There are lots of reasons why we sometimes don’t want to go to an event or do a certain activity. Fear is one of those reasons. It can range from an uncomfortable feeling to full blown social anxiety. At its worst, it can make some people become recluses.
One of the tricks that some people use is to set a time limit for themselves. They say I’ll just go for 30 minutes or I’ll listen to the first song and then leave. It feels much safer to know that they aren’t committed to a long period of time or the whole event. It is like sticking your toe in the water instead of diving in head first. And often when they use this trick they end up staying for much longer than the original time limit.
Clients will tell me that they used this tactic and then proceed to discount their efforts at overcoming their anxiety. They will feel like they somehow cheated. They didn’t really “go to the event”, even if they ended up staying for most or all of it, because they only went with the commitment to stay for a short time.
But it does count. I’ll often ask if it made it easier to go because they gave themselves permission to leave if they wanted to leave. The answer is almost always yes. We will then talk about what it means to be able to give yourself permission. What it means is that you are in control. You have the ability to set your boundaries around the event. If you go and don’t like it, you can leave. If you are enjoying yourself you can stay.
And control is at the heart of the anxiety that keeps people from participating. Recognizing that you have control is difficult for many people. When you give yourself permission to leave early, you are saying you have control. The fear that you’ll be in an uncomfortable or not enjoyable situation can be mitigated by the realization that you can end the situation. You are in control.
It is true that there is a lot in life that we can’t control. We can’t control if the event will be entertaining or enjoyable. But we can control if we stay or not and for how long. We can respond to the situation and recognize the control we have over ourselves. And that is the real trick to having a sense of safety…recognizing where we do have control and giving ourselves permission to exercise it.