There’s a fairly simple explanation for all social anxiety. It is caused by the unfortunate mental habit of “mind reading.” That is, we imagine what other people are thinking about us. “Do I look good?” “Do I sound intelligent?” Our unstated mission is “I must make them feel good about me!”

When I point this out to clients, they always agree. Social events have become agonizing attempts to control what others are thinking of them. It is not just that they want to look good; they are terrified of looking bad. One of the most common quotes I hear from socially anxious clients is, “I’ll make a fool of myself!”

So, how much control do we really have over the thoughts of other people? The truth is probably not much. So, no wonder, we’re anxious. We are trying to control something that we have almost no control over.

But what are those people thinking of anyway? Are they really thinking about us? Or are they worried about what we think of them?”

To get over social anxiety, you need to change your mission. Don’t try to make them feel good about you. Make them feel good about themselves. I have seen this little change in attitude make an enormous change in a person’s life.

When I meet a new person, I try to show genuine interest in them. I ask general interest questions such as “Where are from originally?” “What kind of work do you do?” Most people like talking about themselves and appreciate the opportunity to do so. I make it a game to see how long we go before I say anything about myself. I find that most people are pretty interesting when I take the time to get to know them.

If I can’t think of things to ask about, I can always remember the word FOR. “F” stands for family, “O” for occupation, and “R” for recreation.” Open-ended questions in these areas are guaranteed to keep the conversation moving.

If I focus on myself, I feel anxious. However, when I focus on the other person, I’m much more relaxed. Try it!

Stanley E. Hibbs, Ph.D.
1864 Independence Square
Suite A
Atlanta, GA 30338
Phone: 770-668-0350 x-224

Author's Bio: 

Stanley E. Hibbs, Ph.D. has over 30 years experience practicing as a clinical psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Hibbs specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

He is the author of two self-help books:

"Anxiety Gone: The Three C's of Anxiety Recovery."

"Consider It Done: Ten Prescriptions for Finishing What You Start."