“No man is an island…” opens the famous poem by John Donne. The truth in this metaphor extends throughout our interconnections: social, biological, spiritual, and even existential. We need other people, and others need us. We depend upon people to help us survive and thrive. As well, we have obligations to serve and contribute, to be part of a fabric of family and community. We have social structures and institutions, and we all want to feel that we, as individuals, matter, and that what we do makes a difference.
We have intricate nervous systems that become finely attuned to the sensations and vibes of other nervous systems. This biological underpinning allows us selectively to draw close to certain individuals, but also can elicit a sense of threat that compels avoidance, retreat, and emotional withdrawal.
For many people, anxiety is a great interference, a fearful obstruction to the natural order of satisfying and productive connections and relations with other people. Indeed, anxiety can become a way of life, a pariah that distorts the sense of safety, ease and comfort, and communications and interactions with fellow humans.
Anxiety is a physiological state of heightened alert and vigilance. It propels the brain and nervous system into fight-or-flight mode—essential for survival in dangerous circumstances, but, all too often, an inner condition that can run rampant without any verifiable objective threat. Ask any mental health professional and he or she will readily affirm from cumulative clinical experience that persistent or recurrent anxiety will invariably exert a negative impact on physical and psychological health.
Though many millions of people suffer from anxiety, a significant percentage of those afflicted struggle with a specific type, namely, social anxiety. This is a pernicious form of anxiety that causes an excessive fear of social situations.
People with social anxiety are extremely anxious and nervous about being in groups of people. This anxiety occurs even when they think about such situations, as well as when they are actually find themselves in many kinds of group settings such as business meetings, public events, class seminars, and family get-togethers. They feel that they are being (or could be) watched closely, judged, and possibly criticized (covertly or overtly). People with social anxiety harbor a great deal of negative thinking and internalized self-criticism. They fear making mistakes and looking bad or exposed, being noticeably awkward or embarrassed, and displaying grossly inadequate social skills.
People suffering from social anxiety would most likely find the prospect of giving a speech in front of a class or a club meeting or even offering a toast at a wedding extremely intimidating. There are anomalies, of course. Johnny Carson, the super relaxed, wry, exceptionally comedic, and gregarious host of the Tonight Show was apparently very shy, ill at ease, and socially self-conscious when off-camera. Somehow he was able to overcome his social anxiety by compartmentalizing it and developing a stage persona that was totally different than his off-stage persona. Some people simply bear their symptoms with great difficulty; many take medications to mute their fears, and countless others endure extreme distress, panic, and a lifestyle that are marred by procrastination and avoidance.
Anxiety or panic attacks produce symptoms including:
As described previously, the core of social anxiety is that it involves extreme discomfort being around people—more so around unfamiliar or large groups of people. Key by-products of this disorder include:
The causes of social anxiety are not specifically clear. From my perspective, this type of anxiety (like all anxiety) is based in a physiological brain-acclimated state in which heightened vigilance, fear, and a fight-or-flight mode nervous system state become the brain’s familiar norm.
It is likely that early life traumas trigger social anxiety in individuals who are genetically vulnerable. Though this condition is tenacious and not easy to treat, I’ve worked successfully with hundreds of people suffering from social anxiety. One of the first steps in productive treatment is to help the socially anxious person understand the following:
Effective (and drug-free) treatment of social anxiety involves several steps. Though social anxiety can be more complex than other anxiety disorders or transient anxiety episodes, the essential treatment component involves complete and lasting elimination of anxiousness and related symptoms—notice the emphasis on elimination of symptoms. This outcome can and does result with even the most recalcitrant people who have suffered for decades. The empirical evidence for this is abundant; but despite this evidence, anxiety sufferers and treating professionals alike unfortunately believe that pronounced and persistent anxiety is a life-long malady that can only be “managed” through some combination of drugs, cognitive behavior therapy (teaching people to think differently about their anxiety), modifying their lifestyles and expectations and achieving some better degree of tolerance or mental stoicism to “tough it out.”
In my view, this mainstream attitude and concurrent treatment approach are misguided, negligent, and perhaps even barbaric. It reminds me of surgery without anesthetics or infections without antibiotics. (Yes, these are drugs, but the point of this analogy is that pain is not inevitable during treatment.)
