💗 Living Heart:full

How to Lose Friends & Ignore People

⚠️ Caution: this post contains triggering content on trauma that might be upsetting.

Who would ever willingly alienate themselves from others, you wonder? Well, you’re right. No one. Yet you’ve probably met at least one person in your life (or it might be you) that tends to ghost, avoid calls or texts, hides from or ignores people on more than one occasion for no apparent reason. If so, then they or you might be struggling with social anxiety. Here’s the insider perspective on what it really is and where it actually comes from…

Here’s the story

I’ve lived with social anxiety for most of my life without knowing it, until 4 years ago I started learning about it, but still had no idea why I was behaving this way, no clue how to heal from it or whether overcoming it was even possible. I hated that part of myself and even hopelessly thought it was me; I completely identified with it. But deep down, another part of me knew that this was not who I truly am. As a result, I thought I could never develop deep meaningful intimate relationships with people, even though that is what I subconsciously desired deep down, but I suppressed this desire so hard, that perhaps this is what led to developing anxiety towards people. It’s absolutely fascinating how our biggest fears in fact mask and hide our deepest desires if we are unable to attain them and effectively create roadblocks from reaching them as a coping mechanism to survive.

Part 1: What social anxiety looks & feels like

Social anxiety is essentially a fear and anxiety towards people and interacting with them, which sounds completely irrational, right? Not quite, as it turns out. Let’s look at the underlying logic really happening here.

One day a few months ago, I was struggling as usual until an incident happened that drove me to the edge of an anxiety attack. Experiencing this uncalled-for intense reaction forced me to reflect about my exact symptoms and concrete details about who exactly I feel anxious towards and when it gets triggered. I realized that this anxiety gets triggered when I interact with people who have certain traits (i.e. they’re older in age and they have some sort of authority or power).

After digging further, it turns out that whatever traits that trigger an anxious response in us, may have been originally embodied in one of our primary caregivers in early childhood. It’s no surprise that this is source of many underlying issues, but I had never consciously made that connection! For some of us, we grow up embodying the same traits; but for others, we grow up coping in different ways in order to deal with those traits in our surrounding environment. So those of us who experience social anxiety, it could very well be something that you’ve lived with ever since childhood that has continued on into adulthood.

Here’s what I discovered: social anxiety and its symptoms (avoidance, isolation, intense anxiety before human interaction, mind going blank during interactions, feeling so relieved after the interaction as if just you survived a threat…etc) is actually a response (in fact a solution) to the actual underlying problem or struggle I was facing: my negative emotions that would surface every time I interacted with most people. As I reflected and dug deep into what exact beliefs and emotions I felt whenever I interacted with people, I realized that I felt all of this:

  • That I was small and inferior compared to them
  • That I was wrong and they were right, they always knew better
  • Fear that I’ll be judged, criticized, shamed, blamed, emotionally or verbally attacked
  • That they want something from me and that I won’t be able to give it to them
  • Fear that I would disappoint them and fail to meet their expectations
  • Fear that I would be rejected and not accepted or liked by them
  • Fear that they want to change or control me, or impose their opinion on me
  • Intense dread once I know I’m supposed to meet them soon and until I meet them
  • That I had no opinion and that their opinion is what mattered
  • That I had to do something to prove my worth to them or gain their approval
  • That they would ask something of me and I wouldn’t be able to say no
  • That I physically and emotionally shrunk in their presence
  • That I wasn’t allowed to be myself in their presence, that I wouldn’t be understood
  • That I am unable to defend myself against them if they hurt me in any way
  • That they don’t like me, so in turn, I won’t like them
  • That I don’t belong here with them; that I felt alienated from them
  • That I have to be very well prepared before I interact with them so I don’t make a mistake
  • That I am unable to be spontaneous in the interaction or speech; I feel stunted
  • That I am not safe with them, that I might get hurt in any way, so I feel defensive
  • That my mind goes completely blank when I interact with them (freeze response)
  • That I need to leave the situation immediately to avoid harm or conflict (flight response)
  • That I have to keep them pleased or else something bad will happen (fawn response)
  • That if anything goes wrong, it feels like the end of the world

This is what I had been actually avoiding all this time: this horrible mix of ugly emotions that surfaced every time I interacted with people. Imagine this volcano of emotions erupting every day and your body re-living a trauma like 3-4 times a day. No wonder I avoided most people at all costs! It was a self-protective mechanism against any potential emotional harm. So it seems I subconsciously avoided all situations that could lead to any of the above negative outcomes.

