Many of us with social anxiety hold ourselves to unrealistically high standards. We are terribly afraid of making mistakes, somehow believing that perfection is a requirement for being accepted as a worthy member of the human race.
Behaviorally, we can confront our fear of negative evaluation from others by making mistakes intentionally. In Dying of Embarrassment, my co-authors and I listed numerous examples of intentional mistakes, which are shown below. Some of these mistakes might not apply to you; you'll need to think of mistakes that will target your particular fears. For someone with a fear of trembling in public, purposefully making your hand shake while signing a check would be a useful exposure. Read through the list and make note of any items that apply to you and your fears.
Intentional Mistake Practice List
- Trip in front of someone.
- Pay for something with the incorrect amount of money.
- Drop something (for example, a fork, a coin, your glasses) in front of others.
- Order something that isn't on the menu.
- Greet someone by the wrong name.
- Ask for directions to a store, department, etc., in which you are already located.
- Have your hand tremble when paying for something.
- Take more than the allowed number of items allowed to try on in a clothing store.
- Underestimate the size of your feet to the shoe salesperson.
- Have some part of your clothing appear inappropriate such as a label showing, shirt-tail out, mismatched socks, uncoordinated clothes.
- Ask for an item that obviously is not carried by the store you are in.
- Ask an obvious customer for information as if he or she worked at the store.
- Ask for information or directions and then request that the answer be repeated.
- Ask a question of someone and either stutter or speak with an unusual accent or tone.
- Attempt to purchase something without having your cash or credit card with you.
- Purchase something at Wal-Mart and attempt to pay with your Target card.
- Approach and almost enter the wrong restroom in a public place.
- Hum or sing so loud that others can hear you.
- Order an item and change your mind at least twice.
- Greet or say something to someone across the room at a volume that is noticed by the other people there.
- Enter a door inappropriately (push when you are supposed to pull or vice versa), push on a door that is locked, try to open the hinged side of a door, etc.
- Buy something that you would ordinarily be embarrassed to purchase.
- Walk against the flow of traffic, stop suddenly, or in some other way bring attention to your self by how you are walking through the mall.
- Have yourself paged on a public address system.
- Bump into something.
- Tell a store clerk that you've lost something and ask if it's been found.
One of the nice things about mistake-practice is that it doesn't take a lot of time. These are things that you can easily incorporate into your everyday life. In fact, even if you have basically overcome your social anxiety, you can maintain your gains by doing mistake-practice on a routine basis. This keeps you from drifting back into your old perfectionistic beliefs that making mistakes will automatically lead to some kind of disapproval. What you learn is this: Most people don't notice your mistakes. But, if they do, you can handle it.
Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you
from doing all the things in life
you’d like to.
–Ask, by The Smiths (Read how we named our blog.)
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I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People.