Feeling uncomfortable in-and-around groups of people is probably one of the factors that shows up most in my practice, in some way or another. Even extroverts can experience crippling social anxiety given the right setting.
We know this is particularly common for those with Social Anxiety and, quite often, this experience manifests in Caregivers, Highly Sensitive Individuals, and Empaths (those who experience regular and high levels of empathy). Some manifestation of this ends up making an appearance in my sessions quite regularly. Being that it has taken a particularly more significant focal point in my practice recently, I knew this was an excellent time to sit down and hammer this article out.
I venture to guess that all of us have been in a social situation that was incredibly uncomfortable at some point in our lives. Furthermore, I imagine that many of us can think of a specific setting that consistently elicits an experience of discomfort when compared with other situations. I will confess that classroom settings have often done that for me.
The trend I see over-and-over again is that when we feel this way, we are worrying or making up stories about how others think/feel around how we are 'showing up.' For me, I know in the classroom when I 'ask too many questions' or have 'too many shares' I can get worried that others will have judgments about my motives behind speaking up. Prior to incorporating this practice, during or as soon as I was finished sharing, I immediately searched for signs of approval or disapproval. From that space, I would begin trying to make meaning of those 'signs.’ More often than not, I had interpreted them as disempowering rather than empowering. It can be a vicious cycle.
I see this program of disempowerment in my fellow caregivers, empaths, and highly sensitive clients often. The MOUNTAIN of societal and self-imposed PRESSURE to 'MEASURE UP.' We want so badly to connect with others, and when we get out, we spend so much time plugged-in to second-guessing what others think and feel about us that we aren't truly able to enjoy ourselves! We cycle in not feeling 'good enough!’ The most common descriptions I hear are, "draining", "exhausting", "stressful", "depleting", "frustrating", "paralyzing", "embarrassing", "overwhelming", and "depressing". No wonder so many of us shy away from social settings when those are the feelings created by putting ourselves 'out there;' thereby triggering that feeling (not being good enough).
So, what do we do about this???
The practice that I feel just about every one of us can benefit from is in: Unplugging from trying to decipher what everyone else may or may not be thinking/feeling about us and plugging-in to what is helpful and empowering. This is a practice I often go over, as well as integrate into my hypnosis sessions, that I refer to as "Connect, Connect, Protect."
Let’s break down the process for those of you that are curious. Please feel free to take what you like and leave the rest behind.
Connect: To Mother Earth. Ground yourself and your energy; physically or in your Mind's Eye. In whatever way resonates with you. Imagine you are a tree or plant with roots growing from your feet if you'd like. The scientific research on the benefits of ‘Grounding’ and ‘Earthing’ is a topic that continues to gain more interest and traction.
To God, Spirit, Divine Source, Heaven, Cosmos, Sky, Energy, etc.; whatever form your higher source takes that feels comfortable to you. In Polarity Therapy, this practice is called "Heaven and Earth" where you physically reach down to pull in and up the "energy of the earth" and then reach up and pull down your "heaven cord." You can do whatever resonates with you – the point is to feel you are plugging-in to your 'Sources' of life and energy. This can be spiritual in nature or purely based on the science of the mind (not to mention all the implications of quantum physics).
Protect: Imagine in your Mind's Eye or Affirm in some way that you are creating, or forming, some source of a protective barrier. A barrier that only allows in what is helpful and empowering, but also to keep out what is hurtful and disempowering. This can help from taking on other's energy/judgments that so often create such difficulty and disempowerment for us. What resonates for me is to imagine that I am creating a protective bubble by pulling up and down the "Heaven and Earth" energies. I put parameters on my bubble that only allows what is helpful to pass through, and everything else simply reflects off. Again, make it your own. Some people like to call on Angels, Jesus, Gods, loved ones, etc. to help them feel protected.
Play with the practice and see what feels right for you. For me, my own practice has developed over the years, and with the insight and resource of a handful of instructors and colleagues. The invitation is to commit to doing it for 21 days since that creates a habit. Chances are that you will be surprised at how much this will help you to feel calmer and more confident in groups of people and overall.
I use this practice at the start of each day, anytime I am feeling overly venerable, between
sessions, etc. I could probably write an entire book on the benefits of this practice. All the elements do or can incorporate the benefits of Hypnotherapy, Meditation, Grounding, Prayer, Intentions, and Affirmations, and more! This protocol is probably the most important and effective daily practice I have had in both my personal and professional experience. And, I cannot begin to tell you the incredible feedback I have received from clients who have incorporated in their own lives!
Take a moment to imagine what life might be like if you really did have a protective bubble to filter out the disempowerment and negativity. Science suggests that the Mind sends directive messages based on what it is processing, be that real or imagined. Those messages are sent to your body as if they are facts that you are experiencing at that moment. For example, in a study conducted on Brain Plasticity in 2005 by Alvaro Pascual-Leone, it was demonstrated that, "by using imagination to mentally rehearse practicing a melody on the piano, a novice can systematically develop the same brain circuits as novices who physically practice the melody on the piano." Thereby demonstrating, as suggested in other studies as well, that the Mind doesn’t truly know the difference between what is real and what is imagined in a very clear manner.
Being that the Mind is communicating to the body what is ‘going on,’ those messages are sent to our body's system. In turn, the body’s systems are simply reacting to the messages that are being sent from the mind. No wonder the experience can be so stressful when we are in groups of people, and we begin second-guessing ourselves. We are imaging that we are 'too much of this' or 'not enough of that' - and our bodies are receiving that message, thereby sending us into an experience of anxiety being that we are ultimately worried about fitting into society. This need to fit into our community is, at the core, inherent to the human experience for survival purposes and is very much a collective subconscious program.
If on the other hand, we use our Mind to perceive we are plugged-in to what we see as the Source(s) of life, as well as have something filtering out anything that may be hurtful, imagine (pun intended) how different the experience could be. The more we practice this, the more we will be in the experience of “I am good enough,” and over time it can, does, and will shift our entire experience of the world. After all, if there is something most of us can benefit from, it is a little more intrinsic self-worth.
Article Written By Jillian Holper, CCHt, LC
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