How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety

How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety

by Ellen Hendriksen


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Picking up where Quiet ended, How to Be Yourself is the best book you’ll ever read about how to conquer social anxiety.

“This book is also a groundbreaking road map to finally being your true, authentic self.” —Susan Cain, New York Times, USA Today and nationally bestselling author of Quiet

Up to 40% of people consider themselves shy. You might say you’re introverted or awkward, or that you're fine around friends but just can't speak up in a meeting or at a party. Maybe you're usually confident but have recently moved or started a new job, only to feel isolated and unsure.

If you get nervous in social situations—meeting your partner's friends, public speaking, standing awkwardly in the elevator with your boss—you've probably been told, “Just be yourself!” But that's easier said than done—especially if you're prone to social anxiety.

Weaving together cutting-edge science, concrete tips, and the compelling stories of real people who have risen above their social anxiety, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen proposes a groundbreaking idea: you already have everything you need to succeed in any unfamiliar social situation. As someone who lives with social anxiety, Dr. Hendriksen has devoted her career to helping her clients overcome the same obstacles she has. With familiarity, humor, and authority, Dr. Hendriksen takes the reader through the roots of social anxiety and why it endures, how we can rewire our brains through our behavior, and—at long last—exactly how to quiet your Inner Critic, the pesky voice that whispers, "Everyone will judge you." Using her techniques to develop confidence, think through the buzz of anxiety, and feel comfortable in any situation, you can finally be your true, authentic self.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250161703
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/13/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 361,777
Product dimensions: 5.77(w) x 8.57(h) x 1.15(d)

About the Author

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist who helps millions calm their anxiety and be their authentic selves through her award-winning podcast, Savvy Psychologist, and through Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). Ellen’s scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, Susan Cain's Quiet Revolution, and many other media outlets. Savvy Psychologist, which has been downloaded over 5 million times, was picked as a Best New Podcast of 2014 on iTunes and was Otto Radio's Best Healthcare Podcast of 2016. Ellen earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. She lives in the Boston area with her family.

Read an Excerpt


The Root of It All: How Social Anxiety Takes Hold

Jim never missed Sunday night at the dance studio.

Outside, a few late-fall leaves still clung to the trees, blazing orange and trembling in the New England wind. Inside, the vast hall looked like a wedding reception, but in inverted proportions. Off to the side stood a few round banquet tables covered with linen tablecloths and scattered with half-finished glasses of water, but most of the room was given over to the expansive, gleaming hardwood dance floor. Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is" rang out from the sound system.

The room was busy — perhaps twenty couples stood in loose lines, practicing the East Coast swing under the tutelage of Tomas, the studio's stately Brazilian owner. Every Sunday evening, Tomas held a group lesson that morphed into a social dance — he called it a practice party. Tomas manned the music system, announcing with each song, "Ladies and gentlemen, it's a foxtrot!" or, "Next up, let's rumba!" Students asked each other to dance. As they practiced their steps, instructors circulated, dispensing guidance and adjusting posture — a hand on a shoulder here, a raising of the chin there. In the four years since taking up ballroom dancing, Jim, fifty-six, with the trim build of a runner and neatly cropped red hair that reflects his Irish ancestry, had become a regular.

That evening, as the last notes to Harry Connick Jr.'s "A Wink and a Smile" wound down and couples slowed their foxtrots, Tomas leaned into the microphone. With a gleam in his eye, he asked, "Okay, can everyone clear the floor except Mayumi, please?" Jim was puzzled — Tomas usually linked the songs one after another to keep everyone out on the floor. But tonight something was different. Mayumi was Jim's instructor, so he clapped politely, then turned and headed for a folding chair. But Tomas continued, "We have a surprise performance for you all tonight — a birthday dance!" Jim froze. Today was his birthday. How on earth did they know? He hadn't told anyone. He turned back to the dance floor and looked past the dozens of people. In an otherwise empty circle of onlookers stood Mayumi, a smile on her face, her hand outstretched toward him.

* * *

What a difference time and practice make. Four years previously, never in his wildest dreams would Jim have imagined himself at any kind of party, much less a dance party where he approached women, busted out a cha- cha, and did it all surrounded by mirrors and dozens of others.

