Social Anxiety. Why Do We Resist Recovery?

Robert F, Mullen, Ph.D.
Director/ReChanneling.

This is a draft of the chapter on Resistance in my upcoming book on moderating social anxiety disorder and its comorbidities. I present this as an opportunity for others to share their feelings and constructive criticism – suggestions that I will gratefully evaluate as I work to ensure the most beneficial product to those with emotional dysfunction (which is all of us to some degree). Please forward your comments in the form provided below.

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Overcoming Our Resistance

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Why begin this chapter with an obscure, 2,500-year-old quote about Chinese battle tactics? Because we must declare war on our social anxiety disorder if we are to conquer it. Make no mistake about it, SAD is the enemy, and it is devious and manipulative. If we are going to win this war, then we must educate ourselves about the symptoms and characteristics of our emotional dysfunction, and how they individually impact us. Roughly forty million U.S. adults and adolescents find themselves caught up in this devasting and lonely chasm of fear and avoidance of social connectedness. Statistics tell us that roughly a third of those seek recovery,  but what about the millions who choose not to reveal their condition or pretend it does not exist. Our resistance to recovery is formidable.

SAD makes us feel helpless and hopeless, trapped in a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety, and restricted from living a ‘normal’ life. We alienate and detach – loners consumed by trepidation. Our fear of disapproval is so severe we avoid the life-affirming experiences that connect us with others and the world. We fear the unknown and unexplored. We endure anxiety for weeks before an event and anticipate the worst. We worry about how others perceive us and how we express ourselves. We have tried everything to overcome our condition and have achieved little, which makes us incompetent and worthless. Why bother, we tell ourselves. 

Change is difficult for everyone; we are hard-wired to resist it. Our bodies and brains are structured to attack anything that disrupts their equilibrium. A new diet or exercise regime produces physiological changes in our heart rate, metabolism, and respiration. Inertia senses and resists these changes, while our brain’s basal ganglia gang up against any modification in our patterns of behavior. Thus, habits like smoking or gambling are hard to break, and new undertakings like recovery, challenging to maintain. The irony, of course, is that change is constant and inevitable. We shed and regrow fifty million skin cells daily. Our bones regenerate every few months, and our entire skeletal system in a decade. Our neural network continuously readapts and realigns to new information and experience. What we fear most is happening to us every second of every day.

We resist recovery because of our emotional baggage. Our inherent negative bias predisposes us to focus on unhealthy experiences. We feel inferior and abnormal, consumed by shame and guilt even though SAD is not our fault but the result of early developmental disturbance. Cumulative evidence that a toxic childhood is a primary causal factor in lifetime emotional instability has been well-established.

Any number of things can precipitate childhood disturbance. Our parents are controlling or do not provide sufficient emotional validation. Perhaps we were subject to gender bullying or a broken home. The disturbance can be real or imagined, intentional or accidental. A toddler who finds their parental quality time interrupted by a phone call can sense abandonment, which can generate core beliefs of unworthiness and insignificance. This is important when it comes to attributing blame or accountability for our SAD because of the possibility no one is responsible. Certainly not us as children. We are not accountable for onset, although the onus is on us to do something about it. While not liable for the cards we have been dealt, we are responsible for how we play the hand we have been given. In recovery, we focus on the solution; the cause, while not inconsequential, factors little. 

SEE Anatomy of Recovery and Empowerment Workshops

Yet we beat ourselves up daily for our perceptual inadequacies. We linger in depression, we drink or drug ourselves immoderately. We blame ourselves for our defects as if they are the pervading forces of our true being, rather than symptoms of our dysfunction. SAD does not define us. We are defined by our character strengths, virtues, and achievements. SAD is powerful, however. It compels us to reject our qualities, miring us in our self-destructive complacency.

We know in our hearts that recovery is the gateway to our emotional wellbeing and quality of life, yet we resist it. I am reminded of Al Pacino’s infamous film quote. “Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew, but I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.” Let me assure you, contrary to defeatist claims, recovery from SAD is not that difficult. It is boring and repetitive, but it is theoretically simple. 

So why do we resist? SAD sustains itself by convincing us we are unworthy and inconsequential. It is the enemy.

