For many, social gatherings can be a nightmare. Prior to the event they may become panic stricken at the thought of being around other people. They agonize over what to wear and how they look. Beneath the surface there is an overwhelming fear of people seeing how worthless they feel. As a result they try to figure out how other people want them to act and begin acting that way, continually changing their behavior based on who they are interacting with. They are too afraid and ashamed to share their true self, yet at the same time they internalize feelings of sadness and anger at not being truly seen or heard. Even if someone actually were to see them and accept them, they would not believe that it was real, and would find reasons to justify their belief.
Typically these thoughts are accompanied by physiological responses including excessive sweating and clammy hands, increased heart rate, digestive issues, headaches, red blotchy skin, and muscle tension to name a few. Sometimes the person will try to compensate for this extreme tension by excessive drinking or use of drugs, which in actuality only ends up further marginalizing them and preventing real contact. In fact, they end up presenting themselves in a negative manner.
And if that wasn’t enough, once the event is over the next couple of hours or sometimes days are spent replaying every conversation and interaction. They search for reasons that could result in someone rejecting them. They are awash in internal panic, agitated mentally and physically.
IFT provides effective treatment for social anxiety, because it deals with both its physical and psychological components. Clients are guided to release the overlying tension, to seek out the feeling that resides at its root. They are supported to find their voice and speak their truth. Often they will start by saying out loud something like, “I just don’t understand why I need them to like me. I am afraid they will see how insecure, scared, and worthless I feel. Why don’t they see me? Why are they hurting me? I don’t need any of them anyway!” Although these statements are valid they are just words, not yet mind/body connected. The IFT therapist guides the client to breathe into their body and to connect with the emotion that sits beneath the words. Once the client connects their body and mind to these root feelings, healing begins. The intensity of their panic, fear and distorted thinking diminishes. They begin to view the world through a much different lens, which allows them to clearly see how they interact in social functions. As this occurs they will then have the opportunity to consciously change their behaviors and create new positive experiences.