Growing through the Fear of Social Anxiety

fear social anxiety

Guest post by Justin Harmon

Growing up can be a real challenge. Add in an inner battle with a constant fear that comes with social anxiety doesn't make it any easier.

I’ve always been a socially awkward person. I never really knew how to talk to people. Except for a small group of close friends and my family, I always had a really hard time conversing with others.

It wasn’t always this way though. It used to be a lot worse.

Shy, Awkward, and Consumed by Fear

As a child I was extremely shy, nervous, and awkward. I did my best to make it through the school years without being noticed.

I never raised my hand in school, cried the night before having to give a speech, and when it came to talking to girls…forget about it.

When I got to high school, I had a close knit group of friends, so I wasn’t a complete mess. The shyness subsided some by then. I could actually make it through a day without someone discovering how pathetic I was.

Like I needed their approval.

Of course it was all in my mind, but there was nothing I could do to change it. I was too consumed with my own thoughts. Thinking about what others thought of me. Scared of being rejected. I wanted no part of it.

It felt a lot easier to hide in the shadows rather than risk the chance of being embarrassed, rejected, judged, or burned at the stake. That’s how serious it felt.

The Truth is Hidden

The truth is, of course I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to experience the feeling that came with being popular, good at sports, and smooth with the girls. I wanted other kids to notice me.

I just couldn’t find the courage to attempt any of it. I didn’t know how to change and really never tried.

I was so locked in my own mind with the fears of not being good enough, good looking enough, or cool enough, I just came to grips with it as my reality. And so, I made it through my school years without being noticed, just like I wanted.

Finding Some Relief

Graduating high school was a tremendous weight off my shoulders. Something about being in that place where my greatest inner fears were realized really did a number on me.

As soon as I was out, I started to come out of my shell. Out in the “real world”, I was able to be more myself and no longer carried the burden of being in a place that drew out my worst fears. I still carried the fear of being the center of attention and talking to people, but it was a little easier.

I wasn’t holding on to those fears on a daily basis like before. The more time went by, the better I became at letting go of my fear.

The fact that I wasn’t constantly consumed with the anxiety that came from thinking about my fears on a regular basis, made things easier. That’s until I was confronted with situations that brought them oozing to the surface of my thoughts.

When that happened, I turned around and ran as fast as I could. As long as I didn’t have to speak in front of a group of people, open up to others on a personal level, or do anything that drew too much attention to myself, I was good.

The problem with that was, it just wasn’t realistic. Unless I wanted to move to the mountains and became a hermit, which I didn’t.

Opportunity Presents Itself

Life went on and I slowly gained more confidence in social situations. The fears were still there, but I put them on the back burner, and carried through when I needed to.

When I was 23 something happened that led to facing my fears head on and gave me the opportunity to overcome them. I had just come back to Wisconsin after living in California for three months. The trip was meant as a chance to start over, but ended abruptly, and I had move back to Wisconsin.

It was that or live on the streets.

Growing through the Fear

I took the first job that was offered because I needed money to eat and had a car payment to come up with. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The job was working as a direct sales marketer. It was 100% commission based, so what I earned depended entirely upon me.

In order to make money, I had to go business to business trying to sell promotional products, which involved not only talking to people, but talking to as many people as I could.

I will admit, my greatest fears were realized, but it was my only option. I had to eat. I took it as a challenge and didn’t give myself a chance to be afraid.

I put all of my focus on what I needed to do and soaked in as much knowledge and advice as I could from my trainer. I mimicked his approach and just got to work. The first few days really helped build confidence in myself.

There was so much positivity and energy in the office everyday that really pumped me up, inspired, and gave me the courage I needed, and set the tone for each day.

Without even thinking about it, the fear of talking to people and the anxiety that came with it was gone. I was able talk to anyone without any worries. The more people I talked to, the easier it got.

It seemed my social phobia had finally been conquered. I was feeling more alive and sure of myself than I ever had. Here are some of the main points I feel contributed to pushing through my fears;

  • Inspiration

  • Motivation

  • Practice

  • Consistency

  • Perseverance

  • Courage Stays With You

My days as a direct sales marketer eventually came to an end, but the courage I found within to face my greatest fears, changed my life.

These days, I’m following my dreams of living life on my own terms and making a difference in the world, which I don’t think I’d be doing right now if it weren’t for the growth I experienced during my time as a peddler.

I still get a little anxious, nervous, and awkward in certain social situations, but I now have the courage to face it head on, rather than hide from it.

Like most things in life, overcoming fear is a growth process. It’s not about how fast you move forward, only that you do. What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. What fears have you had to grow through? What helped you move forward? Please share in the comments.

Author Bio: Justin inspires and empowers people to create more growth, wealth, and freedom in their life and business. He collaborates and works with those on a journey to live their dreams, follow their purpose, and change the world. Grab a free copy of The Road, a bi-weekly journal to inspire you to move forward on your journey. 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Melissa March 27, 2014, 7:22 am

    Thanks for sharing this Tess.

    I too had a lot of social anxiety and what you had to say really touched me. People misunderstood my anxiety for being ‘stuck up’. It was understandable because I wouldn’t acknowledge people at times when under the pressure of being in larger groups. My coping mechanism was to focus on one thing and go straight to that area. I would get so over stimulated with so much going on and that was the only way I could get through it. To focus… So if my ‘focus’ was a group or even a chair at the back of the room, all the people I would pass would not be ‘seen’ by me.

    I too do much better now and feel so much more relaxed in larger groups as well as groups of people I don’t know. I have made peace with the fact that I just LOVE one on one connecting and smaller groups and that it is ok to be that way. No one needs to conform because it’s the popular thing to do. We are all so different and with our differences we have so many great gifts to offer others.

    Thanks again!

    • Justin March 27, 2014, 7:42 am

      Hey Melissa,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. We all have personal coping mechanisms and you’re right, no reason to conform. It’s far too easy for others to judge someone or think they are “stuck up” just because they may not interact the way they are “supposed” to. I know I’ve done it as well. I hope I’ll do a better job teaching my daughter to be comfortable in her own skin and to not judge others based on what’s perceived. No one knows what someone else is thinking or feeling inside, so why do we continue to assume?

      Glad you could relate 🙂

      Stay Inspired,

  • Jackie March 29, 2014, 4:42 pm

    Great post! I love that you pointed to the moment when the opportunity to overcome your fear presented itself. This resonated, as it asks us to trust that when we are out of balance, or our in need of growth, opportunities for healing will come. These opportunities may not be what we imagine, or necessarily want, but they are important and exactly what we need.

  • Jessica March 30, 2014, 12:16 pm

    Great post Justin. It is definitely true that everyone needs to cope in their own way. I found it most difficult to interact in large groups and still prefer a smaller group or one-on-one interactions, but the more that you do put yourself out there and the more you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, I found that it does get easier. Thanks for sharing.

  • lynne April 1, 2014, 6:00 pm

    Hi, thanks for sharing your experiences with us, I guess everybody, not only you, have gone through that stage of fear. I myself did, we need to analyze our fear, acknowledge it, and take control over it, otherwise, we get stuck and never move forward. Fear is one factor that hinders growth and success . I’m sure many people can relate to this and with the help of your article, we can all start the process of moving on .

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