The Self and Language

By Jay

When the mind is disrupted by fear, numbing most thoughts, language and emotions, the self is suppressed or disassociated. I feel an empty shell. When colleagues talk, especially, those with seniority or some other dominance over me, I lock into their eyes, nodding and murmuring. I am trapped in front their words and eyes, barely able to move or stand straight. Even at the end of the day, when I’m due to go home, I am enmeshed in the words of others and am only released when they stop talking.

I can’t find a self to express a view; I should be off now, or some other personal view, except, to agree and reinforce, with a timid smile. Most thoughts and words that come to mind seem forced and hollow – they will be spoken so emptily, that they are not worthy saying. In my vulnerability and emptiness, I seek to gain their admiration and to hold back any angry attitudes. And, yet, in my stiff, smiling and agreeing avatar, I feel a contemptible fool and fraud, deserving of anger or contempt. I wait for it, growing ever more stiff and anxious, and nodding and grinning more.

What courage it would take to try and find myself amidst the mind numbed by vulnerability, anxiety and trauma. It would mean revealing the confusion and irrationality of my mind. I would stop pretending and admit to colleagues that I can barely find my way around the building, unable to navigate due to some dysfunction of my brain. It would mean admitting to my vanity in wanting admiration and respect and letting out my monotonous, ponderous words and thoughts into the air, open for ridicule or contempt. It would mean telling my manager that this job, despite everyone’s support and kindness and, despite their great need for staffing support and clear hopes that I will stay longer-term, is not for me and that I will likely be leaving soon to try another role.

Continue reading “The Self and Language”

Social anxiety news and stories round-up

Blogs

The writer provides a personal insight into a difficult incident of social anxiety in the workplace and her efforts to manage and reflect on the experience: “Today I had to lead a meeting on a topic about COVID and did horribly. I froze up, rambled, and made no sense. My supervisor and two others noticed I was freaking out and didn’t really help. Then I sat in my office and basically just stared at my computer for 30 mins. I decided to just text my boss and said I was going home because I have anxiety and can’t focus. Then I went home and cried for an hour.”

A 27 year old woman describes the difficulties with socialising with family members with strong Trump supporting political opinions and attitudes: “I guess I need to learn to steel myself a little better to their remarks. I know full well that just because they think one way intensely doesn’t necessarily mean they are right. I know it’s not a personal attack against me, but sometimes their opinions make me uncomfortable. It’s that whole them being so right-wing conservative (so Trump brain-washed) that eats away at me because the views they espouse are like night and day from how I feel. And sometimes I sit there wondering how could they really think that?”

The post explores dissociation, with the writer giving personal examples of experiences: “I used to volunteer at a food bank before Covid arrived. I had just received a call from a shop asking if I would like to do two months worth of work experience with them. I said yes and thanked them before hanging up. However, my anxiety kicked in and instantly I dissociated, zoning out into space. I could hear another male volunteer trying to have a conversation with me, but I couldn’t pull myself out. When I finally came out of it, I felt embarrassed and instantly apologised multiple times, explaining that I wasn’t ignoring him and I was just experiencing dissociation. I’m happy to report that he just laughed and said he was okay with that as long as I was okay.”

Working at a grocery store in the US, the writer is unfairly moved into a new role but is able to appreciate the personal benefits, despite the injustice of the decision: “Ultimately, I found this new position to be a million times less stressful than my old position—to the point that I almost consider it enjoyable. Most of my week is spent up front at the doors sanitizing carts or counting customers as I’m one of the few that can afford to spend all day up there without it affecting my work. It also might have to do with the fact that I’m one of the few employees that doesn’t bitch about being up at the doors. I really have no reason to whine since door duty no longer takes me away from working an understaffed area that desperately needs stocking constantly.”

A ‘thirty something environmental scientist’ describes the challenges of a work field trip having started her role as a remote worker, facing challenges with training and interaction: “My co-worker even told me not to be so hard on myself and not to feel like I need to get everything right away because he said after 14 years, he still gets confused and unsure. Our job is nebulous sometimes and subject to arbitrary decisions. Maybe that’s the nature of regulation. We’re almost environmental lawyers, having to interpret what laws mean and squash environment and science into these boxes where they don’t fit neatly.”

Creative writing

i’ll take the long way home, and carve out a path along hiking trails and highways, all of my own. trace the geography of broken promises along my collarbone, and try not to dance on the walk home, a smile breaking out across my cheeks despite it all. despite myself. feel the bruises, and scrapes, and scars, the way my thighs touch, and just let them fucking exist.

a catalog of fears, a series of questions, reasons to disappear. ideally, selfless writing mimics the camera, in the antiseptic laboratory condition tradition, stripped of human emotion. a program which mimics nostalgia. the verb is missing but the lecture continues.

