t exactly the solution because there will always be fear-based people around (until the world undergoes some dramatic shift anyway). Rather, you should learn to handle such people instead. (Read: 8 Helpful Ways To Deal With Critical People, How To Deal With Dishonest People, How To Deal With Energy Vampires) Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just because of some off-putting encounters you had in the past.
2. Recognize the Beauty of Oneness Mindset
Recognize that by holding on to the separation mindset, you are doing a disservice to people whom you would have connected with otherwise.
Example: Applying Oneness in Running Personal Excellence
For example, I reckon some of you read PE because you have found some of the articles here helpful to you in some way. (I’d like to take the chance here to sincerely thank you readers for your support all this while, be it by sharing my work, getting my programs and ebooks, or simply reading what I have to share. Thank you! ♥)
Many of my materials have been created with the oneness mindset in mind. This is why I share my experiences and lessons freely, without prejudice. I write based on what helps people the most, not what makes me look the best in others’ eyes. The programs (Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program, Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program) and forums are also run with the oneness mindset in mind. I try to build a conducive and inclusive culture where there is no judgment – only sharing and support. I’d like to think this is why the PE forums has such a positive, open, and supportive culture today.
On the other hand, if I had created the site with a separation mindset, it would be totally different. I would be second guessing myself with each article I write, to the point where very few to no articles would ever be posted. I would worry about the kind of impression I portray with each line I write, and shape each article in such a way that would make me look the best, rather than to help the reader. I wouldn’t share my personal lessons because people may use them against me. I would write posts that put people (who are against me) down and teach them a lesson, rather than to help others.
With the second approach, the site would probably be very different than it is today. Firstly, the audience that would be drawn to the site would probably be very different. I would probably attract a lot of critical, perhaps even vindictive-type people, who read the site for gossip and trash about others. Secondly, the material here would be about very glossed over aspects of my life, without ever sharing anything deep or insightful. Thirdly, the site would probably have a culture that is unsupportive, fear-based, and envy-driven, rather than of self-empowerment, self-realization, and support.
Do you see what I’m getting at? By embracing the oneness mindset on PE, it has allowed me to attract many wonderful and conscious individuals, as you can see from the site. This is the same thing I experience in my personal life too, because that’s the same mindset I adopt. Likewise for you, embracing a oneness mindset will help you to attract more conscious people into your life. If you are already in contact with such people, doing so will further accelerate the process.
Example: Effects of Oneness During My Travels
Another great example would be my experience during my travels. People often speak of having to be careful when traveling, to be wary of pickpockets and criminals, and to keep people you don’t know at bay. While all valid cautions, these are very fear-based thoughts.
During my travels however, I’ve had the great honor to meet with so many amazing, incredible people everywhere, from Holland, Germany, Paris, Spain, London, Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I know some expats who live in some of those countries/cities saying how difficult it is for them to meet people/locals in those places because everyone is so closed up. But I’ve met the most amazing, open people I’ve ever known (many of them natives). People who opened up their homes to me, allowed me to stay with them for indefinite periods of time, took time off to show me around the countries/cities, and showered me with so much kindness and generosity that I felt like I was right at home.
I even met strangers on the street who were incredibly kind and wonderful to me. One time I was lost in Paris, and I ended up having a great chat with the stranger whom I approached for directions. We even went back to his place to hang out and talk some more, after which he personally drove me back home. How crazy was that? And I often hear people saying how snobbish and distant the Parisians are! True that as a national culture perhaps, but each country/city is always made up of different people.
There were hundreds of great experiences I had during my travels born out of the oneness mindset and I could go on and on and on, but you get the idea.
If I have embraced the separation mindset, none of the above would have happened. Sure, living under the oneness mindset, there were still times (though very rare) when I had run ins with not so pleasant people. But like I said in Point #1, such fear-based people exist everywhere. It’s about learning how to handle the situation when you face such people, not blocking out everyone with a separation mindset. (See next point.)
3. When You Face People with Separation Mindset
Under the oneness mindset, there will still be times when you will meet people with separation mindsets. For example, you can be earnest, open, and upfront, which are all based in oneness, while the other person, with the view of separation, spends the whole time evaluating your actions and keeping you at a safe distance.
