Okay, first off: Social anxiety is a sucky feeling. It’s really trash. It makes your stomach turn and your brain suddenly evaporate. Sometimes you have to talk yourself up with tender and strong affirmations before you can even leave the house. (If you use affirmations, remember to keep them honest. Here's how.)
But let’s say you made it to the party, and you’re actually having a good time. You feel free to say what’s on your mind, and you’re having conversations with interesting people. You’re actually starting to have fun.
You come home, still feeling good… and then it hits.
What did I say? What happened?!
If you’ve ever spent a night (or a week) turning over and over in your mind what you might have said to someone that you regret, you are not alone. So many of us suffer from social anxiety, and from a gripping fear that we are “too much” of something that others cannot tolerate.
Think too much?
Yeah, all those are things lots of us worry about.
When the What happened?! anxiety hits, it can be really hard to remember that every interaction is a dynamic interaction. We are dynamically experiencing our relationships, meanings, interpretations, sensations, and identities all the time. In social interactions, we are functioning on a spectrum of risk-taking where, by saying what we feel, we might end up feeling like we said the wrong thing.
(It’s okay. Really. We are ALL susceptible to this.)
We frequently make mistakes with what we say or what we do. Even when we try not to. That’s how we learn who people are, and who we are, too.
But making a mistake doesn’t necessarily make what you say or do wrong.
Certainly, if you say something that is harmful or hurtful to someone, it’s important to address that with the person. If you say something you think is funny, it might be to some people- but it might bring up old wounds for others. And the kicker is, unless you know the person really, really well, you may not know how what you say will land for them. And sometimes, even when you DO know someone really well, you might say something that is rude or hurtful. It’s okay (and important!) to address that and listen to the other person if they are in fact wounded.
But it’s the judgment that is the problem here. Believing that you will, have, or could say something “wrong” limits and stifles you from being authentic, and having authentic relationships that are beautiful, messy, and require apologies and repair. All deep relationships will get sticky at some point, and it is possible to develop resilience and confidence that if something goes awry it can be addressed.
Everyone who has ever let their guard down to “be themselves” with other people takes a risk. Once we say something, it’s out there in the world for others to interpret as they will. If we choose to be in social relationships, we are continually building this dynamic together. If you’re in a bad mood, then maybe you DID say something that rubbed someone the wrong way. If that’s the case, and someone approaches you about it, you can learn from that.
But these are the ways we learn about each other, and deepen our connections with each other. For example, in therapy, your response to what I say is a great way for me to get to know you. I also get to know you based on what gets evoked in me when I listen to you. It’s a way we co-create our understanding of each other, and of you and what troubles you as well as what enlivens you.
The next time you come home from a party wondering What happened?!, remember that you were courageous. You took a risk. You shared a part of yourself, and that is what helps you grow. I’m not saying this will make you feel better – a warm candlelit bath with essential oils and some good music will probably feel much better – but this experience is a part of your life, and working on accepting this critical and scared part of yourself without judgment is a major accomplishment on the path toward living your fullest and most enlivened life.