Social Anxiety Help is a founding regional clinic of the National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC):
My name is Dave and I'm a 37-year old straight, white male who grew up in an upper-middle-class home in the United States.
As a teenager, I struggled with shyness and low self-esteem, specifically with regard to my physical appearance and feelings of attractiveness. When my family moved to a new state when I was 15, it proved so difficult for me to come out of my shell and make friends, I did the opposite by withdrawing completely.
I told myself I'd start over in college, which I did by making some of the best male friends of my adult life in the first few days, but I continued to have little to no knowledge or experience in attracting and dating women.
This continued after college, as it only seemed to get harder in the real world. Each year that passed, I felt more and more embarrassed about my lack of experience with women. This created a negative feedback loop as it affected my self-esteem, thus making it increasingly difficult for me to gain the courage to gain the experience I so desired.
Finally, at the age of 25, I learned about social anxiety disorder when a coworker mentioned she had been living with it, and taking prescription drugs to keep her anxiety in check. She seemed completely normal to me - young, attractive, friendly.
My curiosity led me to the internet where I learned the telltale symptoms. Everything I read reminded me of myself and my experiences. Until then, I was fully aware of my introverted nature and tendency to be shy, however I was unaware of the degree to which my thoughts and perceptions had been distorted by negative self-talk.
After reading about the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I was excited to find a CBT group in Washington, DC led by Larry Cohen. Getting up the nerve to attend the free introductory session was a challenge, however the information I learned once there only made it easier for me to commit to the next 20-week class.
The therapy program was well-structured, and I learned that structure is exactly what I required to consistently work on overcoming my social anxiety. Experiments were performed on a weekly basis, and we had handouts which encouraged us to systematically record our thoughts and experiences between classes. Each member of the group was able to work at their own pace, and customize experiments to address their own particular fears. Being in a group environment allowed us to continuously provide feedback to one another. I was surprised to find how much I came to value my classmates' feedback.
We also used role playing to experience anxiety-provoking situations in a safe environment. Each week, Larry introduced us to a new technique for overcoming our anxieties. Examples include cognitive restructuring [changing our distorted thinking], visualization and relaxation techniques. Since we were exposed and encouraged to try a variety of techniques, we were each able to figure out which approach worked best. While we worked on experiments each week, later in the therapy, time was spent focusing on our core beliefs, those attitudes which define the way we see ourselves, others, and life in general. This deeper focus allowed me to greatly improve my self-esteem.
Twelve years later, I can still say my experience with Cognitive Behavior Therapy changed my life for the better. Between educating myself on social anxiety and learning proven techniques to overcome it, I left the group feeling as though I was better equipped to face my fears, and the world.
The early results manifested themselves in the workplace and amongst friends, but with additional time and effort, I began building the kind of dating life I always wanted too.
Today, my sense of self-esteem is strong, and only getting stronger. The ability to overcome social anxiety, and all the smaller fears that fed into it helped give me the courage to take big risks later in life. I left my last job and the United States at the end of 2007 for a dream trip around the world. I visited 20 countries in a little over a year, found a new home in South America, and transitioned into a new career as a travel writer and entrepreneur.
There were times in my teens and early 20s when I feared I'd never be in a relationship. Looking back, I'm beyond grateful that I never gave up on myself, nor the ability for me to create the life I desired. I only wish I'd learned about social anxiety and cognitive behavioral therapy sooner.
OTHER PERSONAL CHANGE STORIES
31-year-old gay, white man
"I can just be me....
I moved forward. I took a risk, and the result has paid itself out so many times!"
33-year-old African American female
"I needed to present this facade of perfection.
I didn't want to be another stereotype.
For me, I was representing my entire race
at such a young age, at 14."
33-year-old married, white woman
Maryland, suburban DC
"I felt like I didn't really fit in with most people...
I felt like I was just bad at having conversations,
that I never knew what to say."
30-year-old African-American woman
"I was bullied by all of my classmates....
I am a good person. No one can ever make fun of that."
(audio & written)
27-year-old Hispanic woman
Maryland, suburban DC
(immigrant from Peru)
"People are finally starting to see me differently.
I'm pretty confident that there are going to be more great things along the way
that are still there for me to discover later.
Social anxiety therapy has really changed my life."
44-year-old single, female nurse
"My life is different now.
I feel like I can be who I always was inside."
(audio and written)
56-year-old gay male, retired investment banker
"It is possible to find personal strength and happiness."
34-year-old Jewish man
Costa Rica, Central America
Maryland, suburban DC)
"I finally had the courage to do things I'd always hoped I'd be able to do"
33-year-old transgender, white woman
Maryland, suburban DC
"I fell into a core belief that
I'm fundamentally different and defective
and that I have nothing in common with
those I perceive to be 'normal.'"
26-year-old African American woman
"I was living too much in my head,
instead of being mindful and in the moment in social situations."
24-year-old gay man
"Did I fit in? Was I gay enough?"
29-year-old South Asian man
"Would people notice my nervousness?
Would I say something dumb?"
(National Public Radio audio broadcast)
57-year-old white lesbian
"Now it just seems like the experiments I did in the very beginning look so easy to me,
that I could do it without even thinking or without becoming at all nervous."
25-year-old white man
"Just having any person stopping by my cubicle at work
would bring feelings of trembling, blushing, sweating, and extreme tension."
If you have any questions or comments,
please email Larry Cohen, LICSW,
with offices in Washington, DC.