Jim grew up in the sixties and seventies in the Irish-Catholic section of Dorchester, a working-class neighborhood in the heart of Boston. Jim's father, a calm and even-keeled man, worked as a groundskeeper at Harvard for thirty years; Jim's mother was a secretary for an insurance company. Jim and his kid brother, Ryan, grew up on the second floor of what in Boston is known as a triple-decker, their apartment sandwiched between two identical others, fronted by a stoop of wooden stairs. After school, Jim and Ryan roamed the streets with the neighbor kids, many of whom were their cousins. Except when winter snowdrifts clogged the streets, the boys would play street hockey, lobbing friendly insults and taking turns fishing the puck from under boat-sized cars with vinyl roofs. Between games, they trooped back and forth to the variety store on the corner, using the change from running errands for Mom to purchase their near-daily installments of Mountain Dew and Twinkies.

The neighborhood was close, both literally and figuratively. "I could have jumped from my bedroom window into the window of the house next door if I wanted to," Jim remembers. "The houses were that close together." But the tightness of the houses reflected the tight-knit community. If a stranger appeared in the neighborhood, locals would take notice and approach, asking, "May I help you?" There were eyes on the street, eyes on the kids. "It was so safe," remembers Jim. "Though sometimes it would get me into trouble. My brother and I would go out to play, and our mother would tell us not to go past Linden Street. And of course we'd go past Linden Street. So when we got home she'd ground us. I'd say, 'How did you know?' And she would say, 'Mrs. O'Neill saw you and called.' We couldn't get away with anything. But it meant we were safe no matter where we went. I wouldn't have wanted to grow up anywhere else."

But while the Irish eyes peering from the triple-decker windows meant safety for Jim and his friends, for Jim's mother, Maeve, they meant something entirely different. Whether Jim and Ryan were headed to school, church, a family gathering, or just outside to play hockey, before they ricocheted down the stairs and out the door Maeve would put them through her usual paces. Jim remembers, "She'd say, 'Come here, let me look at you.'" She'd peer at them, giving the boys the once-over from head to toe, smoothing unruly hair and spit-shining smudged faces. "We had to look good," Jim said. "There was always a fear. A fear of being judged. Fear that the neighbors would talk. That the ladies would get together, shake their heads, cluck their tongues, and say, 'Oh my goodness, did you see those Nolan boys the other day?'"

When the boys came home, there was another ritual. As they rifled through the cabinets for a snack, Maeve would ask: Did you run into anyone? Did you see any of the neighbors? Jim remembers, "There was just a sense of being in a fishbowl. Of always being scrutinized. She lived in fear that a neighbor would see one of us playing in the dirt or being disrespectful or who knows what. But she could never articulate it."

Maeve got more self-conscious when she went out herself. "Standing in line at the bank with her was the worst," remembers Jim. "Because she was trapped; someone might see her and she couldn't do anything about it. It was like being on display between those red velvet ropes leading to the teller window." Over the years, her discomfort grew, and eventually Maeve took to staying home. She would make Jim and Ryan go to church, but she never went herself. Jim explains, "I think she was too scared to go to church and see people, so she sent us as stand-ins so the neighbors wouldn't talk. Over the years, in trying to understand, I've tried to be generous, thinking maybe she was just proud, but I know it was fear."

* * *

Anxiety is unquestionably genetic. If you have a first-degree relative — in Jim's case, a parent — with an anxiety disorder, you have a four- to sixfold increased risk of having the same disorder. But psychological genetics is a puzzle, a maddening Rubik's Cube for even the most dedicated scientist. Why? First, unlike Huntington's disease or sickle- cell anemia, anxiety isn't controlled by a single gene. But it's unclear whether anxiety is a result of the large effects of a few genes or the small effects of many. There's also another problem called phenotypic complexity, which means that anxiety is like the mythological hydra, with many different heads. Social anxiety qualifies as "anxiety," to be sure, but so do manifestations as diverse as OCD, panic attacks, and even fear of spiders. It can be difficult to imagine how such different flowers can sprout from the same genetic seed.

Next, anxiety isn't an objective condition — at least not yet. There's no lab test for anxiety. We can't look at Jim's or Maeve's blood under a microscope and see anxiety. For now, it's all based on self-report. Although our genes have expressed anxiety for millennia, Social Anxiety Disorder, the capital -S version of social anxiety, was first described in the literature in 1966 and has only been a distinctly defined disorder since 1980. As such, it's unclear if our modern, man-made diagnoses would even match up with our ancient genomes.

A final complication is the impossible-to-separate, coffee-and-cream swirl of genetics and experience. Our temperaments drive our day-to-day choices, but does a preference to stay in and read reflect a particular genetic constellation or do we like it because we're well practiced? In short, whether anxiety is genetic is clear as day, but how anxiety is genetic is clear as mud.

