Group therapy seemed like an oxymoron for someone with social anxiety. If being in a group causes tremendous anxiety, isn’t group therapy going to cause me even more anxiety? So how is group therapy supposed to help me with anxiety and recovery? That appeared to me to be a total contradiction in terms.
The reason people sit across from each other in any room in any situation and don’t speak is usually because they are worried about approval and feeling the need to protect ego. They’re worried about what other people think of them and they’re afraid to look like they’re the only ones who are really struggling with this. If one person takes down his or her ego-protection walls and asks for help, other people take theirs down too and they end up opening up and sharing their struggles as well, looking for the same help.
As I was in rehab, I was filled with withdrawal anxiety, post-acute withdrawal anxiety and the generalized anxiety that had been my constant companion my whole life. Social anxiety, at that particular point, was off the charts. So when I was told a recovery program and community group therapy was needed, I pushed back hard. I always had monumental social anxiety, so group therapy was a major anxiety trigger. But I held to my mantra of “please help me”. My professional care-givers instructed me to join in these community groups so I did.
When I started going into any groups and just saying “please help me”, things instantly changed. I did not concern myself with impressing anybody or worrying about whether anybody liked me or not. I actually said those three words out loud when I was asked to speak. Those three words took down all the walls I built to protect my ego and got me away from the fear of what other people thought of me. By saying “please help me” out loud to a group, I found myself instantly accepted by people with their arms around me. There was no posturing or performing to obtain approval or status – there was just instant acceptance. The fear of not being approved of was gone because that didn’t matter anymore.
Once I no longer had the ego-protection barriers up, I was free to explore and embrace true friendship, commonality and sense of community. The feelings of being afraid and alone were gone. There I was embraced and accepted by other people who understood and could empathize with what I was going through, without any other effort other than to drop my guard. Equally important, it got me out of one of the worst prisons I had put myself in, which is the fear and social anxiety of always worrying about what other people thought of me. Getting out of that prison also meant I no longer felt alone and no longer was alone. I just wanted help and asked for it. And there it was.