Both Emma and Matthew have made some suggestions that may be helpful. Another perspective on social anxiety and low self-esteem can be found in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT involves (a) mindfully noticing the bodily sensations of anxiety – without judging them or trying to get rid of them – bringing an attitude of curiosity to the experience; (b) disentangling yourself from your thoughts eg, notice that thought “I’m a complete idiot” as just a thought, and like all thoughts, maybe helpful, maybe not helpful; © developing the ability to be psychologically flexible – to do what matters, to serve your heart’s deepest desires for how you want to behave as a human being (values).
There’s lots of different self-help ideas out there which promise to “fix” your social anxiety and low self-esteem: visualisation, self-hypnosis, positive affirmations, challenging negative thoughts, relaxation techniques, self-esteem boosting, ‘fake it till you make it’ strategies and so on. You might have tried some of these. And they seem to work for a while. ACT is radically different. And effective. Don’t take my word for it - many ACT therapists will say “don’t believe anything I say” - test everything you're told against your own experience.
A comment about your observation that from being a shy child, you've gradually become less and less confident as you've gotten older. This isnt unusual. Over time, our efforts to avoid anxiety, to get rid of it, often paradoxically make our anxiety worse. It’s like social anxiety is a stray kitten meowing pitifully at your back door. You don’t like the sound of its distress, so you feed it. And it’s quiet for a while. Then it comes back, meowing louder. And you feed it again. And it’s quiet for a while. It keeps coming back, growing bigger, meowing louder and more insistently. And you keep feeding it to quieten it. Before you know it, the stray cat has brought all the other stray cats in the neighbourhood. Their loud meows have taken over your life. You can keep feeding them. Or…try something different? You feed your anxiety by avoidance – it keeps the feelings at bay. For a while. The more you avoid, the bigger the anxiety grows.
Many of my clients with social anxiety have found Russ Harris’s book “The Confidence Gap: From Fear to Freedom” (an ACT approach) helpful, especially if used as an adjunct to psychological therapy. In the book, Russ shares his own story of debilitating social anxiety.
You can find an ACT therapist by going to the “find an ACT therapist” listings at actmindfully.com.au
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