It didn’t seem like social anxiety was an issue. Eti had been part of the same group of close friends since she was six. Even though she no longer went to the same school as the others, aged 15, she still enjoyed getting together with these friends to go shopping, do makeovers on each other, and eat ice cream. She had a wonderful infectious laugh and was never happier than when she was with ‘her girls.’
Away from ‘her girls’ her social anxiety was clear
However, when Eti was away from her group, she was very nervous in social situations, and especially around adults. She was the sort of person who would go for a doctor’s appointment and come out without having managed to tell the doctor what the real problem was. She would feel her face turning hot and red and would stumble over her words. Expecting the doctor to intuit what she was really trying to say, she would invariably be disappointed when that didn’t happen. Even when she went to buy clothes, Eti would be completely intimidated by the young people working in the stores and would never be able to ask them to help her find the size she needed. She always felt like they were looking at her and laughing, even though there was no reason for them to do so.
At school, Eti faded into the background
At school, Eti tried to fade into the background as much as possible. She hated being put on the spot and asked questions, but she wouldn’t volunteer answers or opinions either. She would never even speak to her teachers privately. Eti also had some significant learning difficulties and so her school didn’t have particularly high expectations of her. Nevertheless, Eti worked extremely hard at her school work, putting in lots of extra time and effort, and even went for private tutoring once a week to help her keep up.
Therapy at Kav L’Noar to deal with Eti’s social anxiety
Eti also saw a Kav L’Noar therapist. They talked a lot about how Eti felt looked down on by everybody else. “People always think they’re better than me. They know more than me, they look more attractive, they have it all together. They don’t take me seriously. Even people who don’t know me- they still walk all over me. One time this guy at the supermarket said he was closed after I’d already put all my groceries on the checkout belt. He wouldn’t have said that if I’d been anybody else.”
“I know I deserve the award,”
The therapist asked Eti to think of examples of when people had given her the opposite impression, paid her compliments or made her feel valued. Eti replied that it hadn’t happened yet, but that soon she expected to receive the award for being the most outstanding student, which is given not to the student with the highest grades but to the student who has tried the hardest and made the most progress. “I know I deserve the award,” she said. “When I get it maybe I’ll feel like other people do see me for who I am after all.”
People don’t take me seriously!”
But when the results came out, Eti discovered that the award had been given to the same girl as the year before. She was devastated and told the therapist: “Talya spends all her time playing basketball! She coached some of the girls from the younger grades- big deal! Everything comes easily to her. She’s pretty and has lots of friends and does well in all her subjects. She’s always done well. Whereas I have come so far! Last year I was failing in pretty much everything. This year, I’ve passed every subject. I am always in the school library or doing extra credit assignments. I just can’t believe they overlooked me. People don’t take me seriously!”I told you!
Eti’s therapist asked her if she had told her homeroom teacher any of this. Eti said, “of course not. But… maybe you can? Maybe you can tell her everything I’ve been telling you, and how upset I am over this? She’d listen to you!”
Learning to stand up for yourself to deal with social anxiety
The therapist gently told Eti that she needed to learn how to stand up for herself. “I won’t always be here to fight your corner for you, but even if I was, this is something that needs to come from you. You’ll feel so much better if you can tell your teacher all of this yourself.” Eti said, “but I won’t be able to! As soon as the teacher asks what I want I’ll forget everything I wanted to say!.” So the therapist started a role play, acting out the role of the teacher, and encouraging Eti to play her part. They did it a few times until Eti finally agreed that she was ready to give it a try- with a list of five points she’d written on a note as backup.
Letting your words speak for themselves
The next week, Eti came into the therapy room beaming. She related how the meeting with the teacher had gone really well. The teacher said that even though Eti was very persuasive, she couldn’t backtrack on the decision to give the other girl the award, but that she was really impressed to hear about Eti’s efforts. She recognized that Eti had turned things around all by herself which was a huge achievement. She also told Eti how happy she was to finally have a chance to have a conversation with her and to hear her voice. Eti was learning how to overcome her social anxiety. She learned to let her own words speak for themselves.
*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.