Social anxiety is tough.
It is the natural weakness of us introverts. (Yes, I used be socially awkward, too.)
And it surprises me to find out how many of my readers are having the same problem.
To help my readers with this problem I personally overcame, I wrote a two-part series on how to tame your social anxiety.
In this first part of the series, I will explain the roots of social anxiety, and how you can apply Buddhism to find peace in every social interaction.
In the second post, I will actually teach you some social skills you can use even when you are nervous. I will also give you a step-by-step plan to becoming a social rock star, someone you always wanted to be.
(I might publish this second part on another blog as a guest post, in which case it might be published much later, but we will see.)
Anyway, back on topic.
If you are one of us socially awkward people, this is what you are probably like:
- You don’t like to talk.
- You hesitate to speak up in front of people.
- You don’t open up to people, including your close friends and relatives.
- You don’t want to look stupid in public.
- You don’t feel confident socially.
- You get anxious whenever there are people around you.
- You are self-conscious.
Of course, the list doesn’t end here.
But the thing is, you probably don’t know why you are like this.
And it is because of this, you can’t overcome it. Because you don’t even know where to start.
That’s why in Buddhism, we put a lot of emphasis on awareness and knowledge.
Truth is, you can only solve a problem when you know why it happens, and when it happens.
When I had social anxiety like you do, I was helpless. But when I began to investigate its causes, I was surprised. I actually saw a way out.
And it’s not only that.
When I turned to Buddhism, I even began to see many parallels between the path to spirituality and the path to defeating anxiety.
This post is what I learned from years of deep introspection, scientific research, spiritual practice and Buddhism studies, and how it all relates to overcoming social anxiety.
And now, I am going to share that with you.
After reading this post, you will understand the true cause of your anxiety, and how you can tame it by applying spiritual wisdom from the Buddha.
What You Need to Know Before We Get Started
First, let me tell you a little bit about Karma.
Karma is a natural force that determines all that happens in this world.
Buddhists believe what you did in your past life determines your present life: whether you are born healthy or ill, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, how your life will fare, and so on.
What will happen to you is already predestined. Karma has already decided that for you. We mortals cannot do much to change our fate.
(Just so I don’t sound defeatist, we can actually change our fate by doing certain things within the realm of Buddhism, in our current lives. But that’s another story.)
Why am I saying all this?
Because I want you to know that, just like we have very little control over our fate, you have very little over control how people will react to you socially.
Like Karma, how people will perceive you is already predestined.
Because everyone carries different Karma.
Let’s say you greet your neighbor meekly one day. She looks at you weird like you are a crazy person or something. Or worse, she simply ignores you.
Is this your fault?
No, not at all. And it isn’t her fault that she reacted like that too.
Maybe she had a bad experience with strangers. Maybe she just lost her mother and wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone. Maybe she was ill. Or maybe she has an upbringing that makes her anti-social or rude.
The reasons can be endless.
In any case, it is simply her Karma causing her to react this way to you. And it isn’t something you and I can ever control. It is not personal.
Don’t blame yourself for how people react to you. Really. Because you can’t control if people will like you or not.
So the first thing you need to do is this:
Give up to having everyone like you. It just won’t happen.
Remind yourself this fact over and over again, because this is the basis of what I am going to teach you below.
Why Social Anxiety Is Actually a Spiritual Problem
You are shy. Whenever people come near you, you freeze. Your heart beats faster and faster.
You can’t even move, let alone opening your mouth and producing some sounds.
Have you ever wondered why?
The reason is actually really simple: You don’t want to mess things up.
What do I mean by this?
You don’t want to say anything stupid. You don’t want to look dumb. You don’t want to act like a fool so people will think you are weird.
You want people to like you. And you don’t really know what to do.
So you freeze. Better safe than sorry, right?
Not really. In fact, how can people like you if you don’t give yourself a chance to meet anyone?
Truth is, if you don’t offer your friendship to anyone, no one is going to offer friendship to you. Yes, you are going to have to risk awkwardness. You are going to have to risk looking like a weirdo.
This goes together with what I have said before: some people will not like you no matter what you do. It is all predestined. It is a fact of life that all of us have to face.
But there are also people who will like you for who you are, too. There are invisible threads of fate that bring people together.
And those are the very people you want to be friends with.
Whenever you present yourself to another person, you take a social risk. It is like gambling, really. You take a bet in winning a new friend, but you also risk rejection and a nuclear hit on your ego.
Isn’t socializing nerve-wrecking? You know, speculating, gambling and taking risks on something that was never in your control to begin with?
Here’s the solution:
Be social without looking for anything in return.
In Mahayana Buddhism, this is called “Turning the Empty Wheel.”
Besides enlightenment, it is also every Buddhist’s goal to spread the teachings of the Buddha to the world. Otherwise, it is considered selfish for Buddhists to monopolize his wisdom and become enlightened themselves alone. (Tipitaka, Digha Nikaya, Lohicca Sutta)
But unlike reaching enlightenment, making everyone practice Buddhism is not something we can control. While we should strive to attain this goal, getting attached to how people receive our message is like getting attached to which direction the air flows.
So the Buddha tells us this:
While we should strive towards a goal, we should also realize the joy that we can find in the action itself. The result is secondary. It is empty in its core. It has no value. It means nothing to us.
Listen to the Buddha, dude knows his stuff.
Applying this wisdom, from now on, you only do one thing: be social.
Give up on making people like you. Give up on wishing people to be your friends. At the same time, give up on avoiding rejection. Give up on not creeping people out.
Go make people smile. Go make friends. Go get ignore. Go creep people out.
All these should mean nothing to you, because they are all fruits of Karma in essence. They are not something you can control. Why get hung up on them?
The only thing you can control is your own action, i.e. being social and opening up. This is the only thing you should worry about.
Whether people like you or not is none of your business. They like you, big deal. They reject you, no problem.
When good things happen, don’t get too happy. When bad things happen, don’t get too upset. Detach yourself from the results.
Turn the empty wheel. And you will be able to find joy in being social itself, without worrying about how others think of you.
Will You Start Your Journey to Peace and Freedom?
Now you understand what causes your social anxiety and how to solve it. Congratulations.
But this is only the beginning.
By now, you can see that you need to completely change your way of seeing social interactions, if you really want to get your anxiety under control.
And that’s not as easy as it sounds.
You might be now excited to try these teachings out. But when you are out there with peeps, you may still find yourself paralyzed.
But the good news?
All this comes down to is practice.
All you need to do now, is act. Contemplate, and remind yourself of these truths whenever you get nervous, and start opening up to people.
Then something magical will happen.
Each time you open up to people with these spiritual teachings in mind, you get closer to the true freedom that you have always wanted.
You will become a little more relaxed around people. You will become a little more “you”.
Slowly, you won’t see to need to hide anymore. You will realize that you don’t have to act or to put on a persona just to be liked by somebody else.
And you will start to attract friends – true friends – who like you for who you really are.
Isn’t that everybody’s dream?
I know all this is hard for you. I really do.
But with that dream now within your reach, you don’t have to wait anymore.
Your friends are waiting for you.
What to Do Next
I don’t want to leave you empty-handed with all this talk.
I know when you read posts like this, you want something to act on. Things that are practical. Things that you can actually do. Not just conceptual ideas.
So, to get you started with your journey to become more confident socially, I wrote the 7 Spiritual Steps To Social Confidence, a simple action list you can download for free.
It is a step-by-step guide with actionable items you can do right now to start freeing yourself from social anxiety. You can also revisit this post in the same document.