This week, we’ll be talking about some painful and difficult circumstances, and I pray that you can’t relate to what is said. But if you can, then know that this is a place of love. The articles may raise some uncomfortable questions for you, and we encourage you to speak to a trusted friend or church leader about these. We will also recommend some helpful resources to think about all the topics further.
Public speaking, making phone calls, disagreeing with someone, social events, entering a room full of people sat down, returning items to a shop, small group discussions.
Do any of those make you shudder? I’m guessing at least one of them does or you wouldn’t be reading this article, and if it does then you are side by side with millions of other people sat on the spectrum of social anxiety. Perhaps you’re at the less severe end. My husband is not a shy man, in fact he regularly does public speaking and presentations. But in a group context, he doesn’t talk much. Not because he’s uncomfortable and doesn’t know how to speak up, but just because he’s happy listening and would rather not be centre of attention. For me, that’s one end of the anxious spectrum in social situations.
At the other end, you may find people who’ve not left the house in weeks or months due to a paralysing fear of encountering of other people. Most of you reading will be somewhere between those two. Wherever you are, the pull of social anxiety is fuelled by an addiction to other people. What they think, what they say, what they want, how they treat us, what they invite us to…
We are addicted to the approval and acceptance of other people, hoping it will give us that rush of self-confidence we crave.
So why do social situations so often bring up anxiety in us? Well we know that society demands of us a range of perfection attributes: intelligence, humour, attractiveness, wealth, charm, confidence… We also know that words can hurt and can be very powerful for good or for wickedness (Isaiah 62:1, Psalm 140:3, Romans 3:13-14, Proverbs 15:1). So in fact, it’s no wonder we’d rather hide when the world asks so much, and when we’re so easily hurt or exposed. Perhaps you respond differently and become centre of attention by over-indulging and experiencing ‘verbal diarrhoea’ in the face of a crowd. We’re hooked on approval, and we can’t bear the idea of not getting it so we either become mute or we talk constantly, to avoid the moment of judgment.
So what is the goal? To attain what society demands and become an extroverted, confident and charming life and soul of the party? No, the bible takes the time to repeatedly explain what the goal of social interaction is:
Speaking the truth in love with wisdom and discernment.
Wait a moment… that actually sounds harder than society’s goal. Moses certainly thought so. Check out Exodus 3:11-12 now. God has just sent Moses on a massive errand, where he’ll be speaking to Pharaoh and leading thousands of Israelites on a journey. Moses is understandably anxious!
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
God said, “But I will be with you”
This is one of my many beloved ‘buts of the bible’. In a social situation, it might be scary and overwhelming BUT God is with you. When faced with what makes us anxious, we might ask many questions.
“What if they laugh at me? Will they accept me? Am I good enough? What if I can’t do this? Why can’t I do this? When can I go home? Where should I sit? What should I say? Are they noticing my awkwardness?”
In a situation when our hearts begin to crave, there is one crucial question that pulls us out of the addiction cycle: “Who is God?”
The New Testament helps us answer this question and refers to God being with us in a new phrase; In Him (Galatians 3:26-28). With God by our side, in Christ, we can face our genuine fears with peace, in the knowledge that He has gone before us. The path Jesus walked, and the path in which we follow, was one of suffering and rejection, before being exalted in glory. When suffering and rejection happen, your future is still safe. And when we know this, the chains of addiction are broken and we are free to love and serve people without fear of judgment.
No longer is our social behaviour a performance, hoping to earn that next ‘hit’ of self-confidence. “There is no condemnation for those in Christ” (Rom 8:1) so we hook ourselves onto God-confidence and become addicted to loving others the way Christ loves us.
This article was based on a seminar called ‘Social Anxiety – why should I worry what you think of me?’ by David Armstrong, which can be listened to in its entirety here: https://www.biblicalcounselling.org.uk/video/2015-audio/
There is also a helpful book on the topic by Ed Welch called ‘What do you think of me? Why do I care?’ which you can purchased here: https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/11232/what-do-you-think-of