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Why Self-Help Does not Help with Shyness and Social Phobia

Ruy Miranda
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Some people have complained about not getting results with self-help in situations in which they feel shy or have attacks of Phobia/ Social Anxiety. Sometimes they’ve complained about not being able to apply whatever it is they have learned. Let’s take a look at some of the aspects involved in this situation, and I’ll even offer a useful tip for unblocking the path and facilitating the use of self-help. Before doing that, however, let’s take a quick look at certain aspects of self-help.


What is Self-help?

Literally, it is help that one gives to one’s self without the participation of anyone else. In practice, what happens is a little more complex. In self-help, you don’t have the physical presence of another person, but you keep in mind what someone told you verbally and/or in writing to help to overcome a new or difficult situation, or you keep in mind observations you made regarding another person’s procedures. These instructions are very specific and, in general , are presented in steps.


Although self-help is widely used in psychological spheres, the same process is applied in very different situations. For example, you can prepare yourself not to tremble when you’re going to talk at a meeting in much the same way as you can prepare yourself to operate a car. In the first situation, you don’t need to know why you tremble when you’re going to talk at a meeting . In the second case, you don’t need to know why stepping on the clutch, engaging the gear , and depressing the accelerator makes the car move. You only know that by doing these things, the car moves.


Self-help differs from psychotherapy in many aspects. One of the differences that stands out most is that with self-help you need only to follow some instructions to overcome a problem, without regard to the origin or causes or processes that created the problem. In psychotherapy, there is, in general , a quest for these explanations.

Disdain for Self-Help

We have observed that many people belittle those who use self-help, as well those who offer it through instruction. As the practice of self-help has become increasingly common, mainly through its diffusion on the Internet, the more extreme detractors pejoratively refer to it as the “culture of self-help.” By this, they mean that it deals with a superficial understanding of things. From my point of view, such belittlement is inappropriate, as in many situations a problem can be overcome without knowing everything about the process involved, as in the case of operating a car. In a broad sense of the concept, we all use self-help everyday.


If you want to go a little deeper into the discussion and say that they are different things—which is to say that in operating a car you practice many times using the clutch, gears , and accelerator, and that this becomes automatic and conditioned—I’d answer by saying that they could be very similar things. A person could have told himself over and over again, before speaking at meetings , that he will tremble, and, indeed, he will tremble. Consequently, this has become automatic and conditioned, and he trembles without even thinking this will happen.


If you want to limit the discussion to the field of psychological processes, I would answer that the due value of self-help can only be given by those who have suffered through a problem and felt the relief it has given or by those who are accustomed to understanding the emotions of others, such as us psychotherapists, for example. In many occasions, self-help is a precious short-cut in a long journey.


Having made these preliminary clarifications, let’s examine the central theme from two angles: what impedes someone from using self-help, and what happens when someone uses it but doesn’t get results.


What Impedes One from Using Self-help in Shyness or Social Phobia / Anxiety Disorder

You may know exactly how to proceed in a certain situation, but when it comes time to put use this knowledge, you just can�t manage to do it. Many things can contribute to this. Let�s point out some of them:

*You become so anxious that you can�t remember that you have the knowledge to deal with the situation.
*You remember the new knowledge, but the situation is so unpleasant that you resort to old practices as a way of mitigating the discomfort.
*You remember the knowledge, begin to apply it, and then give it up.
* You remember the knowledge but feel unmotivated to use it.


If you experience any of these situations or in situations like them, then it is very likely that you need the direct, personal help of a professional.


You can first try a simple technique adapted from one that was introduced by Gestalt Therapy more than forty years ago and use it to create the conditions to apply self-help knowledge. It consists of following certain procedures to place yourself in time and space whenever the mind begins to feel confused, the heart and respiration accelerate, and a sensation of danger is aroused, which is to say, when you begin to feel anxiety. Whenever this happens, you need to MENTALLY answer some questions.

-- Where am I? Take a good look around you, even if the environment is familiar . Formally and mentally describe what you see: the room, the walls, the color of the walls, what the doors, windows, and furniture are like, then tell yourself where you are in the room, in what part of the building the room is located, on what street the building is located, in which city the street is located. For example: “I am in a room with four white walls. On the wall to my right, there is a poster of a golf course. On the wall in front of me there is wooden door painted blue, etc., etc.”

-- What time is it? First, check out the amount of light to see if it is day or night, then look at your wristwatch or a clock on the wall and tell yourself what time it is, what day of the week it is, and what month it is.

-- Who is here? Take a look at where you are in the room, if you are standing or sitting, if you are alone or with someone. Watch the other people in the room and pay attention to what they are saying and doing, if they are sitting, standing, and walking around.

-- Who am I? Say your name, describe what you do, where you live, with whom you live, and your qualifications.

-- What am I doing here? Describe the reasons for your being in this place and the reason for the other people.


This procedure will help you to place yourself in time and space and have a more realistic perception of yourself and the situation. After confirming that the level of anxiety has diminished considerably, try to remember the self-help procedures you’ve learned, and then begin using them.

You Use what You�ve Learned and Nothing Changes

This situation can have a number of causes, of which we will highlight the following:

* Deep down inside, you don’t believe that these procedures can truly help you.

* The procedure only partially encompasses your inner problems.

* The procedure is not the most appropriate for the circumstances you are experiencing.

* The inner problems involved are very complex and/or they have already crystallized to such an extent that they are not affected by the help you are trying to give.


In these, and similar circumstances, it is very likely that you need the direct and personal help of a professional.


November, 2004.

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This web site, the Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness Directory and these articles contained on this web site are not solicitations, are not medical advice and are not intended as medical advice. This web site, the Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness Directory and these articles are intended to provide only general, non-specific medical information and are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topics discussed. This web site, the Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness Directory and these articles do not create any physician-client relationship between Ruy Miranda and you, and they do not replace the eventual relationship between you and your physician, psychologist, or other healthcare professional. This article�s author recommends no particular medication and does not represent the interests of any person, company or pharmaceutical laboratory.

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You may want to read other articles on Social Anxiety Disorder / Social Phobia and Shyness:

Basic Articles:

Self-Concept/Self- Actualization – Shyness Nucleus

Self-concept, Body Image, Self-depreciation and Shyness

Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder: Neurophysiological Approach

Shyness Articles:

What Is Shyness? Fear, Anxiety, Anguish?

Questions and Answers on Shyness

Humiliation Stories, School Spankings: Examples of Shyness Causes

Social Anxiety Disorder Articles:

Social Anxiety Disorder: What It Is, The Anxiety Attack Symptoms

Social Anxiety Attacks: Incidence, Onset, History, Evolution

Social Phobia / Anxiety Disorder: Treatment

Social Phobia / Anxiety Disorder: Differential Diagnosis

Avoidant Personality Disorder

Medications in Social Phobia: Side Effects - Part 1

Antidepressants Tricyclics: Side Effects - Part 2

Metabolic Pathways Individual Differences and Medications Side Effects - Part 3

Genetic Changes: Medications Side Effects - Part 4

First Line Antidepressants - Side Effects - Part 5

Social Anxiety and Shyness Articles:

Panic Disorder, Shyness, Social Phobia - Differences

Why Self-Help in Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder / Social Phobia Doesn�t Help You

Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder:Medication Action

Facial Blushing, Redness of the Face, Ears and Neck

Psychoses, Shyness and Social Phobia

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