But unless I existed in the worst environment ever (which I didn’t of course, far from it!), these emotions and reactions didn’t make any sense in response to the present. That’s when I realized my body wasn’t reacting to the present, my body was reacting to the past. These were the same host of emotions that I experienced as a child and they had continued along with me since then, so whenever I interacted with people who I subconsciously sensed would evoke these beliefs and emotions, I would be intensely anxious towards them, even though consciously, I had little to no reason to or evidence to support the anxiety…

Part 2: It’s not you, it’s trauma

Once having discovered that this social anxiety was in fact a learned response from traumatic experiences in early childhood that I had developed in order to cope with difficult people (or toxic if I may used the term) and not an inherent flaw in me or a life sentence that I had to live with forever, the following realizations dawned on me and thankfully sank into my subconscious mind, and I was finally able to truly internalize and start to deeply believe that:

  • There was nothing inherently or truly irredeemably wrong with me!
  • That I was just like every other human being, that came with an innate essence within (could it be one’s فطرة?) that is still intact and accessible beneath the layers of trauma
  • That it wasn’t my fault that I am like this, and that I’m not innately incapable of dealing with people like I had believed; it is a natural ability default in every human being.
  • That we are all equal and worthy, there is no less than or more than or better or worse; our worth as human beings was never something to be questioned in the first place
  • That this wasn’t the real me! This was a learned habitual response that can be healed and unlearned, even after quarter a lifetime of almost 20 years.
  • That I wasn’t deeply flawed or unworthy of love and acceptance
  • That we were all born innocent, it was never your fault
  • That all of the negative thoughts, emotions and beliefs that I experienced were not actually true, but they were real; they were simply evidence that I was suffering and feeling fundamentally unsafe; they were indirectly pointing to my unhealed wounds, just like a physical wound that stays open and festers if it isn’t taken care of
  • That in fact it’s not that I didn’t like people or avoided people on purpose, but on the contrary, I longed for deep connection, but feared that I wouldn’t be able to receive it
  • That all I wanted was to be loved and accepted, but when that didn’t happen, I subconsciously built walls around my heart in order not to feel the pain of not getting those needs met
  • That on the contrary people loved me all this time, but I was never able to recognize or receive it due to living in a state of chronic anxiety and danger of what might happen to me
  • That I didn’t have to prepare or overthink every interaction but instead let go and see what happens, that it was safe to be myself without reservations or modifications
  • That I am no longer in danger, I am safe now! I can let my guard down, even after so long. I don’t need to keep those walls up because the circumstances have changed. I’m no longer a young and helpless child. I’m an adult now, which means I have the power to take care of myself, to stand up for myself, to defend myself, to change my circumstance.
  • That most people are safe to be with, and not toxic. No one is out to intentionally hurt me. And even if that happens, it happens out of ignorance, and not malicious intent towards me personally.
  • That this ability to connect deeply with people, this ability to give and receive love is not something outside of me that needs to be arduously sought or meticulously studied, but something already God-given within in me that emerges naturally and effortlessly upon healing my wounds
  • That some people can hurt us, but others can indeed help heal us
  • That nothing is fatal nor final to my being or existence, even though it sure felt like it
  • That I was simply wounded, and that all I ever needed was to heal again
  • That it was never personal, that whoever hurt you was simply acting out of their own wounds :’)
  • That I could finally be open to forgive myself, those who hurt me, and whatever happened

In the same week after I experienced this shift in perspective and discovered the truth and original source of my anxiety, I literally and emotionally felt lighter, like a tonne of weight had been lifted from me and that I was suddenly healed, like I had a deep emotional wound and it had finally healed, even though I had no conscious clue it was even there before! I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was the first time in my life that I felt like a whole human being, as equal and worthy as everyone else on the planet.

