Recently God gave me a picture to better understand my social anxiety. When I’m filled with anxiety, it’s like I’m carrying a giant mirror into social situations. This mirror causes my normally others-focused personality to become self-absorbed.
In these moments, it is especially difficult for me to be present to what people are truly saying or needing. Instead, my mind is racing with self-focused thoughts and questions. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to keep a conversation going because I’m not truly listening to what the other person is saying. Instead I’m worrying about how they perceive me or what they’re thinking about me. After leaving social situations, the self-analysis gets even stronger. I’ll obsess over stupid things I did or said. Or I’ll be extremely hard on myself about anything that felt awkward or unnatural.
Honestly, this is probably the most frustrating thing about my anxiety. One of my greatest joys in life is connecting with people and trying to understand them and their unique perspectives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt discouraged by how my social anxiety gets in the way of the very thing that brings me so much purpose and life— authentic connection with others.
As God has led me into to deeper freedom, He’s invited me to drop the mirror of self-focus. Instead, the Lord has been encouraging me to approach social situations as though I’m looking through a window. Rather than focusing inward on what people are thinking of me, I’m trying to enter situations with eyes focused outward on the people around me.
What a freeing perspective! When I take my eyes off of myself, I have eyes to see others who are lonely, anxious, or in need. This frees me to truly get to know people and understand their unique stories and personalities. And I find that when I focus on the people around me, I completely forget about my own anxiety.
God doesn’t mean for us to live lives stuck in self-absorption. He wants so much more for us than that.
I’m slowly discovering the freedom and joy that comes from approaching life looking through a window, not a mirror.