“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” ~ Joseph Campbell
As someone who suffers from a crippling social phobia I have insight into two things: One, that it is often misunderstood as shyness or introversion, and two, that it is karmic. As a complex phobia, social anxiety stems from critical or overbearing parents. Parents who were overprotective, or emotionally absent, and also those who valued other’s opinions over their child’s emotional and mental well being (think enforcing good manners and etiquette to a destructive degree).
This revelation can help us to uncover the root of the problem and how our thought processes have formed leading to us up to this point; excessively worrying about what others think. But how does social anxiety work on a karmic or spiritual level?
No-body likes me is a thought that has crossed most of our minds during this lifetime. We all seek to be accepted and our collective goal could be seen as lowering the barriers that separate in order to unite us.
We are one. A familiar concept, and experience for anyone who has tapped in to their spiritual path here on earth. As social creatures we naturally gravitate towards each other, attempting to figure ourselves out, often by seeing ourselves through the eyes of others. We are mirrors, and our family and wider circle can offer clues as to what our unique path (aside from compassion for the other and bringing down those barriers) really is.
So what if, like the Orphan archetype, the path of social anxiety is to realize that we are the only ones we can lean on? Is social anxiety simply an offshoot of the Orphan’s path? Is the thing we need to transcend and overcome the very thing that terrifies us more than anything? Yes. This is our Minotaur in the labyrinth. It is the falsehood, and it provides the ego with strength but also fear. When facing a room full of people, we experience fight or flight, and if we let our fear and our belief in this false self get to us, then we will let panic get the better of us.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” ~ Joseph Campbell
So is knowing this enough? Not really. This is where we come to the more down to earth part of the article (!); how to overcome it.
Doing what scares you is also a familiar concept to those who are consciously walking a spiritual path. And it can be a daily practise. But timing is everything. If you don’t feel ready, don’t force yourself.
Solitude is a worthy spiritual teacher and being alone has its perks. Something we need to build momentum and re-group, especially if we have experienced trauma and are experiencing some sort of fragmentation of the soul. Meditation while you ‘wait’, or anytime for that matter will help you detach from the realness of what you’re going through. Not numb it, but allow you to see it as a movie flickering before your eyes. It’s just a game, and you don’t need to take it personally.
That’s probably why you’re in this position in the first place. You took your parents criticism personally, not knowing any better, not knowing they were suffering – probably from a critical parent of their own – and so it caught you attention, and you swallowed that poison.
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” ~ Joseph Campbell
So, when you’re ready, do what scares you. If people scare you, then approach them. The quote above is really beautiful because it’s also often what scares us; taking in the unknown. But people with phobias are those blessed with a gift.
Start seeing yourself, not as having a burden, but as having a gift. Your phobia is a gift because it keeps you close to fear, and fear helps us stay awake. Not in an addictive, hedonistic way. Awake in a spiritual, true purpose sense. That’s how alchemy works. You can turn base metal into gold, but only if you see the potential within that suffering.
Practicing gratitude, like any victim-based problem is another way out. Or should I say in. In being grateful for your ‘problem’, you can see that in reality there is no problem there at all. It’s all an illusion.
Just like the initial trauma that caused you to jump into fight or flight. You weren’t really in danger, your parent was using the critical inner voice they use on themselves, on you, the person in their care. That’s what really happened. No-one hated you, or saw you were weak, or wanted to embarrass you. It was all about them.
That might cause you to feel angry at them, and this is where your compassion will eventually kick in. But give it time. Like solitude, it’s OK to be angry for a while. Just look it straight in the eye, let it wash over you and then when the time is right, say goodbye to it forever.
So practice gratitude and talk to people. If you see disgust in their eyes and they look like they want to be rid of you, or if you have the feeling you might do something embarrassing, let it come. Through meditation we can also notice that critical inner voice we now have, and observe it. You don’t need to engage with it at all, just watch it and eventually you’ll see it for what it is; petty. Get to the point where you can observe the voice as you speak to people.
Ground yourself in the moment; sounds, sensations, touch and root yourself there. You have a right to be here, just as much as anyone else. If you notice their disgust, stand there anyway. You’re not doing anything wrong. Maybe you’re complaining, it’s OK, you made a mistake this time. But that’s OK.
Everyone makes mistakes. Give yourself an inner cuddle, as you would a child (everyone who you perceive to be emotionally mature probably does this already). Promise yourself you’ll try not to do it next time. If you fall into the trap again, watch yourself, watch the inner critic (who is not YOU/your true self if you hadn’t realized already), and forgive yourself. Next time. I’ll try to remember not to complain next time.
Keep at it. Because when you have resolved that conflict and your mother and father are living within you, nurturing you from a place you control (because you are in control of how you react to everything), when you’ve built that home for yourself, no-one can take that away from you. That’ll be the day you step in to your awesomeness, and allow yourself to truly shine.