Overcoming Avoidant Personality and Social Anxiety, part 2 – introduction to practice

brave_kid_small_bwLet me introduce methods and practices targeting all different negative aspects of Social Anxiety and Avoidant Personality Disorder. Connection building practices come first, followed by other areas that need improvement. Every practice is described in one or two sentences. More details will be provided in the subsequent posts.

I. Building connections with others

  • Loving kindness meditation. Under this “too sweet to be serious” name lies popular and effective meditation technique. It’s based on repeating in mind certain sentences aimed at a particular person. The goal is to evoke positive emotions toward this person.
  • Imaginative techniques. These techniques consist of simply imagining the connection. It may be just visualizing friendly hugging the other person, being part of multi-person connected organism or having some magical link between two of us. The possibilities are infinite.
  • Observational techniques. These ones are aimed at building multidimensional view of others. Acknowledging the others as deep and complicated beings consisting of a variety of small unique features, not only good and beautiful ones, but also bad and ugly. This is a foundation of genuine, mature, multi-threaded connection.
  • Connecting with difficult people. Difficult do not mean necessarily bad, but the ones that evoke negative emotions in us. Being able to connect to such people not only builds new connections in our personality, but also has the power to fix or dismantle the old, rejecting, ones. It is especially beneficial, but can be very difficult because of repulsive emotions. I will show how canalizing the negative emotion and imaginative techniques opens the space for positive connections.

II. Building connection with yourself

  • Breath and body meditation. By integrating your mind and your body this method works against the imprinted engulfment connections. It also soothes noisy parts of your mind and facilitates the access to your personality, making other techniques more effective. Very simple in theory and really powerful, if practiced on a regular basis.
  • disclaimer: each form of meditation presented here is advised to be practiced in secular form

III. Starve your defence mechanisms

Defence mechanisms create the covering layers over damaged parts of your personality constructing the false reality projected into them. Though meant to be protecting, they are toxic and greatly impede healing efforts.
This part is mostly about inhibiting the behaviours feeding the defense mechanisms. Together with connection building techniques it should gradually dismantle them.

  • Schizoid defence. This one is mostly about daydreaming. Creating fantasy world or imaginary situation in which we feel good. Such daydreaming builds nothing and drags you deeper into fantasy, weakening the connection with the real world. Just stop doing this.
  • Histrionic defence. This one is aimed at inducing behaviours bringing attention to yourself. Histrionic defence use the attention as proof of not being rejected. Seemingly lacking in Avoidants, is present in more subtle forms. One of the examples is excessive joking.
  • Narcissistic defence. Very important and often well developed in Avoidants. This one is especially harmful because by inducing the sense of being special it greatly extends the situation when we feel ashamed. It is because the real self image is not complying with narcissistic ideal self image. Sneaky one and hard to be targeted.
  • Alcohol usage. Alcohol eases the social anxiety, but it does it by brutally disrupting the whole personality functioning. Even if you act confident under the alcohol influence it is very unlikely that in this disruptive state anything could be built. Not mentioning obvious negative implications on brain cells and general health. Simply avoid.

IV. Sexual problems

  • Lack of intimate and sexual experiences and painful longing for them is a serious problem. The short term remedy lies in better grasping the sense of this important area of our life. It helps to understand that life is not a pleasure seeking competition, and that people frequently changing sexual partners are also unhappy and disordered.
  • Sexual dysfunctions are common among people with Social Anxiety spectrum. These problems bring a big disappointment to individuals that were able to establish intimate relationship despite all the odds and were hoping that reciprocated love is just enough for happy relation. I will present the explanations of some of the problems and describe how and why meditation and Sensate Focus therapy may help overcoming them.
  • Pornography is the example of an escape to the fictional world. Often the most enjoyable is watching disconnected, purely physical sex, or the one reflecting in magnifying glass the same distortion in human relations that sufferer were taught as a small child. It can only reinforce the existing problems with human relations – avoid.

V. Dealing with difficult emotions.

All the methods presented above are long running ones. There is no magic way to quickly turn off shame, humiliation, envy, hate, sadness and other painful feeling. It doesn’t mean that nothing can be done in the short run. Some methods were already mentioned in the part introducing dealing with difficult people. Here will be presented simple, but not so intuitive, meditation techniques that make troublesome feelings more bearable by focusing on just feeling them, instead of compulsive thinking about or running from them.

VI. General advices

Comfort zone

The common view is that leaving a comfort zone is necessary to make a significant progress. This is true, but it must be understood in correct proportions. For Avoidants almost every encounter with other people is marked by fear of shame. They are outside their comfort zone most of the time, especially where around people. It doesn’t seem to improve their condition and going further away will also not help.
The change occurs if one is able to manage the uncomfortable situation on his own in a healthy way. This also means that the situation should be only slightly uncomfortable to be manageable. The Avoidants, both lack the internal capability to manage even simple social situations, and are most often too overwhelmed by fear and shame to even try.

