How blessed we are to have friends who lift us up, who speak truth to us, who listen, give advice, encouragement and their constant prayers. This is richness; this is true treasure to have such wonderful women in your life.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Breaking The Social Anxiety Chains That Bind!

“Come join! Come join!”  they call to me.
I stretch my hand, but I can’t break free.
A thought inside my head revolving,
It’s not to you they’re calling.
Pull back your hand, buffoon,
Before they see You
And wryly sing a different tune.

Travel back with me to my awkward junior high years, where everyone has braces, pimples flourish, notes are passed, and there’s an overwhelming aroma of Bath and Body lotion, cologne and BO. I walked into this foreign world and saw a sea of faces I didn’t know, but I was fortunate to find two kindred spirits. We were inseparable, we played sports together, shared happy and sad days, vented to each other, and had ridiculous inside jokes.
Fast forward four years…  

We were now upperclassmen. The teachers liked us. We were pretty good at sports and were elected class officials. As the year progressed, I was given special attention and recognition in front of my friends, by teaches, coaches and some peers in our school. My successes were noticed, even my mediocrity was praised. For some inexplicable reason, this strange halo of favor hung over me throughout the year. Initially, I enjoyed the attention, but my friends became increasingly hurt and offended, and shared their feelings openly with me.  As the year progressed, this cycle continued and recognition in front of my friends stung them deeper and made me want to shrink ever smaller.

The night of the school awards show came, a friend spoke of an award she hoped to receive. But when the winner was announced, they called MY name. My face burned. My muscles tightened. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and I wanted to disappear. I walked on stage to accept the award in front of the entire school. The teacher asked me to say something. I went blank. What do I say? I anxiously blurted out an ill-conceived, but quick reply. “I just want to thank all the little people who helped me get here,” and quickly exited stage left. Let me invite you into my mind immediately after, “Ugh!  Little people? Why did I say that? What do I do with this plaque? I can’t bring it back to my seat.” I found a dark place under the bleachers to hide it before walking back to my friends. Once I got to my seat, my friends were missing. 

From that point on, I became the “inside joke." They whispered and laughed as they peered at me and hurriedly walked several steps ahead. We were no longer, “kindred spirits;" our friendship was undone.  By the end of the school year I felt despised by the people who knew me best, and I just wanted to disappear. I transferred schools my senior year and sunk deeper into the fog of social anxiety.  Now, I was the new girl, but at least if people didn’t like me, I could say it’s because they didn’t really know me.

I understood where my friends were coming from. We saw ourselves as equals. How could anyone elevate one of us over the others and do it so publicly? My friends certainly had reason to feel frustrated.  Haven’t we all experienced some degree of that? You want a promotion, someone else gets it, then you think of a million reasons why it should have been you. 

Social anxiety is an unreasonable fear of social situations, based on the belief that people will judge you. The physical feelings and reactions I had the night I received the award are duplicated whenever I feel I’m at the center of attention. Sometimes just speaking to someone I view as important or intelligent will illicit this reaction.  

Here are four ways that social anxiety plays out in my life:

Lethargic Living. I recently attended a conference and the speaker was Lisa Bevere. She spoke about “living fully awake.” I love this! We cannot live fully awake if we let our anxiety suffocate us. I am guilty of giving in to that struggle at times. I have lethargically moved my children through their days and stealthily avoided peer conversation. Adding children to our family multiplied my anxiety. I felt the magnifying glass grow larger as my adorable goobers got older and started acting like children.

I notice when people give disapproving glances, my body reacts.  As a result, when an opportunity arises to be a part of social events my choice is often to stay home. Then, what do I do at home with my kids? The same “stuff” we did the last couple of weeks. If your days gray together and you can’t remember what you did on Monday, because it was so similar to Tuesday, Wednesday, etc… then you are living a life of lethargy.

A motivating factor to change lately; however, has in fact, been my kids. I don’t want to perpetuate anxiety in their lives and I want them to have friends. I’ve come to realize it’s hard for them to have friends if I choose not to interact and build relationship with their friend’s Moms.

A False Sense of Control. One day, at work, I was asked to speak to a teenager, we’ll call her Eve, who had been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when she was nine. She started hiding her medications instead of taking them and as a result landed back in the hospital. Initially, Eve denied knowing why she was hospitalized, denied having symptoms of Crohn’s, and even denied being diagnosed with Crohn’s. Eve’s illness was taking over her body, because she made a choice to ignore her illness, and in doing so she gave her illness control. 

It’s easy to look at Eve and think, “What in the world, kid! This is your body! Take care of it.” The truth is that anyone who feels like they are incomplete or broken will try to pretend like they’re not. I try my hardest to avoid anxiety-inducing situations, so I can feel like nothing’s wrong with me. 


By doing so I continually make my world smaller. My anxiety is running the show. Let’s stop pretending. We are all broken, but that’s why there’s Jesus.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy. When we allow our anxiety to permeate our relationships, we will lose friendships and/or potential friendships. There have been times when I or my family have been asked to be a part of something. Simultaneously, I’m thinking, “Yes! … But No.”
 I truly want to, but I can feel the anxiety dancing in my chest. Even if I say yes, I’m soon looking or hoping for a reason not to go. Not because I don’t love the people who invited us, but because I have let my anxiety cripple my movements. A lot of times I talk myself out of going and eventually those friends stop inviting me. I have rejected them one too many times.

Inactive Players in God’s Plan. 


My anxiety can bind me. 
I see my weakness and I decide I’m not as capable or as needed as others. We are gifted opportunities to be a part of God’s plan. God is saying, “Come join, come join!” If we pull our hand back his plan will happen without us. What do I mean by inactive players? We have chosen God’s team, but we choose only to watch, not even from the bench because then we could be called up. No, we are nursing an old injury, watching the team play and thinking about how good it would be to be out there.

So, how do we fight? We go! We serve! We bravely allow ourselves to be awkward sometimes. I love that Angie Smith spoke of Leah. I had never noticed the part about her having “weak eyes” before. Not long ago I read through the book of Judges and what struck me was how imperfect the Judges were. The majority had something that could be perceived as a weakness or undesirable. God elevated prostitutes, foreigners, women, tax collectors, poor speakers, the list goes on. Here’s what I believe God is saying through these stories. Be willing and I will use you! Don’t let your brokenness stop you from being a part of something great. 

This post was written by guest author, Kirstin Fowler.



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