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CBT for Social Anxiety: Book Review



Woman talking to her female friends

Do you yearn to form close connections but feel overwhelming self-doubt when you enter new social situations?


I am so glad you are beginning to explore therapy for your social anxiety. Seeking therapy can feel really daunting, especially for those who experience this form of anxiety.


For those who are interested in exploring therapy but feel understandably anxious, I want to introduce you to the book "How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety" by Ellen Hendriksen. This is a wonderful book that will help you deepen your understanding of social anxiety, allow you to view yourself compassionately, and get you acquainted with the benefits of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).


I will be sharing some of the key takeaways from this book so that you can discern whether this is the book for you.


Avoidance

Hendriksen defines avoidance as "turning away from what makes you anxious in an effort to reduce your anxiety". Avoidance of situations that give rise to your social anxiety may help to reduce it in the short term but can contribute to the maintenance or worsening of it in the long-term. This is because it sends the message to you that you cannot cope with the situation. By not attending an event, we also deprive ourselves of the opportunity to gather evidence to the contrary.


The Core of Social Anxiety

At the core of social anxiety is the belief that there is something embarrassing, deficient, or flawed about us, and the accompanying fear that it will become evident to anyone we come into contact with. The pain that is characteristic of those who struggle with social anxiety is the fear that we will be rejected for being who we are.


Why Does Social Anxiety Persist

The author discusses the role that "The Inner Critic" plays in the maintenance of social anxiety. The inner critic often has high expectations, and is often extremely reluctant to praise let alone notice what we get right. Our inner critic often engages in what therapists call "post-event processing" which is the postmortem review of the bloopers reel of your social performance. The repeated focus on the "lowlights" of how you are in social situations has the effect of leaving you feeling "socially awkward" and with the mistaken belief that you "lack social skills". This can lead to a vicious cycle where you begin focusing on the things you felt went wrong, you strengthen your belief in your social incompetence which leads you to dread the next social interaction (Which you go in with high levels of anxiety as a result).


The Role of Perfectionism

The author discusses how those who experience social anxiety often carry beliefs that they must perform "perfectly" in social interactions. It is important to note that perfectionism is not about achieving "perfection" but rather having such high standards for yourself that you are left with the feeling of "never being good enough".


Perfectionism can sound like:


  • "I should always have something interesting to say"

  • "I must always sound intelligent"

  • "There should never be gaps or silences in conversation"

  • ""I am responsible for keeping my conversational partner interested at all times"

The flip side of perfectionism is having low confidence about one's abilities/capabilities. This can sound like:


  • "I have no social skills"

  • "I don't know how not to be awkward"

  • "I don't know how to behave normally"

  • "Something is wrong with me"


CBT for Social Anxiety

CBT involves building an accurate self-concept, one that takes into account your strengths as well as your capacity to grow. It is also about taking a look at the expectations we have for ourselves and to intentionally choose how we wish to venture out into the world, and relate to others. This involves getting to know you, the values you hold, and the philosophy you have toward life and relationships.


CBT also entails building a repertoire of tools such as:

  • Learning to specify your anxiety

  • Building confidence about coping with challenges that will accompany social interactions and relationships

  • Learning to be self-compassionate

  • To adopt an inner voice that embodies an appreciation for your efforts, and validates your fears

  • Learning to be mindful so that we can shift from focusing on our internal commentary to focusing outward on what is currently happening around us


If you found the concepts discussed above helpful, I encourage you to visit the author's website for more information and resources: https://www.ellenhendriksen.com/


Warmly,


Hannah Peirce




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