It is rarely helpful to tell a shy person to “just be yourself!” Riffing on that frustrating exchange, clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen has written a book that she hopes will answer the question the anxious person usually asks in return: How?
Hendriksen received her doctorate from UCLA and today works at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. She is the author of How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, out last week from St. Martin’s Press, which she describes as “a book I wish I had when I was 20.”
The Verge spoke with Hendriksen about the most helpful techniques to combat social anxiety, daring to be average, and why most people’s social skills are just fine.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Let’s start with the basics. In the early chapters, you define social anxiety as “self-consciousness on steroids.” Can you be more specific about what that means? What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a perception that there is something embarrassing and deficient about us, and, unless we work hard to conceal or hide it, it will be revealed and we will be judged or rejected for it.
We can all relate to the experience of looking in the mirror and zooming in on a perceived flaw like a zit. There is a sense of wanting to hide that perceived flaw and that leads you to, say, throw on some tinted moisturizer. That feeling — that urge to hide — is the exact same feeling that one gets with social anxiety, except with social anxiety it’s about our internal self, about our personality or our social skills or simply who we are as a person.
The one thing I always like to add is that social anxiety is a package deal, and it often comes bundled with strengths like high standards and empathy and being helpful and altruistic. People who have social anxiety are often good listeners and conscientious and they work hard to get along with fellow humans. And those are all really amazing strengths that won’t go away even as people work on their social anxiety. Read More