This story is a fictional case, but is made up of real clinical experiences from my years of treating people with Social Anxiety Disorder.
Overcoming Social Anxiety in the Workplace:
John knows he’s good at this job. He’s found a niche, a desk job that pays well and enables him to keep to himself. He writes code for a big software company and he’s happy with the work. But despite the fact that every time he has a performance review, or his boss wants to meet with him, it goes fine, he completely freaks out every time.
“It’s like being called to the headmasters office, I just hate it! And if I know I’ve got a performance review coming up I feel sick for about three days before, and the night before I can’t sleep unless I take a sleeping pill. It’s hopeless.”
John told me it once got so bad, he almost quit, rather than go to the meeting:
“And then when I did go, he praised me and gave me a raise! I couldn’t believe it. But instead of feeling happy, I spent the rest of the day and night feeling lie an idiot, and giving myself a hard time. I couldn’t tell anyone, because then they’d want to go out for a drink or something to celebrate. Honestly, I get a pay raise and I’m miserable. How crazy is that?”
Sound familiar? It’s not crazy, it’s actually really common. One of the features of Social Anxiety is fear of authority. Often people feel afraid of their boss, teacher, even their parents, but in Social Anxiety it can spiral out of control. It makes sense because these are the situations where being judged is not just expected, but part of the role, it’s our bosses job to judge our performance.
But if we feel afraid, then feeling can take over and make itself true, not matter what the ‘facts’ are.
In John’s case helping him learn to regulate the fear and be gentle with himself when the feeling showed up meant he could slow himself down, and use what he knew to counterbalance the anxiety. He also came to understand that he’s had some teachers who gave him a hard time for being quiet, and that made it hard to deal with authority as an adult.
“My boss still makes me nervous. But that’s normal I guess. Now I can keep the fear in check and know that actually I do a good job. Sometimes I even enjoy talking to my boss, he’s actually a good guy. I’m getting there.”