Home > Social Anxiety > What if I can’t?

What if I can’t?

The further I get into my therapy, the more hopeless I feel. I want to get past this horrible fear that’s dominated so much of my life. But I can’t do it. The things that my therapist is asking me to do are so simple, so trivial – and yet, I’m absolutely paralyzed at the thought of doing them.

It’s not that she’s pushing me too hard. We spent a total of a couple of hours over the span of multiple sessions working out a ladder – that is, a list, from easy to hard, of the different kinds of situation that trigger my fears. And we’re starting with the easiest one that I could come up with. There’s no easier first step. And yet, I can’t do it.

In my last post, one commenter asked something about what kind of example I’d be setting for my children if I give up.

I don’t know. I don’t want to teach my kids to give up when things get hard. But I also really believe that there are some things that we can change, and some things that we can’t. No matter what happens with my therapy, I’m never going to stop being shy or introverted. Those are just basic parts of how I’m put together as a person. I can’t decide to stop being introverted. It’s a fact, not a choice.

I want my children to understand that we don’t get everything we want. That to got through life, you need to be able to be realistic, set realistic goals, and be happy with what you can achieve.

I’m not arguing against being ambitious. But we don’t always get to decide how things will turn out. We don’t gain anything by denying the existence of the limits that reality puts on us. If my son were to decide that he wants to be a professional linebacker in the NFL, he’s going to be disappointed. It doesn’t matter how much he wants to do it – he doesn’t have the right sort of body for it.

I don’t want to teach my children that they need to aspire to some kind of arbitrary goal, and torture themselves if they can’t get there.

All that my therapist is asking me to do is to find an excuse to walk into a couple of stores on my way to work, and ask someone who works there a question. Just a simple question, like “where can I find the toothpaste?”

And I’m absolutely sick at the thought of doing that every day. I can’t face it. It’s pathetic, but I can’t. And when I say sick, I’m not being figurative. I’m giving myself migraines every day from the stress of it.

And if I can’t even do something that small, that simple – how is it remotely possible that I’ll ever defeat this wretched anxiety?

Is this just an inescapable part of who I am? How long do I keep doing this to myself before I can conclude that it’s not going to work?

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  1. September 17, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    If you can’t do it, it’s not the right exposure to start with. It doesn’t matter if it’s supposed to be easy, or you can’t think of anything easier. When I went through CBT, I was told the exposures weren’t supposed to put you any higher than a 6 or 7 out of 10 for anxiety. There’s no point beating yourself up about what you think you should be able to do. You can only start from where you are and it isn’t going to work unless you accept where that really is. Your therapist should be trying to help you come up with exposures that are closer to the border between what is comfortable and what’s too scary.

    What about going into a store and just identifying someone you could ask about the toothpaste? Or spending longer than you usually would browsing where an employee can see you? Or imagining asking the question? Or making eye contact with someone in the store? Is there something you already do that causes some anxiety? Maybe you could push yourself just slightly from there.

    I gave up because therapy itself was at the top of my ladder and the therapist wouldn’t agree to any modifications that would make it more achievable. I don’t think you should give up until you’ve found an exposure you can actually complete, at the very least.

    You haven’t set an arbitrary goal that’s impossible, like being an NFL player or an extrovert. Would you want your son to never play football with friends because he’s not built like a professional?

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