Social anxiety is part of what makes us human. We all want to belong, and social anxiety helps us to moderate our behaviour so we remember to leave the house with our pants on! Some level of social anxiety is helpful, but how do we know when our worries about making a social gaffe have become a problem?
Dr Eric Goodman specialises in helping those with debilitating levels of social anxiety. He knows that many people are walking around with a secret: they experience social anxiety!
At the same time, they are bombarded by messages from books, articles and gurus that lead them to believe that social anxiety is a disease that needs to be cured. Consequently, along with social anxiety, they carry shame " believing that there is something wrong with them that must be fixed before they can live a 'normal' life. Often, they are waiting for the magical day when their social anxiety vanishes forever before pursuing their social goals, such as increasing friendships, finding a romantic partner, or advancing in their career. The problem is that social anxiety is normal and, to some degree, it will remain a lifelong companion. Social Courage presents a step‐by‐step, structured program for minimising suffering in the face of social anxiety while giving readers the tools to boldly go towards their social goals. It combines strategies from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Compassion‐Focused Therapy to form 'CBT 2.0', to help readers cope and thrive with anxious thoughts and emotions using practical exercises and case studies. Whether readers are struggling with social anxiety of phobic proportions or are just held back when it comes to public speaking or meeting a specific social goal, Social Courage presents a path forward while minimising suffering along the way.
Dr Eric Goodman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, author and speaker who specialises in helping people face their social fears and anxiety disorders. He has been a lecturer at Northeastern University and California Polytechnic State University. In addition to his private practice in San Luis Obispo, California, he runs Social Courage groups and retreats. When he is not busy 'scaring' his clients, he can be found scaring his three kids and patient wife .
Author: Dr Eric Goodman
Question: What inspired you to write Social Courage?
Dr Eric Goodman: Social anxiety is too often seen as a disease to be cured or an enemy that needs to be vanquished. Most clients that come to me with concerns about social anxiety want it gone…all of it!
The problem is that social anxiety is a normal human experience-we are hard-wired to have at least some social wariness in at least some situations. In this age of digital bombardment of images of social perfection people often mistakenly compare their inner experience of anxiety with other people's external appearance of "It's all good." When that happens, they may feel ashamed of experiencing social anxiety.
I wrote Social Courage to counter those messages. I want to help people realise that it is okay to experience social anxiety. I want to teach them how to suffer less when it shows up, how to prevent their anxiety from turning phobic, and what to do when that happens.
Question: How do we know if our worries are becoming a problem?
Dr Eric Goodman: If you are avoiding valued social goals such as dating, friendships, or career advancement-until anxiety vanishes, then social anxiety has become a problem.
Some people go after their social goals, but hide behind a facade of perfection (and live in fear of being "found out") or they numb themselves through addictive behaviour-which later increases anxiety.
If you are avoiding social situations or running from the feeling of social anxiety itself, then you may be experiencing phobic social anxiety (similar to being phobic of flying, spiders, or New Zealand).
Question: Can you share some of the advice for minimising the suffering of social anxiety featured in Social Courage?
Dr Eric Goodman: Anxiety can make you feel like you are on a rollercoaster.
There are a couple of ways to approach a rollercoaster. One is to grip the safety harness for dear life, close your eyes, call yourself a big-baby, and then try to distract yourself by adding up the amount of money you paid for the experience! Not only do you not escape the ride, but you suffer throughout it.
The other way is to let go and open up to the fear rather than fight it. You go with the flow-with the fear. This way typically leads to less suffering and maybe even enjoyment, despite the fear.
The next time you are on a first date, let go of struggling with your feelings and flow along with the ride and the anxiety. Hold the anxiety softly and with compassion-see that anxiety is not your enemy-it is just worries that your date might turn out to be a rabid dingo (though I have never been to Australia and wouldn't presume to judge). You teach your anxiety that your date is not a dingo by showing up rather than avoiding.
Your sense of suffering will be less if you stop berating yourself for being "weak" or "diseased" just because your nervous system is trying to do its job (protecting you from ferocious dingoes). And, you get to see that when you bring your anxiety on your date with you, eventually it will learn what you already know-that the dingo has no teeth-which will dampen the alarm bells over time.
Question: What advice do you have for those of us who struggle with public speaking?
Dr Eric Goodman: First, remember that you are not alone. People are more afraid of public speaking than their own death. Take the steps described above to minimize suffering while you seek out every opportunity to public speak. Anxiety learns best through lots of repetition.
Watch out for safety behaviours such as perfectionism, obsessively over-prepping (or avoiding prepping all together),
"white knuckling," or rushing to get it over with.
Slow-it down, remember that you are not "performing" but talking to nice people. Focus externally, so you can notice the safety of the situation rather than being internally-focused-that's where the dingoes live!
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Author: Dr Eric Goodman