It’s not unusual for people to get nervous in certain social situations. Preparing to give a speech and meeting a group of people you don’t know are both great examples of situations where it’s perfectly understandable to experience a little anxiety. However, there is a big difference between small amounts of anxiety and social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder develops when those little fears become so intense that you go out of your way to avoid any situations that will trigger them. And, when that avoidance begins to negatively impact your daily life or family it may be time to seek some professional help.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
One of the most common treatments for social phobia is cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of systematic desensitization addresses negative patterns and distortions in the way we look at ourselves and the world. There are two main components to this approach:
- Cognitive therapy examines how your negative thoughts can contribute to your social anxiety.
- Behavior therapy analyzes the way you behave and react in those situations that trigger your anxiety.
There are three main steps involved in this form of therapy:
- Identifying your negative thoughts: this can include recognizing what those thoughts include, the specific situations they occur in conjunction with, and recognizing them for the harmful thoughts they are.
- Challenging your negative thoughts: during this step you’ll question the evidence for your frightening thoughts, weigh the pros and cons associated with them, and conduct experiments to test the validity of these thoughts.
- Replacing negative thoughts with realistic ones: as you become more adept at recognizing your anxiety-provoking thoughts, you can begin to practice converting those thoughts into positive imaging.
The Compassionate Approach
While cognitive behavioral therapy has become widely recognized as an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder, there are aspects of it that can be difficult for many people. It can be a great challenge to identify positive thoughts or to replace them with realistic ones. Oftentimes people can recognize the benefit of this systematic desensitization approach but understanding the logic doesn’t necessarily make the treatment easier to complete.
This is where compassion focused therapy comes in. People who experience social phobia are apt to be self-critical and filled with thoughts of shame and anger because of how the anxiety affects them. Compassionate-focused therapy helps individuals reverse those thoughts through compassionate engagement. The theory behind this therapy states that we are “at our most flourishing” when we:
- See evidence that we are cared about and valued
- Are caring, helping, and valuing others
- Are mindful and sympathetic of our own feelings
By demonstrating the skills and attributes of compassion, the therapist instils these values in the patient. As a consequence, the patient is aided to develop an internal compassionate relationship with themselves – one that will replace the blaming, condemning and self-critical person they may feel they are.
In other words, by learning to be empathetic and non-judgmental of others it can become easier to give yourself a break, as well. While many might view compassion as a personality trait, the reality is that it is a skill you can be trained in. This therapy helps to foster the attributes of that skill.
Need More Assistance?
It can be difficult to convert your negative thoughts into a positive mindset when you’re in the midst of social anxiety disorder. If you or someone you know is suffering from social anxiety, seeking professional help can be the most direct path to reclaiming your life.
For more information about compassion-based cognitive behavioral therapy, contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Rosen and The Center today.