A friend of mine recommended a book by Gillian Butler entitled “Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness”. I finished it this morning. It was a good read.
It seems that there are many people who suffer silently from a paralyzing fear of certain type of social events (yours truly included) and the book accurately describes the thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns of those caught in the cycle of these types of fear. In a simple but clear manner the author lays out a few simple clear self-help strategies to encourage people first to face and then to overcome these paralyzing fears.
The first strategy is to reduce self-consciousness by steering one’s attention away from the inner emotional turmoil to the actual context in which one is actually experiencing paralysis. The second strategy is to alter the “automatic” thinking processes triggered by the event, especially the negative ones. The third strategy is to try to do things a little differently by not engaging in “avoidance” behaviours. These strategies will eventually encourage a growth in confidence in one’s ability to “weather the storms”. The book develops each of these strategies in considerable detail. Each strategy is accompanied by a work-sheet so that one can work through the steps in a methodical manner.
One of the more interesting observations was that common activities or projects to help other groups like the disabled or the elderly can have a positive impact in helping one to overcome social anxiety.
It was interesting to read a book encouraging mental health but based entirely on a secular psychological world view. There was a passing reference to the fact that religious belief systems can either help or hinder the process of overcoming the anxiety. I found myself reading the activity sheets with a view to preparing my next prayer session but that way of proceeding was mine and not from the author.
Ms. Butler sketched some possible causes of the social fear and anxiety but her focus was not really on understanding the particular history of the phobia but on ways to overcome it once it is being experienced.
Yet from my own reflection, it seems that one cause could be growing up in an environment where one is criticized or humiliated regularly. One response would then be to withdraw inside oneself to try to pass unnoticed. This could then trigger an inner unexpressed anger with those in authority which could lead to other addictive type behaviours later on.
It is clear that many Cambodian young people experience high levels of stress. Many are fearful and will not speak in public. It is at least possible that respect for authority has been so strongly internalized by them that it has become a paralysis, preventing the young people from acting creatively and freely in society. When they do speak in public, it appears often that they are simply repeating someone else’s song sheet rather than sharing their own personal attitudes and convictions. They might be afraid to do that. No-one will take them seriously etc.
I might try to develop this insight into a thesis that “social anxiety among Khmer youth has become pathological and needs new public and privates spaces to allow healing”.