For a group of communinist dissidents, no-one seemed to do much. Young, fashionable people, people with long hair and flared trousers and slim-fit paisley shirts, came to the flat each night to smoke and talk about movies, people at the university, the state of the economy, politics. Ana knew about soil acidity and fermentation tanks. She knew a little about American fiction and her favourite singer, Josipa Lisac. Sometimes she wouldn’t know if they were talking about a film director, actor, politician, or a mutual friend.

Research

  • Social Anxiety and the Generation of Positivity During Dyadic Interaction: Curiosity and Authenticity are the Keys to Success – Kevin C. Barber, Maggie A.M. Michaelis, David A. Moscovitch – Behavior Therapy, online March 31, 2021

“Dyadic analyses revealed that participants’ affiliative goals during the social interaction predicted positive outcomes for both themselves and their partners, although the link between affiliative goals and positive affect was weaker for participants with high SA. Mediation analyses demonstrated that adopting affiliative goals may promote more positive outcomes by increasing participants’ curiosity and felt authenticity. Taken together, results illuminate the pathways through which people with varying levels of trait SA may derive interpersonally generated positive affect and positive social outcomes, with implications for clinical theory and practice.”

  • Response Inhibition, Cognitive Flexibility and Working Memory in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder – Ana Isabel Rosa-Alcázar, Ángel Rosa-Alcázar, Inmaculada C Martínez-Esparza, Eric A Storch, Pablo J Olivares-Olivares – Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Mar 31;18(7):3642 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33807425/

“This study analyzed response inhibition, cognitive flexibility and working memory in three groups of patients diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, considering some variables that may influence results (nonverbal reasoning, comorbidity, use of pharmacotherapy).”

  • Social anxiety disorder and the fear of death: An empirical investigation of the terror management approach towards understanding clinical anxiety. Zuccala, M., & Abbott, M. J. (2021). https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2021-01861-001

“Emerging evidence suggests that death anxiety is an important transdiagnostic construct underlying a range of psychological disorders. Terror Management Theory (TMT) is currently the preeminent theoretical framework used to explain the role that death fears play in psychopathology. This study sought to examine the TMT approach to understanding clinical anxiety while addressing several methodological limitations associated with the existing empirical literature. Method: Semi-structured diagnostic interviewing was employed to recruit two groups of participants with either Social Anxiety Disorder or no anxiety diagnosis. All participants were randomly allocated to receive either mortality salience or control priming, before undertaking two tasks designed to measure social and physical anxiety symptoms, respectively. Results: The overall pattern of results failed to provide evidence in support of the novel hypotheses derived from TMT. Mortality salience priming did not exacerbate social anxiety symptoms for participants with Social Anxiety Disorder, but did exacerbate physical anxiety symptoms for these individuals. No such effect was observed for non-clinical participants. Conclusion: These results suggest that more robust theoretical frameworks may be needed to explain the evident, but likely complex, relationship between death fears and clinical anxiety. Directions for future research are discussed. “

“The relationship between separation anxiety and suicidality has not been explored extensively,” Stefano Pini, MD, of the department of clinical and experimental medicine at University of Pisa in Italy, and colleagues wrote. “One study found an association between separation anxiety disorder and increased risk [for] suicidal behaviors in a prospective study of 500 Indian adolescents in a rural community. Another study reported an association between severity of separation anxiety symptoms and suicidal ideation in a small sample (n = 31) of patients with social anxiety disorder, although the observed association was dependent on comorbidity with major depression and avoidant personality disorder.”

  • Candidate Factors Maintaining Social Anxiety in the Context of Psychotic Experiences: A Systematic Review – Warut Aunjitsakul, Nicola McGuire, Hamish J McLeod, Andrew Gumley – Schizophr Bull. 2021 Mar 29 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33778868/

“Prominent psychological factors maintaining social anxiety included self-perceptions of stigma and shame. Common correlates of social anxiety included poorer functioning and lower quality of life. In conclusion, stigma and shame could be targeted as a causal mechanism in future interventional studies. The integration of findings from this review lead us to propose a new theoretical model to guide future intervention research.”

News articles

A light-hearted look at the fears of a young woman and her friends as lockdown restriction easing in the UK allows her to meet up with five friends outdoors over Easter: “Staying at home eliminates the holy trinity of social anxiety: the fear of missing out, the fear of actually being there, and the fear of what you did or said that creeps in after you’ve left.”

A humorous take on common behaviours prompted by socially anxiety: “This is my favorite game to play. Peek-a-boo, you don’t see me. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve strolled into a store and out of nowhere, launched myself behind a rack for cover because I recognized someone. Did they see me? Oh God, I hope they didn’t see me. What if they saw me hide? What if they come my way now, what do I say? Oh God, why am I like this? Usually, I’m by myself, so I don’t have to explain my behavior to someone else and feel extra stupid. But when I’m out with my husband, I have to deal with him too because he snickers and leaves me to my own insanity. Hello, social anxiety. I trail slowly behind and intermittently ask him to check if the coast is clear. I keep track of that person’s whereabouts until they leave the store. Don’t ask me how much time I’ve wasted doing this.”

