Many types of social anxiety are based on our insecurities and our subsequent worry about what other people think of us, including friends and family.
While we often feel more comfortable and less anxious around our loved ones, we still tend to hide the worst of our affliction from them. We hope they don’t realize the extent of our anxiety, for fear they’ll think of us as weird or weak or unworthy of their love. Because if our loved ones think that about us, who won’t?
The Walls We Build
I know this fear, believe me. I’ve been there, in that very spot, worrying that someone, anyone, would find out about my erythrophobia—the fear of blushing. It sounds like such a silly phobia, this pre-embarrassment of being embarrassed and the resulting, “unfounded” blushes.
Except it’s anything but unfounded to those suffering from it. Since you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. Our phobias and anxieties feel like giant, insurmountable walls in our minds, cutting us off from our goals, dreams, and true selves.
And the last thing we want is for other people to find out that we’re hiding behind those walls because of something as “unfounded” and insubstantial as our psychological troubles.
But here’s the thing it took me years to realize: unless your relatives and friends are Cinderella’s evil stepsisters, they want you to be happy. They’ll be supportive. Just like you want the best for them (right?), they want the best for you, too.
They Will Want To Help
If you explain to them how your anxiety is taking over your life, they’ll want to help you. They may even already suspect you’re dealing with something, but don’t know how to approach you without making you uncomfortable.
Their support and love will lessen your worry of what they might think of you. Their positive reaction will challenge your negative expectations on how others might respond to your news, thus creating space for rational, more helpful thoughts—one of the skills taught by Joyable’s online CBT program. And those are just a few of the reasons why you should tell your loved ones about your social anxiety.
But how to inform them without bungling it up? The spotlight makes us socially anxious people choke up, no matter how tiny or familiar the crowd. Shining the spotlight on the very issue that makes us fear said spotlight… there is no tunnel deep or dark enough to ease our panic.
Preparation Is Half The Battle
It can be done, I promise—with the following step-by-step guide on how to tell your loved ones that you suffer from social anxiety, and how to explain why you’ve been hiding it from them all these years.
This is how I explained my erythrophobia to the people close to me, and it worked. Not one of them made fun of me, or dismissed the matter out of hand. They were nothing but supportive and helpful, for which I’m grateful to this day. Taking the leap of telling them was definitely a step towards healing for me.
I’m sure this method will work for you, too.
1. Choose One Person To Tell
Who do you trust most? Your mom? Your best friend? A sibling? Who is the one person you could imagine sharing your greatest fears with? Who do you know would never laugh at, belittle, or abandon you?
If you’re honest with yourself, there’s probably more than one person in your life who fits that bill. You’re just afraid of even giving them the possibility to fail you. But if you pick the right person, chances are low low low that they will. Remember, they want you to be happy.
To begin with, choose only one of these people you trust. You’ll probably be nervous enough as it is, and talking to a crowd is far more difficult than to just one person.
2. Figure Out What You Expect From This Person
Before you talk to your loved one, think about what you want from them. Do you need their help for something specific, like their support in telling other people, looking for a psychiatrist, or preparing for a presentation at work?
Do you want their advice? Or do you simply want them to be aware of your condition and be your silent backup in tough situations?
It’s likely that your loved one will ask you how they can best help you, so figure out your needs, wishes, and expectations beforehand. Even better: write them down.
In fact, write down all the points you want to hit during your talk, just in case you freeze up and your mind goes blank. Having a little cheat sheet to follow will help you keep calm as you spill your heart and soul to someone.
3. Get This Person Alone
Ask the person you choose to meet up at a place where you can talk uninterrupted, just the two of you. This could be your home or theirs, or during a walk in the woods—basically any setting where you feel comfortable and won’t run into any interruptions.
4. Setting Up The Talk
Explain to them that what you’re going to tell them is very important to you, and difficult to share. Let them know that it’s nothing “bad” (like being pregnant or fired), but that it’s something that has been affecting your life for a long time now, and that you want to change it. Ask them to not interrupt until you’re done explaining, or until you ask them to weigh in.
5. Pick An Anecdote
Pick an anecdote of when you had an “episode,” one incident that they experienced with you. Share with them how it made you feel, and why you reacted the way you did. Explain that this stems from your social anxiety.
If you have a specific form of anxiety or phobia, tell them about it: the reasons for it, the consequences of it, how it affects your life. Detail your fears, worries, and insecurities that stem from this anxiety.
6. Ask For Their Support
Remember those expectations you figured out before talking to your loved one? This is the place to let them know how they can best help you. Be honest, no matter how small or inconsequential you fear your requests may sound to them.
From here on, let your “confession” evolve into a conversation, for example…
7. Let Them Ask Questions Or Offer Advice
Indicate that now’s the time for them to weigh in and ask questions. Let them know that you value their opinion, and ask if they have suggestions or advice for you.
They might even surprise you by confessing insecurities of their own! The other person may have their own hidden issues to deal with, and be happy to finally have someone to talk to—just like you!
Sharing your social anxiety with someone can be an incredibly freeing experience. Now they finally know. Now you no longer have to hide your self-perceived “weakness” from them, and you’ll worry less about it cropping up. They, in turn, will think you were courageous for telling them something so difficult and admire you for it.
This shift in perception, both theirs and yours, may start an entire rewiring of your thought patterns, because the “catastrophe” of your loved ones finding out has been averted and turned into something supportive. By none other than yourself. Kudos!
Once you’ve let the first person in on your secret, telling the next becomes a little easier. You now have someone standing in your corner, no matter how the next conversations turn out. You now have someone to talk to about your fears and worries, someone to help you get through the bad stretches. You won’t feel quite so alone and helpless anymore.
So stop hiding. Tell someone. Tear down those walls. Free yourself.
Pia is a (mostly) recovered erythrophobe, whose mission is to help others also overcome their fear of blushing and other types of social anxiety. Check out her Blusher’s Blog for the tips and tricks that helped her gain the self-confidence needed to live a blush-free life, filled instead with travel, books, and the guts to finally launch her own freelance writing biz.