by Anita Avedian, MS, LMT
One of the questions clients with Social Anxiety ask, is they can you be socially anxious AND also be able to date?
Some who struggle with social anxiety, might believe that the answer to this question is NO, especially when it comes to understanding how they can have social anxiety and be able to go out on dates? Well, I have some good news! There ARE ways our clients with social anxiety can make dating work!
Anyone experiencing social anxiety or in the process of treating a client with this diagnosis knows that it can be an extremely life hindering battle. Their persistent nervousness and accompanying negative thoughts can be crippling and sometimes it’s difficult to leave home unless it’s absolutely necessary for them to do so.
However, as a mental health provider, we are well aware that we are born to live in a community, to love and be loved. Social anxiety can make it difficult for our clients to initiate romantic relationships, but that does not mean they don’t want to have physical and emotional intimacy with someone special.
We have to constantly remind them and ourselves that having social anxiety does not mean that they have to live in isolation or that they won’t be able to find that special someone. We just need to teach or role model to them a different approach.
Here are 5 DATING tips to help your client work through their SOCIAL ANXIETY:
1. Encourage them to Practice Celebrating Themselves
A hallmark feature of social anxiety is the fear of being judged. People with social anxiety are often their own worst critics. Usually, the only person judging them is them.
Minimizing self-judgement can be done by frequent positive self-talk. Write down affirming statements they can regularly use and encourage them to do so often.
You can also do an exercise and have them answer the following questions:
What is it about their personality that a romantic interest would find attractive? What physical qualities do they have that they like about themselves? Encourage them to name a few. Frequent acknowledgement of these attributes can help build their confidence.
2. Create a Mock Dialogue
Start by guiding them to consider the social settings where they might meet someone for a date. Direct them to mentally place themselves in that scene. Next, have them think of a few lines they can memorize and use during the date. You can brainstorm these ideas with them and offer some suggestions if they struggle with coming up with their own. Having a few phrases memorized can help them ease into the flow of conversation. By using this technique, the pressure of saying the “right” thing can be reduced, which can reduce their overall anxiety.
We practice table topics in our social anxiety support group, and have clients think on their feet. They realize that they could fill the time and space with responses that they didn’t think they could. It’s learning to trust oneself that you can keep the conversation going, and that if you can’t, you will survive that time.
3. Reassure them it is ok NOT to hide their Nervousness
Remind them that their romantic interest is also human, and could also be feeling nervous during a date. Normalize the situation by telling them dating is not easy for anyone and first dates can be especially difficult for everyone involved. Maybe they can announce that they are feeling nervous, and that will help ease the concept of whether their date notices their nervousness. This is similar to a speaker announcing that they’re feeling a little nervous during their speech, and all of a sudden their anxiety is gone.
Admitting that they are nervous is ok and most likely not something that their date would perceive as negative – it is human!
4. If They Get Nervous Keep Going
For those with social anxiety, it is common to want to run away from conversations after thinking they made a mistake or said the “wrong thing.” Teach them to learn to accept those embarrassing moments. Whatever they do, make sure they own the awkward moment and embrace it!
One distraction we practice during the social anxiety support group is to ask a question if you become too nervous in order to take the focus off of themselves. Their date will probably enjoy talking about themselves anyway.
5. Meet People Under as Little Pressure as Possible
When you’re looking to date, avoiding social settings that are large or busy can be helpful for them. People with social anxiety typically find partners at small venues and not around large crowds. Small groups tend to help ease anxiety. We don’t want to risk a person also having a panic attack because of the busy venue.
The fact that they are seeing you, means they are actively pursuing to gain better control of their life through therapy. Encouraging them to join a support group as supplementary treatment could be another way for them to practice socializing with those going through the same thing and finding relief in the fact that they are not alone.
Anita Avedian, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Licence # LMFT 38403) and has been in practice since 2001. Anita has offices in Sherman Oaks, Hollywood, Glendale, and Woodland Hills. She graduated with her MS in Educational Psychology, and completed two certifications including Employee Assistance Program and Human Resources from California State University of Northridge. Her specialties include working with relationships, anger, social anxiety, and addictions. Anita is the Executive Director of Avedian Counseling Center, a group practice with 8 locations, treating couples and individuals. Moreover, Anita founded Anger Management Essentials which is an approved NAMA model used for anger management certification. Anita is an Authorized NAMA Trainer and Anger Management Supervisor for certifying anger management specialists. She is a Certified Anger Management Specialist IV and a Diplomat Member of NAMA. She offers monthly trainings to certify counselors in anger management. She authored Anger Management Essentials, a workbook for aggression, which has been translated into Spanish, Armenian, and Hebrew.