How To Deal with the Situation
Here, there are two things you can do. You can either continue to connect with the person within the confines of a separation mindset (i.e. take your time to build trust, prove your value to the person, etc) and transit to a oneness approach after a connection is established and trust has been built. Or, you can forgo the connection due to the fundamental incompatibility and seek out others who are more compatible with your oneness approach instead.
Personally, I tried the first approach when I began. However, over time, I found it to be a meaningless endeavor. Each person, being in a separation mindset, had so many hang-ups that furthering the connection felt more like navigating a labyrinth. I didn’t feel like I was building a connection; I felt like I was playing a game of tango and peek-a-boo instead. Such an approach isn’t in line with my values of truth and authenticity.
Hence today, I go for the second approach – forgoing the connections, while sending them love in the process. It may feel like a pity sometimes if you come across potentially nice people who seclude themselves out of fear. I know I have felt this way before. However, recognize the following: (1) The world has an infinite number of connections for us to tap into. For every connection you forgo, new ones will come your way. (2) “Forgoing” selected connections isn’t a bad thing; it simply means you are incompatible with these people now and it’s better to move on to more compatible ones. (3) When I forgo a connection, I don’t see it as a severance of the relationship. It continues to live on in my heart. Likewise, it should be the same for you as well.
(On a semi-related note, check out: Why I Parted Ways With My Best Friend of 10 Years and Top 12 Signs It’s Time To Move On From A Relationship)
See Your Oneness Mindset as a Filter
Another good thing about your oneness mindset is it serves as a filter that helps you to sieve out people with incompatible values and bring you the ones who are compatible. With a separation mindset, you can only attract people with separation mindsets. With a oneness mindset, you will attract people with similar values.
Living by the oneness mindset for the past few years, I have since released a lot of fear-based people from my life, and ushered in many wonderful, love-based people.
Facing Malicious People
This may be obvious, but the oneness mindset wouldn’t apply if you are dealing with bad eggs (such as molesters, murders, rapists, delinquents, etc). These people probably have goodness somewhere in their hearts, but they lost their way somewhere along their paths and became deeply entrenched in fear-based consciousness instead. This has resulted in them doing things that inflict pain upon others. When faced with such people, using the separation mindset may be a more logical approach.
Personally, I use my encounters with fear-based people as an opportunity for self-reflection. I believe there is always something to learn from everyone in my life. I also believe people cross paths in life for a reason.
Hence, when I do come across such a person, I ask myself these few questions: (1) Is there something about me that drew the person into my life? (2) What can I learn from this person/encounter? (3) Are there parts of me that still hold onto the fear-based, separation mindset? If so, what are they, and why? (Refer to Point #1.) I then process these accordingly and let them go.
As you do that over and over, gradually you will meet less and less fear-based people, and more and more love-based people. That’s because your reality reflects what’s in your consciousness, and when you release your fear, the fearful people will stop gravitating toward you.
In conclusion, if you have social anxiety, or if you want to increase the quality of your relationships, the oneness mindset is the way to go.
I’ve previously written about the elements of oneness in bits and pieces via the articles on PE, but this is the first time I’ve really put it down in a proper, full-length article. Many of the recommendations I give in the People Skills and Relationships articles are based in oneness.
A great litmus test to see whether you’re wholly applying the oneness mindset would be to compare your attitudes and behaviors toward your best friend(s) vs. strangers. Do you treat both groups of people with the same openness, trust, faith, and rigor? Is there any occasion, any occasion at all, where you discriminate in your behavior between one person and another? If you can answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second one all the time, you’re definitely applying the oneness mindset. If not, there’s still some undercurrent beliefs of separation at work there which you may not have been aware of. Address them accordingly using Point #1.
I hope you have found this piece useful. Share it with anyone who you know has social anxiety issues or who wants to further the quality of his/her relationships with others.
Here are some related readings:
- 8 Simple Steps To Overcome Shyness – a bonus article in Personal Excellence Book, Volume 2)
- 10 Useful Tips To Make New Friends
- How To Have More Best Friends in Life: The Heartfelt Guide
- Are You Emotionally Generous?