“Think about the biggest challenges you’ve faced and overcome. Looking at your strongest, wisest moments, do you think you could use that same strength and wisdom to prevail in this potential challenge as well?

What do you think you could learn from it? In what ways do you think you would gain strength as you face these new obstacles?

Thinking about your strengths and your best moments can help you to remember that, while you may not enjoy your current circumstances, you have the strength to handle what comes. You may find new strengths you didn’t know you had!”

Article on London based writer, Russell Norris, who experiences severe facial blushing as an anxiety symptom: “Norris has decided to confront his fears by being more open about them. He’s written a book, Red Face: How I Learnt to Live with Social Anxiety, about what life is like as a perpetual blusher. “It’s not easy, is the short answer,” he notes. “I became an expert in avoidance.””

‘There is Only One Reality’ – Opportunities for Self-Connection

Yuzuki Yukari_AnnaVanes
Yuzuki Yukari by Anna Vanes (c)

The various forms of self-quarantining being imposed or encouraged by authorities across the world in response to the coronavirus pandemic mean that individuals with social anxiety symptoms will, along with others, experience prolonged isolation over the coming weeks. Whilst presenting a potentially challenging disruption to treatment, support and exposure, this period may present an opportunity for connecting with oneself.

Disassociation is a medically recognised response to overwhelming stress. It leads to disconnection from oneself and/or one’s environment and can last for a short or long period. In a recent blog-post, writer, Rachel Ganz, recalls her anxiety and fear-provoked disassociation during her childhood: “I learned very young to displace myself with imaginative distancing. I cannot panic about reality because I don’t keep up with it, I can’t. Most of us live a version of that. Most of us participate only as we want, only as we can.”

Blogger, Zachary Terry, wrote recently of mental distancing in the form of regret and hope. His mother passed away unexpectedly and he writes of the loss triggering deep regret. “I lamented my choices throughout the previous years, wishing I was better, kinder, more loving, more affectionate… I wished I’d been a son who took better care of his mother.”

He came to see spending time purely on regretting as a denial of the present – and reality: “I saw how useless my regrets were unless they caused me to make different choices in the real world – in the present. I began making commitments to myself, my mom, and to God. I started showing more love to the important relationships in my life.”

Likewise, he sees spending time in the future with hopes, whether taking vague or detailed form, as being wasteful unless connected to the present: “…I’ve begun letting go of any dream of mine if I’m not prepared to begin working towards it today. I ensure to draw a clear line from the present towards the future I desire.” He adds, “…prove your dreams aren’t simply fantasies about an alternate future universe that will never exist.”

Individuals suffering social anxiety disorder symptoms, often accompanied by depression, can find themselves displaced or disconnected from the reality of the present or, simply, numbed through disassociation, distraction or, even, medication. As well as leading to difficulties functioning, with the most extreme cases being difficulties with self-care, such as washing or clothing oneself, it can lead to loss of a sense of an identity or sense of being.

Rachel Ganz recommends recording and replaying ones daily life – whether in written, audio or video form – as a means of self-connecting: “Sit and listen. What did you do today? How did you react to the things around you? Was everything ok? Were some things not ok? Who was there? How did those people make you feel?” For sixty minutes, she suggests, “Untangle your experiences. Allow the memory of those experiences to effect you. Trust your soul and let it breathe.”

The listening to oneself forms part of both the recording and the replaying process: “We have been through a lot and we will continue to get through a lot, believe me. OR, don’t believe, and look through OLD texts for inspiration, find the artifacts. Whatever moves you, art, cooking, history, physics…” Even the process of tidying and sorting personal belongings presents an opportunity to connect one’s past and present selves.

Zachary Terry’s form of connecting is to remind himself of the present: “When I fall into discontented moods I try and close my eyes and remind myself that nothing else exists. Here I am, just riding the rise and fall of life’s cruel turns and wondrous pleasures. Here I am on the only mortal adventure I’ll ever know. There is nothing else at all friends.”

Global self-quarantining measures may offer a time for self-connection efforts. However, it may also pose new challenges by isolating individuals from opportunity and support and/or placing them into unsupportive environments. Nonetheless, during this uncertain period, when many are undergoing hardship, self-awareness and self-connection may prove beneficial commitments.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.

To read Zachary Terry’s full blog-post, ‘There is Only One Reality,’ click below:

Walking Forward

Let’s Do a Fun One

I’m taking a break from writing solely about my trials this week. Let’s do something fun and philosophical. Some weeks ago I mentioned I’ve experienced a great psychological awakening. It was a series of sequential attitude shifts that paved the way for transformative change. I want to share one of the concepts that helped me. I learned to live here in the present, in thereal world. I learned to loosen my focus away from the three false realities I used to fantasize about.

The Real World

We human beings live here and now. Our brains constantly experience a slightly delayed continuous present moment. This is all that there is. What happened five seconds ago isn’t real. What’s going to happen in five seconds from nowdefinitelyisn’t real. Right here, in thispersistentpresent,is the only universe where cause and effect flow…

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