A major trigger for many people who have addictions is anxiety. In an attempt to calm themselves, they rely on different medications or alcohol. They, then, become dependent upon medication or alcohol, or a combination of the two, to relax.
Many people suffer from social anxiety. Social anxiety is the uncomfortable feelings that come from being around people. It is important to know social anxiety is real.
Many with social anxiety believe there is something terribly wrong with them. Because they feel this way, they attempt, through their addiction, to escape the uncomfortable feeling associated with social anxiety, not realizing their addiction is creating even more anxiety in their lives.
A good way to deal with social anxiety is through acceptance. Having social anxiety doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you have a terrible life-altering condition that must be numbed through medication or alcohol. It doesn’t define who you are. You are God’s dearly loved child whom he has forgiven and totally accepts. You are not your condition. You are who your heavenly Father says you are...his beloved child.
By accepting your condition and knowing who you are to your heavenly Father, you can be free. You can be free from condemning yourself for having this condition and be free to experience the joy of the positive side of social anxiety.
People with social anxiety have abilities where being alone is necessary. For example, some people who write have social anxiety. Writing requires hours and hours of being alone. It is in these hours of being alone that the written product is formed and completed.
Many people who have artistic gifts such as music, drawing, painting, writing, and designing have social anxiety. Yet it is social anxiety that grants them the alone time needed to allow their creative gift to be expressed and then bless the world.
Once I was talking to a dad whose son had social anxiety. From early childhood, he labeled his son as “my shy one”. His son did not enjoy social settings, but rather enjoyed being alone. Consequently, the dad assumed his son had a terrible problem which made him socially awkward, forcing him to withdraw from people into isolation. So, to fix this “problem”, he took his son to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrists put him on medication at a very young age to help the child avoid the symptoms of social anxiety so he could function as a “normal person” in society. However, this medication didn’t help. So they tried altering the doses and, eventually, changing the medication, all in an attempt to “fix” the child. Nothing worked. Actually, he went deeper into his isolation, eventually into despair.
The child began to believe that something was wrong with him. That he was “not like everyone else”. He believed everyone else did great in social settings, yet he was different. He had issues. He had problems. This preoccupation with his “problem” consumed him and his dad. They tried to correct the problem, but to no avail...the problem only got worse.
In my conversation with the child’s dad, he began to tell me that his son, now in his twenties, was not doing well because he suffered so terribly from “shyness”. He told me all they had done to try to “help” his son. I asked the dad what his child excelled at and enjoyed doing. He said his son loved to draw and paint. I explained to his dad that his shyness or social anxiety actually complimented his son’s abilities, and that it is quite possible his son never had a problem needing to be fixed, but had abilities which his shyness allowed to flourish. It was his son’s desire to be alone that would allow him to discover and excel at his gift, possibly launching him into the career field for his life...a career he would enjoy and share with the world.
With this new insight into his son’s personality, the dad began to see his son as not having a problem needing a solution, but as having potential needing to flourish. He then made the connection that for his son’s potential to flourish, he needed to be alone. And, that if he was a “social butterfly”, then his abilities would never be discovered. With this insight, he saw his son’s shyness as a gift that allowed his son to discover the God-given gift of drawing and painting.
In writing on social anxiety, I admit I am not a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. I have never studied social anxiety in an academic or clinical setting. I would never recommend taking anyone off of medication for any condition without first consulting a doctor or psychiatrist.
Roy walked into my office to discuss his addiction. We discovered his addiction originated from social anxiety, which he perceived as a problem needing to be fixed. He concluded there was something wrong with him, causing him to be uncomfortable in social settings. He was so uncomfortable when he was around people that he would become extremely nervous, sweating profusely. As I shared with him that he wasn’t some type of odd person within humanity, needing to be “normalized”, but he had gifts, talents, and abilities that his shyness allowed him to flourish in, he began to sense a new freedom in his life. No longer would he have to define himself according to his social anxiety, he could now delight in this “weakness” because this “weakness” allowed his strengths to be birthed.
If you or someone you know suffers from social anxiety, please know you do not have to live any longer condemning yourself for your condition. The truth is we all have issues...we all have struggles...we all have weaknesses. You are not odd or different. You are like the rest of us...in need of God...in need of his love...in need of his grace...which he gives freely.
One of my favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. It says,
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The Apostle Paul
Grace exists for those who admit and accept their weaknesses. Since we all have weaknesses, we all need grace. It is in our weaknesses that we discover our need for the grace of Jesus. It is the grace of Jesus that makes us strong.
Because our weaknesses lead us to a deeper experience of God's grace, we can now say with Paul, "I delight in weaknesses..." No more self-condemnation. No more feeling odd or different than others. Just daily seeing our weaknesses as opportunities to depend on God's grace as we become the people he created us to be.