* * *

In addition to genetics, the seeds of social anxiety are also sown through learning. At some point, like Jim, we learned to fear the judgment of others, learned to conceal what was potentially humiliating. This lesson might have been seared into us through a discrete experience, like throwing up in front of the whole school during an assembly or having a panic attack in a crowded restaurant that resulted in a well-meaning waitress summoning the entire fire department. It might have been a horrified witnessing, like seeing a friend destroyed by bullies or a classmate demeaned, day after day, by a bad apple of a teacher. It might have come from growing up in an insular family that didn't see the point of socializing. However the lessons of social anxiety were learned, they created a fear of being caught doing something stupid or inappropriate — of being revealed. The lessons are often subtle and impossible to pinpoint; for me, like many others, there was no real beginning — it just always was.

With Jim, Maeve's lessons that he was being watched and judged everywhere he went, combined with confirmation from the Mrs. O'Neills of the world, shaped him over the years like a stream wearing a groove in the bedrock. Fifty years later, he says, "I always had the sense that people were watching. That they'd see something wrong. She drilled it into my brother and me."

Like sponges, we absorb our families' lessons, without quite realizing that a core belief is crystalizing inside us. In other households, very different lessons may be modeled; for example, that chatting on the stoop with neighbors is the ideal way to spend a weekend afternoon or that showing off your moves at the center of a dance circle is exhilarating rather than a crisis. My husband grew up thinking it was mandatory to invite the roofers or the plumber to stay for dinner. But if we grow up in a house like Jim's, or even a subtler version thereof, we learn to expect that people will not only judge us, but judge us harshly. And this fear feels like a fact. We think it's just how the world is. And that world makes us feel surrounded by judgment, yet alone in our fear.

This fear costs us: it makes it hard to meet people, get close to them, and have a good time. It makes it hard to ask for what we need. It can make others think we're snobby, unfriendly, or cold, when really we're just nervous. At its worst, it can leave us depressed and isolated. And of course, the fear gets in the way of being ourselves.

* * *

One hot summer day when Jim was fourteen, the call went out. In a neighborhood of 90 percent boys, a family with two girls had moved in down the block. Deena and her sister had arrived. Deena was also fourteen, with long brown hair and a wide, open smile. She was strikingly pretty, and, as the boys in the neighborhood (ahem) quickly noticed, well developed beyond her years.

Deena's house was on the corner, the last on the block before the main drag. It was also right across the street from Jim's cousin Rosaleen's house. For Jim to get anywhere — to school, Rosaleen's, the variety store, or back home again — he had to walk right past Deena's front steps, where she and her younger sister would often sit, their stork-like legs folded under them. While Jim was as intimidated as most heterosexual boys would be, walking past them five or six times a day meant eventually saying hi to the friendly Deena and her kid sister. Subsequent trips back and forth eventually led to pointing out his blue triple-decker down the street and joking complaints about cantankerous neighbors. One day, Deena's eyes were red — her grandmother had fallen and broken her hip. Jim listened intently to Deena's scared and worried rush of thoughts, not knowing what to say, but wishing he could make things better for her. As the year went on, they fell into a kind of ease — the most at ease one can feel during the turmoil of puberty and desperate desire to fit in that comes with being fourteen.

"And then one day," Jim remembers, "one of my friends at school turned to me and said, 'You know, Jim, Deena really likes you.' And that was the beginning of the end. I didn't know what to do or say. From then on, every time I saw her, I'd hide. Behind bushes or a car — it didn't matter. I avoided her at every turn. I had never avoided anyone until her. Because of her, I taught myself avoidance."

It was the defining moment. If genetics and learning had loaded the gun, Jim's friend had inadvertently pulled the trigger. Now, we've all had that stomach-dropping, cheeks-are-burning, surge-of-adrenaline moment of social mortification. But what turns that onetime jolt into social anxiety that burns on and on? Avoidance. Simply put, avoidance is turning away from what makes you anxious in an effort to feel better. And herein lies the rub: avoiding does make you feel better, at least in the short term. Avoidance makes the anxiety go away temporarily; in Jim's case, it subsided until the next time he spotted Deena down the block and crouched behind the nearest Chevy Chevelle.

But long term, avoidance is disastrous. It is enemy number one of emotional well-being and perpetuates all anxieties, not just social. For social anxiety to become a problem, genetics and learning aren't enough — the anxiety has to grow and be carefully maintained. Avoidance does just that, and does it perfectly.