Anxiety can be eliminated because the brain can be trained to summon and invoke more relaxed and functional states, even in the face of straining or provocative circumstances. Additionally, past traumas can be treated and resolved completely with modern technology.
In a nutshell, here’s how the specific clinical treatments banish anxiety of all kinds and sources:
Voice Technology, the most advanced form of Thought Field Therapy (TFT) quickly eliminates any negative emotion. Because negative emotions are tied to physiological states (which are the cause of unpleasant emotions and thoughts), accessing the codes that keep these problems situated at a cellular level allows for the collapsing of the scaffold that encapsulates the negative emotions, including traumas. Using the right technology, we can determine through the projections of the human voice where these codes are stored and what is necessary to collapse or reprogram the perturbations (information disturbances) that cause the symptoms. (A perturbation is a disturbance in the encoding of information that connects a thought with a feeling. TFT acts upon these perturbations to collapse them and render them inactive.)
In this procedure, I test the person’s voice and, using the revealed information, prescribe tapping sequences that the person self-administers on his own body. The procedure involves variable iterations of the tapping (according to the encoded perturbations). However, it is precise and rapid. In a matter of minutes, the negative feelings disappear! This procedure works 97% of the time and can be done over the phone. Concurrently, many physical symptoms disappear, ranging from situational discomfort (such as headaches, stomach distress, or body tension) to longer-term recalcitrant pain and anguish held in place by the body’s memory of previous anxious experiences and provocative events.
We are “wired” with the capacity to be flexible: to learn, adapt, change, and benefit from experience. Compared to other life forms, each of us has a highly advanced cortex, prepared to acquire and use knowledge, memories, and concepts, and to convert these experiences into survival-oriented problem-solving.
You may have heard the term brain plasticity. This refers to our brain’s biological predisposition to adapt and compensate, not only cognitively, but with functional neurological networking. Our brains are designed for regulation and order. However, many genetic, environmental, and circumstantial influences can and do derail the natural rhythms of brain self-regulation.
When brain self-regulation is tenuous or underdeveloped, anxiety can easily overtake the nervous system, overexcite physiology, and hijack reasoning, planning, and self-control. Fortunately, everyone’s brain has the pre-wired capacity to respond to training that restores and optimizes self-regulation. This is what causes anxiety to defer as a much less probable and frequent response to stressful thoughts and events.
The last few decades have seen a rise in and proliferation of techniques to restore and enhance brain function. Among the best of these is EEG neurofeedback, a method of training the brain (actually the neural networks through the brainwaves) to establish and refine brain communication, stability, state management, and specific functional capacities.
Our brains can establish and rewrite connections. Through brief and efficient training, each of us can overcome early deprivation, traumatic events, and the debilitating effects of stressors. EEG training is a scientifically proven method of making the brain more fit—stronger, more flexible, more durable, and with a higher resistance to anxiety, fear, and the traumatic and injurious influences that produce them.
Through the transformation of neurophysiology, anxiety can be quelled. Better internal balance can develop. More stable and functional connections within the brain reflect in more productive and compassionate connections with the environment and its inhabitants. Relating well to the world and contributing to it require much more than overresponding or withdrawing because previous experiences have programmed the mind toward fearful responses.
Much has been written about this marvelous EEG neurofeedback technique. You can read my articles and books (marksteinberg.com) and the articulate explanations and research by others in this field (also, visit EEGinfo.com). My colleagues and I have administered many millions of EEG neurofeedback sessions with reliable and pervasively successful results for decades.
EEG neurofeedback has demonstrated its efficacy in releasing thousands of people from the shadows and shackles of debilitating anxiety.
Yet, we are only now scratching the surface for the potential of this treatment to lead the brain out of the darkness and terror that trauma can elicit.
Voice technology and EEG neurofeedback are effective and transformative treatments for all kinds of anxieties. Most people experience rapid and lasting relief, even if anxiety or phobias have plagued them for many years. For the socially anxious individual, eliminating anxiety is a necessary precursor; however, social anxiety is usually best treated with a more comprehensive approach that uses the technological interventions as a foundation, but which also includes coaching and behavioral methods to instill and reinforce new repertoires.
