Recently I have been working in my Balwyn Hypnotherapy clinic with lots of clients presenting with ‘social phobias’. For them, the modern world combines with our fundamental ‘human natures’ to create frames where socialising, connecting or even communicating has taken on a layer of fear.
The human brain cannot distinguish ‘real’ threats from imagined. It cannot distinguish between rational fears and social fears. In the end, the human brain does what it always does, and triggers a defensive (fear) response as an understandable ‘self protection’ mechanism.
You may have heard of ‘fight or flight’, but we can also add ‘freeze and appease’ to the core fear / defensive responses that we can see in ourselves and others. If you look at the way that you and others react in social situations, how often do you see these four attributes being present?
From a clinical perspective, it is interesting to see how social fears commonly link back to our innate desire to be included. Throughout human history, being included was a critical success factor in our survival. Imagine if you were ‘excluded’ from a tribe, and you had to fend for yourself. Your chances of survival drop dramatically. Therefore, inclusion is almost programmed into us as a basic survival need.
But the world has changed, and we don’t face those same risks any more. Our brain, however, is still ‘wired’ the same, and inclusion is still seen as a key driver in our survival. As humans we have not adapted to the modern world, but rather continue to seek ‘inclusion’ and fear ‘exclusion’ probably more than any other single thing –for many people it feels like a life or death scenario.
What is true for my clients is also true for everyone else around them. It is not just them that feels the need for inclusion, and the fear of exclusion, everyone else does, too. It is estimated that more than half of the population have a deep seated fear of exclusion which impacts on how they behave socially (the others have developed strategies to manage it!). The core belief that many clients run is that they are ‘not good enough’, too different to fit in or just don’t belong.
So what happens? Two people meet – and it is likely that they both, at some level, have a fear of being excluded. This means that they constantly look for signs in the other person that they are being rejected and excluded (because this is what they fear). Because they are looking for it, they interpret almost any signal they receive as their worst fear.
The other person might be thinking of something else, be scared of being rejected themselves, or just have a behavioural trait – and yet our fear encourages us to see it as ‘rejection’. So both people are on high alert, over-analyse any signal and continuously tap back into their fear. Is it any wonder that social situations make them anxious?
In reality, people love to be included. A simple solution for some clients is to just set themselves the task of including others. By doing so, the others feel comfortable, grateful and open to connecting. If, on the other hand, they wait for others to connect to them, they can each allow their fears to cloud reality.
Working with social phobias is obviously more complex than this, however, but by including others (asking questions, showing that you are interested, considering their point of view) the opportunity to connect to others starts to become a reality.
My advice in social situations is “Go First”. Give what you want and get what you give.
Here are two exercises to try:
1. Go first. Imagine that the other person is really scared of feeling rejected. What would you do to make them feel comfortable?
2. Connect and reconnect. I encourage you to connect, or reconnect to three people in the next 24 hours. See what happens!
What are your experiences with social situations? Do you go first, or wait for others to take the lead? Let me know what you experience as you try this exercise!