There is shyness and then there is extreme shyness. If you are interested in overcoming shyness, then we’re probably talking about the latter. I was a normal kid growing up, a little shy, but not terribly self-conscious. When I got to college, though, I developed a fear of speaking up in class. I was afraid of saying something stupid and having everyone laugh at me. In graduate school it got worse. I lived in dorm style housing and used to listen at my door until it was all clear before sneaking out of the building. I never used the community kitchen for fear of having someone actually engage me in conversation.
Eventually my extreme shyness blossomed into full-blown social anxiety with real panic attacks. I was scared nearly to death and feeling as if my life was completely out of control. Of course I sought help immediately, and over the course of several years had a lot of therapy and tried a lot of different medications. I realize now that a lot of what I got from my doctors was detrimental to my recovery.
The first thing I was told was that I had social phobia or social anxiety disorder. Okay, I have a disorder. There’s something wrong with me. I’m broken and I need to be fixed. Take this drug, try that one, and if those don’t work, we’ll keep trying until we find something that does. What I have learned, to the contrary, is that the first step in overcoming shyness and social phobia is to not see it as a “problem.”
Yes, if you think you have a problem with shyness or social anxiety, then you do indeed have a problem. But the problem is not your shyness or anxiety, it’s the fact that you perceive it as a problem. I know when I was at my lowest point, I felt doomed. My self-consciousness was so acute that I had no self-confidence or self-esteem. I felt betrayed by my body (heavy sweating was my biggest obstacle) and ashamed of the person I had become. In a word, I had come to see myself as a Victim of social anxiety.
The Victim is about the worst self-image available to us among the many archetypes stored away in our subconscious minds. As an archetype, the Victim represents a self-perpetuating, self-destructive emotional and behavioral pattern so deeply ingrained in our subconscious that we will continue to live it out daily until we rewrite the subconscious script. The subconscious works on autopilot; it is a pattern that repeats itself out of habit because we tacitly allow it.
Victims see themselves as being at the mercy of forces outside their control. They do not have both feet on the ground. The Victim’s mind is frozen in self-consciousness and fear and not comfortably rooted in it’s own body, which it needs to interact effectively with the outside world. The Victim is disconnected and self-centered in the sense that all it can think about is its problem, how unbearable it is, and the injustice of it all.
The only way to move forward is to take a stand. We have got to first take responsibility for ourselves, and that means realizing that we are not powerless–we have choices. We can take back control of our lives! Although the majority of the time we do not monitor our own thoughts and feelings, it is something we are capable of doing. It takes some practice, but we can consciously derail any habitual train of thought before it builds up steam. We can look at ourselves in our anxiety, without judgment, and hold up our anxious thoughts and feelings as objects of consciousness. This gives us a little distance between our self and our anxiety. Now, in this moment of observation, we can own our anxiety, accept it, see that we no longer need it, and let it go. And repeat. And repeat. And it will begin to get better.
The archetype of the Earth Mother or Nurturing Parent is the positive archetype needed to counterbalance the Victim archetype. This does not refer to becoming more nurturing to others, though that may be one consequence, but to becoming more self-nurturing. The Nurturing parent archetype teaches us how to take care of our basic needs, physical and emotional, and how to love ourselves. We all have an inner child, and that child needs to know it is safe, secure, and loved. By nurturing your inner child, you will soon begin to see positive changes in your life.
One way to reinforce the positive as you begin to retake control of your life is through affirmations. Repeating affirmations daily can also help rewrite those emotional and behavioral scripts that remain part of you at a subconscious level. By sticking with your affirmations you can literally rewire your brain!