Of course, a teenage boy wouldn't be expected to know the long-term effects of avoidance. Jim just knew it delayed the moment he would have to tell Deena he really, really liked her, too. It delayed the awkwardness of first love. And most important, it delayed the possibility that if she truly got to know him she would, as Jim feared, realize she had made a terrible mistake and grind his heart into the Dorchester sidewalk.

* * *

This fear is the core of social anxiety. It's the sense that something embarrassing, deficient, or flawed about us will become obvious to everyone. Jim feared what I call The Reveal. Social anxiety isn't just fear of judgment; it's fear the judgers are right. We think there is something wrong with us, and we avoid in order to conceal it. In our minds, if The Reveal comes to pass we'll be rejected, humiliated, or exposed.

But what exactly are we afraid of? Dr. David Moscovitch, a deep- thinking psychologist at the University of Waterloo, theorizes that The Reveal falls into one of four categories:

1. Our anxiety. First, we might be afraid people will see the physical signs of anxiety itself — we'll sweat through our shirt, blush as if Grandma just caught us watching porn, or stammer like a beauty pageant contestant failing the onstage question. Thus, our closet is filled with turtlenecks; our medicine cabinet is stocked with clinical-strength antiperspirant. We won't use a laser pointer or drink from a glass in public because we don't want people to notice our hands shaking. We never let 'em see us sweat, but that's only because we never take off our blazer. Or we pop a benzo.

2. Our appearance. Second, we might think there is something shameful about how we look — we're not attractive enough; we're dressed inappropriately; our hair is weird. We're too fat. Everyone will notice our blemishes or think that we look strange. However we slice it, our looks don't measure up.

3. Our character. This is a big one. We might be worried about our whole personality: we're not cool, not funny, stupid, a loser, an idiot, crazy, unqualified, inadequate, incompetent, or defective. We may mutter to ourselves in moments of angst, "What the hell is wrong with me?" Answer that question and you'll find your core fear. Whatever it is, The Reveal will show everyone we're fundamentally deficient.

4. Our social skills. This is another big one. We might think that we have no personality or are embarrassingly awkward. We worry we won't have anything to say, we won't make sense, our mind will go blank, we're too quiet, too boring, we'll get emotional, we'll be confusing, or no one will understand what we say, and after staring uncomprehendingly, they will ask us to repeat ourselves in a tone used when talking to a three- year-old.

So rather than risk The Reveal, we hide. Sometimes it's overt, like Jim's diving for the shrubbery. But sometimes it's covert: we stare into our phones, avoid looking at people, or sit silently as friends chatter over us.

For Jim, hiding from Deena taught him two things: one, that interacting with Deena was risky — dangerous, even. There was danger of humiliation, the possibility that they would start something and she would lose interest, leaving Jim in the swirling agony of teenage heartbreak. And while this was absolutely possible, by staying far, far away he never got to confirm that things weren't guaranteed to end up that way.


Excerpted from "How To Be Yourself"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Ellen Hendriksen.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Part 1 I Thought It Was Just Me! Introducing Social Anxiety

1 The Root of It All: How Social Anxiety Takes Hold 23

2 Social Anxiety Is Like an Apple Tree (or, Why Social Anxiety Has Stuck Around for Millennia) 41

3 Your Brain on Social Anxiety 59

Part 2 Looking Inside Your Head

4 How Our Inner Critic Undermines Us 71

5 Think Different: Replace 89

6 Think Different: Embrace 98

Part 3 Heading Out into the World

7 Get Started and Your Confidence Will Catch Up 117

8 No False Fronts in This Town: Play a Role to Build Your True Self 124

9 Mountains to Molehills: It Gets Easier Every Time 137

10 Putting It All Together: Your Challenge List 142

Part 4 Busting the Myths of Social Anxiety

11 How (and Why) to Turn Your Attention Inside Out 171

12 Seeing Is Believing: How You Feel Isn't How You Look 181

13 "I Have to Sound Smart/Funny/Interesting": How Perfectionism Holds Us Back 197

14 Why You Don't Have a Social Skills Problem (You Heard That Right) 215

15 The Myth of Hope in a Bottle 227

Part 5 All You Have to Be Is Kind

16 The Building Blocks of Beautiful Friendships (They're Not What You Think) 233

Epilogue 255

My Quiet Road to How to Be Yourself 263

Author's Note 273

Acknowledgments 274

References 277

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