Here are the steps for appropriately and successfully treating social anxiety:
As described above, we use EEG neurofeedback and Voice Technology to eliminate anxiety. Voice Technology works immediately and is used to purge the “perturbations” or codes that keep negative emotions (including anxiety, fear, trauma, etc.) held in place. EEG neurofeedback trains the brain and nervous system to remain calm and self-regulated, especially in response to internal distress and environmental provocation. When anxiety is eliminated, flexibility to consider options, think and plan rationally, and perceive more objectively all become more available; thus, positive behavior change becomes more likely.
The socially anxious person typically obsesses over fears and fantasies about discomfort in the presence of others. He or she also avoids and procrastinates obligations and opportunities requiring social contact. I use a combination of Voice Technology and behavioral planning and contracting to overcome these impediments.
Because those with social anxiety avoid contact and withdraw from social interactions, they often have vague or unrealistic expectations and plans regarding social engagement. They need assistance in setting incremental goals and confidence-building steps to interact with others.
Commitment is key to changing behavior. Because the socially anxious person has “hit the wall” so often with overwhelming anxiety, the prospects for follow-through have dimmed. Consequently, the expectations for success and confidence have concurrently diminished. When inner anxiety is at bay, it’s possible to make a plan, commit, and execute the plan. Only then can realistic appraisals and adjustments be made.
Consistent communication with the mentor/therapist is vital for support, as well as assessment and interpretation of the patient’s experiences and perceptions. As the patient begins to explore and experiment with (or revisit) social interactions, emotional responses and control can be monitored and tempered.
Before and after social interactions, the patient and the therapist engage in the processes of anticipating what the social interactions might be like (possible scenarios and expected feelings), how the interactions proceed, and how the patient feels and thinks about what happened. This allows the patient to express concerns and feedback in a safe environment and to receive therapist feedback to help interpret the experiences more realistically and without projection or drama.
For example, based on what the patient reports, the therapist can highlight and reinforce the adaptive behaviors (e.g., “You took a chance, despite your apprehensions”… “You got through it without a panic attack”… “So-and-so told you it was good to see you”) and can challenge the patient’s negative assessments of the event and his performance (e.g., “Where is the evidence that people saw your anxiety or bad-mouthed you? Did anyone say anything to you to make that credible?”).
Socially anxious people habitually internalize (and may express) negative feelings and perceptions about their behaviors and the responses of others. They do this partly out of the need for reassurance, but also resulting from projections of their imagination that feed and reinforce their own negative and weak self-image.
For example, the patient may report that people looked down on him/her, that it was hard to make conversation and the conversation was phony or shallow, and/or that others could sense his/her anxiety. This creates the opportunity for the therapist to challenge these (probably erroneous) perceptions and conclusions by asking the patient to provide concrete evidence to support these interpretations and associated feelings. By systematically eliminating anxiety and subsequently challenging the habitual negative interpretations of social events and performances, the therapist and patient can build new and more realistic constructions of how the patient acted and how such actions came across to others. This is known as covert assessment and reality testing.
Using the “inch-by-inch, life’s a cinch; yard-by-yard, life is hard” model, the therapist can help the socially uncomfortable patient make small, incremental inroads toward increasing social overtures and experiences and developing new and more flexible repertoires that build competence and confidence.
The therapist can suggest and encourage social behaviors including get-togethers, phone and electronic communications, and skills and habits to brainstorm, initiate, and respond to social opportunities.
It’s often (but not universally) the case that socially anxious people have awkward or underdeveloped interactional skills. Though their emotional responses are exaggerated and also underpinned by traumas, the reality bases of their social experiences may indeed incorporate inadequate social behaviors on their part. Therefore, in some cases, teaching social skills supports and refines the process of building social comfort and productive participation. Here are some components of building social skills:
It is fundamental and necessary to conquer anxiety. This begins with the brain and nervous system. Then, success generates to the real world, expanding outward and achieving modest and increasing successes. When I treat people for phobias, such as fear of flying, success in eliminating the fear is accomplished in almost one hundred percent of cases in the first session. Then, the acid test is when the person flies without anxiety (or medication), thereupon building and reinforcing actual reality-based, real-time success in overcoming the problem. Repetition of success builds habit and confidence.
Similarly, the person who has withdrawn and ruminated for years must be healed and gradually introduced, taught, and reinforced for real world successes. It can be done!