You know that inner critical voice that spews out a slew of negative thoughts? It’s that Cruella de Vil voice that tells you “You’re not good enough. You’re not skinny enough. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not smart enough.”
It’s that nagging voice that beats us down, scolds us and talks us out of doing the things we need or deep down want to do. It’s a voice my grandmother begged me to turn off. The voice was loud enough for her to take notice. It’s a voice that for many of us overpowers our daily lives and spirals us into developing social anxiety.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, social anxiety is the paralyzing perception that there is something embarrassing or severely deficient with you. In her book “How To Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic And Rise Above Social Anxiety,” Hendriksen explains that those struggling with social anxiety believe they have to work extremely hard to hide their perceived deficiencies or else they WILL be revealed and then they will be negatively judged or rejected.
It’s, therefore, no surprise that finding a soulmate seems especially unattainable to the socially anxious.
But, no need to worry social anxiety patriots! Here are some pieces of advice from five experts on how to succeed at finding a soulmate while overcoming social anxiety.
Accept Your Authentic Self
Think about who you are when you’re in your most relaxed state of mind. Perhaps that’s when you’re sitting on the couch eating ice cream with your bestie while casually chatting about the new episode of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Love that YOU. Nurture that YOU and channel that YOU when you’re off into the realm of dating.
According to Spiritual Intimacy expert Londin Angel Winters, ditch the presumption that you need to hide your social anxiety or the feeling that you need to pretend to be someone you are not. “Own every part of you instead,” the co-author of “The Awakened Women’s Guide to Everlasting Love” says.
“You don’t have to do this in an awkward way where you give low self-esteem disclaimers such as ‘Hey, warning… I’m really messed up.’” Instead, Winters recommends allowing yourself to be seen for who you are and to state what you need without shame. By following through with this, you allow your vulnerability to shine through. For instance, Winters suggests that you can say something like, “I tend to be more on the shy side of the spectrum and appreciate when someone can make me feel safe and protected in social situations.”
This is a great way for your potential match to help step in and contribute as the appeasing force in areas of your life you may need support in. It also opens the doors for your date to match your level of vulnerability by sharing his/her wants and needs.
“Own who you are and you just might find someone who cannot wait to make your social life a much more pleasurable situation for you,” Winters concludes.
Take Baby Steps When Exposing Yourself To Social Situations
When you’re working on managing and ultimately overcoming your social anxiety, it’s important to start exposing yourself to small social activities and to slowly build up to difficult social scenarios, says Dr. Ashley Hampton, licensed psychologist and entrepreneurial coach.
Specifically, Hampton recommends to start off by practicing to chat with people you see in regular, everyday conditions. “For example, at the coffee shop, ask the person helping you how he is doing. If you go to the gym, talk to the person at the front desk when you are checking in. Practicing small talk with people that you see regularly helps build communication skills in a non-threatening environment, which convinces your brain and nervous system that talking with others in small doses is not threatening or harmful and should not activate a nervous response,” Dr. Hampton explains.
Once you feel comfortable in these social situations, it’s time to kick it up a notch.
Hampton recommends kicking off small steps that lead toward dating by first starting to go out to dinner by yourself. The next step could be sitting at a bar having dinner, and engaging in small talk with the person sitting next to you. “It doesn’t matter initially if the person is someone you’re attracted to. Becoming more comfortable engaging in conversation about something like the food, the beer on tap, or even the sports game on television is important in making improvement in social anxiety symptoms,” Hampton emphasizes. Once you are comfortable with these steps, then Dr. Hampton recommends trying engaging in similar conversations with people you find attractive.
“After you can have conversations with people you find attractive and you are not anxious, then move into pursuing dating, whether it be through an app, blind dates set up by friends, or meeting people through work.”
Although Hampton does mention that these steps may take months to work through depending on your specific social anxiety triggers, she indicates that “The key is to start and try not to be upset with yourself if you have a bad encounter or don’t feel great about your performance. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about trying and making progress as you move forward.”
Tame Your Inner Critical Voice To Overcome The Power of Anticipatory Fear
“Often times, people with social anxiety experience a lot of anticipatory fear about social situations, says Matt Hiller, a licensed clinical social worker at Wellington Counseling Group.
People with social anxiety worry about being awkward, seeming stupid, or not having anything to say, explains Hiller. However, “A person doesn’t have to be perfectly charming or a master conversationalist to find love,” Hiller stresses.
This anticipatory fear stems from an overpowering inner critical voice that spews out negative thoughts like “you’re dumb,” “people won’t like you,” or “you’re not lovable” etc.
It’s important to remember that these are simply thoughts not facts. Instead of shutting out your inner critic, make friends with it. Thank each thought for its intention and for trying to protect you in some way, and encourage it (the voice) to find a new uplifting way to help you.
Once you’ve mastered this new way of approaching your inner critical voice, it becomes
helpful to commit to doing at least one small social activity that causes anxiety each week, with the goal of overcoming the power of anticipatory fear in order to gain control over your life and to ultimately find love.
In particular, Hiller states: “I advise going to structured activities you enjoy that provide things to talk about and help facilitate introductions. For example, classes, book clubs, volunteering events, or religious/spiritual groups are all great options.” These structured situations offer easier opportunities to strike up conversations with a potential suitor who shares a mutual common interest.
Embrace The Positive Attributes That Come From Social Anxiety
There are a plethora of characteristics associated with having social anxiety that really help propel you forward in dating and instantly make you the perfect CATCH.
Dr. Ellen Hendriksen writes in her book “How To Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic And Rise Above Social Anxiety,” that social anxiety comes bundled with strengths like having high standards, being helpful, empathetic, and altruistic.
Having coped with social anxiety herself, Dr. Hendriksen notes, “We’re often good listeners, we’re conscientious, and we work very hard to get along with our fellow humans.” These positive attributes don’t go away even after working on your social anxiety and your social fears begin to fade.
It is these strengths that will help ignite your dating life. For example, you can leverage your good listening skills while on a date. Hampton suggests that “When talking with people that you may be interested in learning more about to date, start asking the other person questions. Most people are interested in talking about themselves. Asking questions of the other person gives you time to ease into the conversation.” You show you’re interested in getting to know the person, while your date gets to talk about his/herself. It’s a win-win situations right?! So, sit back, relax, and use your extraordinary listening skills while your date chatters away.
Talk To Yourself As You Would A Best Friend When Prepping For A Date
Once you understand that your social anxiety does not detract from your ability to be a great partner, it’s helpful to talk to yourself as you would to your best friend to help change the way you think and behave in social situations, says Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Astroglide’s resident sexologist.
“If your best friend was experiencing cognitive distortions that was holding him/her back from dating, such as they keep telling themselves they’re not good enough, they insist that the date will be a failure, they’re fearful that no one will be interested, what would you say to them? How would you reassure them? Speak to yourself in a similar fashion. We’re much kinder to others than we are to ourselves” O’Reilly advises.
When you start communicating to yourself with the love and compassion you use to speak to your bestie, you’ll free yourself from negative self-talk and enter dating situations in an uplifted state of mind.
How many times have you told your bestie “You’re a catch and you need to know it?” Apply this motto to yourself. Repeat it to yourself until you feel every inch of you believes you’re a CATCH.
And, so, dear social anxiety warriors, the next time that inner critical voice tells you you’re not good enough to find your soulmate, encourage that voice to speak to you in a way that leads you toward cultivating self-worth, acceptance, and the love you deserve.
Berenice Famli is the CEO and founder of the Jewish emoji app Shalomoji and a Los Angeles based writer who covers lifestyle, health, and entrepreneurship.