The emotional wound was real! And it had manifested in a myriad of ways as stress and hyper-vigilance in my body, anxiety in my mind and avoidance in my behaviour. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. In all my interactions afterwards, I was no longer anxious or triggered. I was able to maintain my natural state of mind and calm body even with strangers. I also miraculously started driving after a 10-year phobia and realized that I had been afraid of the people inside the cars, not the act of driving!

Part 3: The secret to heal

But there was something else hidden yet to be discovered that also helped me heal. Something most of us are quite unaware of, and even if we are aware of it, it goes unspoken in the lightness of everyday conversations. Something invisible deep inside us that we cannot even consciously bring ourselves to confront. Something that is considered one of the biggest roadblocks to healing and returning to our most natural true selves. It is what drives anxiety, social anxiety, depression and so many mental health conditions; a deeply hidden emotion that lies at the root of the subconscious part of our psyche: a monster called shame.

If you’re not familiar with the term, shame is the pervasive feeling of fear and dread that makes us believe that we are not good enough as we are, that we are inferior or less than, that we are unworthy and undeserving of any good, that there’s something inherently wrong or flawed with us that cannot be fixed, that we are irredeemably bad and there is absolutely no hope of changing that, so we might as well just give up altogether. Sounds familiar?

Shame is by far the most difficult and uncomfortable emotion we can experience as human beings, which is why most of us tend to suppress it into our subconscious minds to avoid feeling it altogether. But unfortunately it remains there —the shame itself is hidden but it manifests in so many different ways for those who can recognize it, like a camouflage hiding in plain sight— until it is one day resolved. There is no escaping it. We might lie to ourselves or deny what we feel, but our bodies do not and cannot lie. Unexpressed emotion eventually manifests as the myriad of mental health conditions we see spreading today.

“Shame has been called the “master emotion” because so much of our experience is filtered through this lens. It warps and confounds our understanding of ourselves and others in a way that makes sustainable resolutions extremely difficult if not impossible.”

David Bedrick

It turns out, I had subconsciously felt it all my life and but had never given it a name. It was like the biggest elephant in the room that I had no clue existed in my psyche. I had been living with shame all this time, and like a stone thrown in water that causes a ripple effect, it had colored my beliefs, thoughts, emotions and behavior; it had shaped how I showed up and carried myself in the world. And that weight I felt had been lifted from me —I realized afterwards— was the shame leaving my body. And when the shame was dissolved, I finally healed, and suddenly returned to my natural state of being, as if I had never been wounded before. I returned to my natural self.

Where does this shame come from, you ask? Simply put, it comes from living traumatic experiences in the past that our psyche has yet to heal and recover from. As a result, it distorts our self-image, self-esteem and overall worldview. It’s an outcome of how our young developing emotional brain rationalizes what happens to us in childhood when what happens to us doesn’t make any sense. It’s the logical explanation we give to our young selves when those who are supposed to love us hurt us instead. We end up thinking it’s us. That we are to blame. That we deserve whatever is happening to us. That there must be something wrong with us if we are being treated this way. But that could not be further from the truth, as I have explained above.

Learning about the extent and depth of shame in our lives was mostly thanks to reading the work of Brené Brown, who has written and spoken extensively about the subject. To realize that shame was not a fact of my existence, but simply a feeling I experienced due to experiencing past trauma; to discover that it had nothing to do with my true inner essence was deeply liberating, redeeming and exonerating, like I had been wrongfully accused and imprisoned, mentally and emotionally, for so long, and then finally vindicated and set free; an indescribable feeling of salvation! That I was innocent, all along!

These are the insights I have reached so far around social anxiety and its origins in trauma. It is simply one of the coping mechanisms and ways that some of us develop as a response to living through prolonged traumatic experiences within close relationships. I hope this explanation was useful to anyone going through a similar experience.

If any of the above descriptions resonated with you, I’m here to tell you, that this is not the real you, and that you can heal. Heal the shame and the anxiety will disappear. Start by looking at your current symptoms and dig deep into your associated beliefs, thoughts, emotions and reactions, then work backwards from there to uncover where this came from and let this sink in: it was never your fault.

To Him belongs all praise.

  1. Nono Avatar

    A great read!

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