Society does not help. We are hard-wired to fear and ostracize anyone who hints at peculiarity. Individuals perceived as fragile or abnormal have suffered since the dawning of humankind. We fear emotional dysfunction because we see it in ourselves and scorn the reflection. And what do we often do when confronted by our weaknesses? We become the bully that hides the beast within. We prey on the vulnerable. 

We resist because society identifies us as weak aberrations and we accept the stereotype.

Our families share responsibility for our negative self-image. Parents and siblings hide their relationship with us or dispute our condition because they are ashamed. Throughout history, families have shouldered the blame for their child(s) emotional dysfunction because it is commonly accepted that it is either hereditary or the consequence of poor parenting.  Since the latter is likely, it is deemed unacceptable.

We resist because we cannot break the parental chain of emotional abuse.

The sensationalist media stereotypes us as annoying, dramatic, and peculiar. Films portray us as unpredictable and dangerous schizophrenics. Nearly half of U.S. stories on emotional dysfunction allude to violence. Now, of course, mean-spirited individuals anonymously spew their idiocies on social media. 

We resist because we have been inundated by hostile and ignorant personal attacks.

Finally, we are at the mercy of the pathographic focus on emotional dysfunction. The current psychological perspective focuses on our negative behavior rather than our positive achievements. Simply put, the disease model tells us what is wrong with us. Recovery is not achieved by focusing on our SAD-induced negative self-beliefs and image but on our character strengths and capabilities. 

We resist because healthcare experts emphasize the problem rather than the solution.

Our inability or unwillingness to fully embrace our emotional dysfunction is a major impediment to our recovery. Many of us deliberately choose to remain ignorant of SADs destructive capabilities or go to enormous lengths to remain oblivious to its symptoms and traits as if, by ignoring them, they do not exist or will somehow go away.

We are faced with a simple choice. We can do nothing and continue to live in fear, victims of our self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, or we can challenge SAD and take control of our life. If we choose the latter, then we must overcome our resistance. There is no other way. Only unequivocal acceptance of our condition and our willingness to change motivates us toward transformation.

The onus for recovery falls on us notwithstanding the causes of our condition. The perception of impotence–the belief that we are not the steward of our behavior is an unhealthy misconception that severely inhibits our potential for transformation. We are the agents of change, of personal evolution. Expecting anyone else to do it for us is foolhardy and futile. We are the captain of our ship; anxiety is just a passenger.

SAD thrives by our complacency and irrationality. Our SAD-provoking self-abuse is irrational.  We were not put on this earth to hurt ourselves. That flies in the face of universal law and common sense. Yet, we have stayed on our self-destructive trajectory since childhood. So where do we go from here? The first step is to overcome our resistance. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and comfortable shoes. The single step is non-resistance; the shoes are self-reliance and self-appreciation.

Our resistance compels us to settle even though we are disillusioned by our toxic condition and secretly crave a healthy alternative. These dual modes of desperation manifest in an inner contradiction, pitting fear against desire, in essence, shutting us down. We close ourselves off to innovative ideas and concepts. We let nothing in. We stay embrangled in our perceptions of incompetence and inferiority.

Resistance is borne by childish intransigence and underscored by antipathy and dread. It is the dam that stems the river’s flow, counterintuitive to evolution and the natural order. The universe is fluid and constantly adapting. In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu tells us “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Do not resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Motivational gurus describe non-resistance as surrender. In recovery, we embrace it. Surrender is submission or concession. Embracement is willing and enthusiastic acceptance. That is what we must have to get well. Proactive neuroplasticity is our deliberate input of positive information to counter our life-consistent negative self-beliefs. Half measures or capitulation subverts the self-reliance and appreciation necessary for transformation.

Why is proactive neuroplasticity the most efficient means of recovery? We dramatically accelerate and consolidate recovery by consciously telling our neural network to repattern its circuitry. Our brain responds in multiple, positive ways. The deliberate, repetitive, neural input

of information empowers us to consciously transform our thoughts and behaviors, creating healthy new mindsets, skills, and abilities. It powers us to take control of our recovery.

One more symptom of resistance is our tendency to attack the value and effectiveness of something without experiencing it. We refute ideas and concepts without intelligent consideration. To offer a common colloquialism, don’t knock it if you haven‘t tried it. Consider the possibility. The self-recrimination for not having the presence of mind to even try is far more destructive than any form of rejection or failure.

For those who dispute its effectiveness, doubt is another manifestation of resistance, and It will not serve you well in recovery. Remember, the truth does not care what you believe; the truth is the truth.