Because of the above the opposite is necessary for the start. You need to enhance the comfort zone to make space for your battle. Avoid situations that impose too much fear or shame on you. If you’re working, choose a work that does not expose you too much to unknown people. Do not entangle with friends that may be too engulfing or rejecting. Generally, do not make decisions that may put you into unmanageable social situations, now or in the future. Otherwise, you will be constantly overwhelmed by fear, which will preclude effective self work. Having your own place where you can calm down and practice meditation is of further benefit.
Exposing yourself to too mortifying social situations may deteriorate your conditions, by enhancing toxic defence mechanisms.

Adapt your needs to disorder severity, people with moderate Social Anxiety experience less fear and already has a larger natural comfort zone.

Some self work methods can be practiced from within your comfort zone and some involve trips outside. In particular, forming connections with difficult people is always involved with leaving the comfort zone, either during or before the practice. For a person suffering from AvPD, the everyday grocery shopping may be well enough frightening. For moderate social anxiety, more active social involvement may be necessary.

Be gentle with yourself, it should be therapy not torture.

Persistence

The importance of this cannot be overestimated, as rebuilding your personality will take thousands of hours. To be effective it needs to be done as often as possible. Spend on it every time you can. Suite the techniques to the situations. Use short, simple ones at work, in school, when walking or taking a bus. Longer ones, like meditation, are best when home alone (without Kevin).

It will take months for the effects to be visible and years to be recovered, you will fall more than once during this time. Just stand up every time you fell, again and again and again, no matter how often it happens and how long you were lying. Do not feel guilty for falling down, it’s a human thing.

Load your batteries.

Enjoy the life to the level it is possible for you. You must load your battery from time to time. Do anything that you find enjoyable and what leaves you in a better mood.

Remember that you are part of the nature, if you’ll sit alone at home too long, your spirit will go down. It is necessary to go outside from time to time to the places with people or trees. Walk, watch the nature and don’t think too much.
Going to the movie theater or jogging outside will be too frightening for some sufferers, but if it isn’t for you, it may be a good form of being with the nature or people combining with other beneficial experience.

VII. Broaden your knowledge.

Read good books, watch good movies. About people, about mental health. Whatever. Just make sure that this is something worth reading and interesting to you.
Social anxiety reduces social contacts and distorts the view of others. Therefore, people with this condition have superficial knowledge about other human being’s emotional life. Reading books and watching movies, that in depth and authentically present human behavior and emotions, will help fill this gap.

Self-help books

There are many books about overcoming shyness, which incorporate manipulative approaches. They differ profoundly from methods presented here:

  • They weaken the anxiety by further isolating you from other people, reducing them to mere objects not humans. On the personality level they move you toward the narcissistic or sociopathic spectrum. They may reduce the shame and fear, but it’s replacing one disorder with another.
  • For people with Avoidant Personality and most people suffering from Social Anxiety they are useless, because the entry level is too high. The methods presented there are just too frightening to be even tried.

Of course, there are self-help books that are worth reading, and even the bad ones may have some good advices. Just read with caution.

 

Will continue in the next post, with more details about connection practices.

4 thoughts on “Overcoming Avoidant Personality and Social Anxiety, part 2 – introduction to practice

  1. Hi lonelypsychology,
    Just wanting a clarification of “in secular form” under the dot point of breath and body meditation. Do you mean practice each of the techniques described above by themselves and not to mesh them together?
    Many thanks 🙂

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  2. Hello Benny,
    No. By “secular”, I mean “non-religious”.
    The origins of meditation techniques lie in Hindu and Buddhist religions. Here I advise to practice the “westernised” version of meditation that does not contain any religious content.
    I’m not claiming that non-religious versions are necessarily better, they are just universal, able to be practiced by a member of any religion as well as agnostics and atheists.
    Thank you for your question 🙂
    Jarek

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  3. Hi Jarek!

    I have read all your Quora answers and a few posts here on the blog and I must say: you possess the best understanding & you are the best writer about AvPD on the internet! Thank you for that!

    You literally understand me better than anyone I have ever known even though we never met. All because we have the same condition and you understand yourself. Crazy how stuff works…

    I have some questions too:

    1. You seem to mostly attack the problem by building connections in your mind to others. I had the same idea as soon as I learned about metta. However, connection to others seems to be only part of the problem of AvPD, and a bigger problem (and the root) seems to be the lack of an authentic self & inferiority. Do you think that will take care of itself by just practicing metta/connecting to others?

    How about exercises that involve self-support & nurturing yourself? Validating yourself, telling yourself positive stuff about yourself. Maybe imagining a painful event and a compassionate friend being on your side?

    I have never seriously and consistently practiced any of the solutions that I’ve came up with, unfortunately. Except mindfulness meditation but that is not so much AvPD related. So I don’t know if they work long term. My adult years have so far been turbulent and it’s hard to practice methods you don’t believe very much in.

    2. Do you think a relationship helps an AvPD sufferer? Did your relationship help you?
    I had the idea that having a relationship with a women that has a lot of love to give (secure attachment) might help an AvPD person. You know that type of people. Very accepting, high self-esteem, non-judgmental, loving. Basically, having “good childhood” written all over them. (I used to be annoyed by those people when I was younger because they were everything I wanted to be lol). No idea why such a women would want to have anything to do with me but let’s just speak hypothetically lol.

    Took me about 20 minutes to write this (and I’ve gotten better over the years) lol.

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