Taming social anxiety with the Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is a principle that all of us, including me, could use to implement more in our lives.  It wouldn’t make human interaction perfect—it can fail when people don’t notice differences of privilege and perspective—but it’s a good start.

Lately, I’ve been trying to apply the Golden Rule in a roundabout sort of way inside my own head.  I struggle with a significant level of social anxiety.  I find talking to other people, both in person and online, to be a scary thing.  I’m afraid that they’ll judge me and I’ll be embarrassed.  It’s not debilitating, but it is mentally exhausting.  The anxious scared part of my brain (Captain Awkward dubs this the Jerkbrain, which I think is a perfect name for it) is always overanalyzing everything I do and say and coming up with reasons why I did it wrong.

That’s where the Golden Rule comes in.  When my Jerkbrain starts freaking me out, I ask myself, “If someone did this to me, would it be OK?  Would I judge them?”  Usually the answers are “Yup, it’d be fine,” and “Nope, they’d be good,” and I can calm down for a bit.

Example 1:  I start getting paranoid about leaving a comment on a stranger’s blog.  My Jerkbrain starts in with an ongoing sequence of “This person is going to think you’re so weird.  A crazy online stalker or something.  Clearly you are not part of this blogger’s community.  And what makes you think you have something to contribute anyway?” etc. etc. etc.

Pause.  Breathe.  Do I like it when new people comment on my blog?

Yes, of course.  I love new readers.  As long as they’re not leaving eight-paragraph screeds about how feminism hurts men or spamming me with links to their “Make $150,000 now!” site, we’re good.

Is my comment rude or totally out of line for the site?

Nope.  [On the occasions that I leave an angry/argument comment someplace, I’ve already decided that I’m not being nice and this whole mental discussion is bypassed.]

Then why do I think it would be a problem?

Huh.  OK.  I guess I can stop freaking out about it.

Example 2:  Thinking about who to invite to a party.  There’s an obvious list of friends, plus a number of acquaintances in the same social group.  It’s a large-ish event; my instinct is to invite the acquaintances too, so they don’t feel left out.  But my Jerkbrain starts in: “These people don’t know you that well, why would they want to come to your event?  They’re going to think you’re extra-strange now.  How could you think they’re your friends?”  If it’s a gift-giving sort of event (e.g., baby shower), add a big dose of “They are just going to think that you’re out for more gifts.”

Pause.  BreatheDo I mind being invited to events by people I know a little but not well?

Nope.  It’s nice to be invited to things.

If someone invited me to something, and I decided that I didn’t feel like going because I didn’t know them that well, would I judge them for it?

Nope.  I’d just politely decline the invitation and then forget about it.

If someone didn’t invite me to something, but did invite a lot of people that I knew, how would I feel?

Bad.  Sad.  Lonely.  I wouldn’t want to err on the side of leaving someone out.

Then it’s OK to invite them.  Proceed.

It’s not 100% foolproof, of course.  There’s no way to guarantee that the person on the other side won’t react in a completely different way than I would.  But it’s a better starting place than “Never talk to anyone because AAAAAAAA!”

10 thoughts on “Taming social anxiety with the Golden Rule

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  2. Ok sure. Yes. Until something that seemed reasonable to you blows up in your face. Again. And again. And no one can tell you how to figure out what might blow up next. It’s like playing Minesweeper, only there’s no number boxes and when you make a mistake, you lose friends.


    • The Jerkbrain LOVES a good, “I told you so!” Social anxiety also makes every blow-up seem like it’s personally your fault, and that you could’ve prevented it if you’d only figured out the rules a little better before you started.

      You sound like you’re in a rough spot, JBWeld. Hang in there.


      • Er… well, yes. No one MADE you start playing that game of Minesweeper and no one MADE you click that particular square. At some point you have to start taking responsibility for your mistakes. Besides, everyone else involved agrees with “Jerkbrain.”


      • If everyone agrees that you’re doing something wrong, then yes, it is time to start looking at what you’re doing wrong and take steps to address that. Maybe you’re coming across as overly hostile, or maybe there’s some key social convention that you’re missing out on.

        This post is about just one strategy that I find helps with my social anxiety.


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