We are engaged in a war that is not easily won. It is a life-consuming series of battles. The process of proactive neuroplasticity is theoretically simple but challenging, due to the commitment and endurance required for the long-term, repetitive process. We do not don tennis shorts and advance to Wimbledon without decades of practice with rackets and balls; philharmonics cater to pianists who have spent years at the keyboard. Neural restructuring requires a calculated regimen of deliberate, repetitive, neural information that is not only tedious but also fails to deliver immediate tangible results, causing us to readily concede defeat and abandon hope. However, once we initiate the process of recovery, utilizing the appropriate tools and techniques, progress is exponential.

Our nonresistance is evidence of our willingness to accept what is fundamentally our inheritance. When we commit to recovery, a broader dimension of consciousness opens up and we merge into the orderly flow of the universe. We are no longer isolated but accept our inherent role as a creative force as both inlet and outlet. As receivers and givers, we become entangled with society. By recognizing our inherent worth and potential, we allow the transformation.

The negative cycle we find ourselves in may have convinced us that there is something wrong with us. That is too simple a rationalization. Perhaps we are viewing ourselves and the world inaccurately. That is not our fault. SAD sustains itself by feeding us life-consistent irrational thoughts and behaviors. When we break our leg do we become that injured limb or are we simply an Individual with a broken leg? We are not our social anxiety.

When we remain conjoined with our social anxiety disorder, we continue to view ourselves as helpless, hopeless, undesirable, and worthless. These are our core self-beliefs as a result of childhood disturbance, something we will cover in more detail in Chapter Five. By dissociating ourselves from our condition, we view things more rationally because it is our dysfunction that compels us to think irrationally.

We realize we are not helpless. There are multiple resources available to anyone with the motivation and commitment to improving their emotional wellbeing and quality of life.

We are not hopeless unless we chose to be. We capitulate to despair to justify our fears. Once we recognize they are intangible, existing only in our imagination, we see them for what they are – SAD-provoking abstractions, powerless without our participation. Feelings of despair are not concrete but emotional states or reactions under our control. If we were truly devoid of hope, we would not be investigating avenues of recovery. 

We are not undesirable. SAD compels us to view life inaccurately. It reinforces or justifies our negative thoughts and behaviors. It convinces us our perceptions are the truth of a situation instead of interpretations. Assuming we know what others feel and think, and why they act the way they do is self-centered and illogical. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and SAD’s vision is myopic and jaundiced.

We are not worthless, but integral and consequential to all things, the ultimate, dynamic, creative ground of being and doing. Our life is an exquisite, creative work-in-progress, an integral force of nature. We are an agent of all future becomings. We are creativity itself, responsible for capturing, preserving, and passing along the entire history of the Universe. 

We are unique to every other entity; there is no one like us. We are the totality of our experiences, beliefs, perceptions, demands, and desires with individual DNA, fingerprints, and outer ears—no one shares our identities. There is and never has been a single human being with our sensibilities, our memories, our motivations, and our dreams.

The more formidable the challenge, the greater the adversity. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself and the greatest is that of the unknown. SAD sustains itself by inflicting anxiety and fear, but they have no power on their own. We fuel them; we give them strength and power. 

How do we defeat SAD? We outsmart it. We overcome it. We refute its authority. We challenge its legitimacy. Any new pursuit is uncharted waters and that is, by nature, scary. But with significant risk comes great reward. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the shadow of the unknown until we expose it to the light of rational response. That is why we must know the enemy and know ourselves and use this information to prepare for all contingencies. Confidence and mastery come through knowledge and preparation.

Social anxiety disorder is comorbid with multiple emotional dysfunctions including depression, substance abuse,  panic disorder, ADHD, PTSD, generalized anxiety, issues of self-esteem and motivation, and half-a-dozen other disorders. Proactive neuroplasticity and subsequently this book addresses emotional dysfunction in general because each originates with childhood disturbance and benefits, dramatically, from neural realignment.

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Comments, Suggestions, Constructive Criticism.

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WHY IS YOUR SUPPORT SO IMPORTANT?  ReChanneling develops and implements programs to (1) moderate symptoms of emotional dysfunction and (2) pursue personal goals and objectives – harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Our paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing scientific and clinically practical methods including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral modification, positive psychology, and techniques designed to reinvigorate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

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