ACCEPTANCE PART IV – PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Suppose you have a bad case of social anxiety. You’re not too outgoing unless among friends and you become a total wallflower when with folks you don’t know. Generally, when you’re in a room full of strangers you look for the exit.
So here you are. Your boss has sent you to represent your company at a social function with reps from other companies, both local and out of town, to hear a presentation on improving employee morale. You walk into the room and fear strikes your heart as you look around and realize you don’t know anyone! And then the critical introspective examinations begin: “I’m going to look and sound like a total idiot.” “They’re all going to wonder, ‘Who’s that poor soul without a friend in the world?’” “I’ll never make it through this thing.” “I’ll just grab a drink, hang out at the food table, and wait for the program to begin. Maybe hanging in the restroom would be better.”
Where is your focus? It’s directly on the negative emotion you’re feeling, and you’re obsessed with how to avoid or escape the emotion. You are also focused on putting yourself down by assuming you will be the laughing stock of the room, so you create a pessimistic self-fulfilling prediction that you will fail. You are defining yourself by your undesirable emotion; you are thinking irrationally and assuming that you are not living up to expectations of others; you are seeking an avoidance strategy so you don’t have to confront and accept your fears.
Are there other, more effective coping strategies you might use to turn the situation into a challenge and not a threat? Of course there are. You can engage in some deep breathing exercises and other mental techniques to relax you a bit. (In a future blog we will take a look at some of these calming methods.) You can challenge your irrational thinking: “Let’s face it, no one is paying the least bit of attention to me and my anxiety, and they might even know someone at my company if I bother to tell them where I work. Just head for the food and ask some folks where they work and let things go from there. Ask if they know the presenter, have ever heard her before, or ever been to an event like this. Simple stuff, small talk. These people are not here to judge me.”
Self-talk like this will help you stop trying to avoid your uncomfortable emotions. If you consider specific actions to take that allow you to behave within the reality of the emotions, you will feel much more in control of your thoughts and behavior. You will feel greatly empowered to confront and challenge situations that bring you fear and anxiety. Remember: The key is to focus on things under your control. In the example given, you have no control over the other people in the room; you do, however, have control over your thoughts and the actions you can perform to make those thoughts work for you, not against you.
The essential core that holds everything together is acceptance. Growing to accept yourself and your emotions is a process, a way of living and interacting with others. It takes preparation, practice, and effort. Acceptance grows out of a type of thinking and acting that focuses on being realistic, not irrational; it emerges from facing your conflicts and anxieties, not avoiding them; it is based on positive, not negative, actions and thoughts, as long as your optimism is realistic and not pie-in-the-sky fantasy.
Perhaps most of all, acceptance is based on a personal system of values and standards that provide you with a social conscience and give your life purpose and meaning. Your values give you the ability to act independently, and result in actions and thoughts that will provide you with a sense of satisfaction and productivity. Cultivate a value system that allows you to venture outside of yourself. Remember, when it comes to effective coping it’s not all about you.