In a previous post on the topic of social phobia I mentioned that self-consciousness is key to understanding how the mind of someone with the condition works. In this post I want to look at some things you could try in order to lower your level of self-consciousness. For this to succeed we need to tip the balance from your current focus, which is internal in nature, towards a greater emphasis on what is happening around you.
It may be useful to remember that external focusing is something you already do in other situations. For example, becoming immersed in a movie, or a book, or a hobby such as photography or art. You already have the capability it’s just that it’s currently not being applied to yourself.
Think of external focusing as a skill that can be refined over time. Perhaps use something you do already as a focal point. Maybe when you watch a movie you could hit the pause button and look at how an actor is dressed. What combination of clothes are they wearing? What colors? How is their hair done, do they wear earrings, a tattoo? These are things you probably notice but perhaps not in a way that might be used in a social setting. You might imagine using some of this information (“I like your watch”, “that looks like a warm coat!”) as a means of conversation.
We all tend to find our attention wandering. This is perfectly normal so you shouldn’t become concerned that your focus sometimes shifts internally. I’m not thinking here about hunger or thirst pangs so much as self-consciousness. Be assured we all have to self-monitor to an extent otherwise we’d be saying and doing things that were entirely inappropriate. However it is true that the effort expended during social interactions can vary greatly from person to person.
There is something of a danger in focusing too much on any one thing, especially if it involves another person. Passing a comment about an item of clothing is one thing but nobody wants to be picked over. Learn to let your attention wander more freely. In a room there is invariably a picture, a style of furniture or even something that alerts your senses – it’s stuffy, cold, dimly lit and so forth. The onus of responsibility isn’t on you to entertain others but there comes a point when the person you are with maybe feels self-conscious they are doing all the talking or simply dry up. This is a time to practice your observations. “Do you find it cold in here?” “I just noticed that picture on the wall”, “Is this a photo of your family?” and so on.
The message, in summary, is first try switching your focus in non-threatening situations. Then experiment with people you are comfortable with. Try switching attention back and forth until you feel more comfortable with the idea. Notice how they differ with respect to how you feel, but understand these differences are normal. It isn’t easy shifting attention away from yourself if you’ve spent a lifetime feeling self-conscious. Time and practice help a great deal and the more you try the more likely it is your confidence will grow.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.