“I’d always found social situations a challenge. I hated going to parties - even small gatherings caused my anxiety levels to rocket.
"My husband is a sociable, happy-go-lucky guy so I often found myself in these situations where I didn’t feel comfortable at all.
"Of course, there was rarely any specific reason why I was feeling so tense and panicky. After a little while and some friendly conversation with others, I would start to relax and realise that I wasn’t in any danger.
"The next morning, I’d look back on how worried I’d got about going to the party and wonder why I was making such a fuss. However, the next time my husband dragged me to yet another party, the same worries and doubts would surface in my mind and I’d go through the motions once again.
"I started attending counselling because I wanted to deal with my anxiety. I couldn’t explain why it kept happening and, to be honest, I just wanted to learn some techniques to manage.
"This is what the first few sessions with the therapist were about. We looked at relaxation and deep breathing techniques, as well as ways in which I could challenge the intrusive thoughts. It was during the third session that I started to talk about my past, in particular a painful time in my early twenties when a number of people I thought were friends turned their backs on me.
"I still don’t know why I brought this event up, but we spent most the session exploring it. At first, I couldn’t see how it was related to my anxiety in social situations. That evening, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
"Over the next week, I came to realise that my anxiety in social situations and the falling-out with my friends were inextricably linked.
"Although I had always worried about going to parties, it was only in my twenties that I started actively avoiding them. The next session was spent exploring this in detail. I spoke about how I spent years making excuses not to go to these events but when I met my husband, I found myself being dragged along with him.
"I always thought moments of insight hit you like a bolt from the blue, but this wasn’t like that… it emerged over time and at a pace that didn’t feel overwhelming.
"I came to realise that my anxiety in social situations, whilst a challenge when I was younger, had become unbearable after the event in my early twenties.
"Since then, social events had become linked to the feelings of abandonment and isolation. I had started to believe that everyone would turn their backs on me as my so-called-friends had done.
"If the therapist had just pointed it out to me, I don’t think I would have believed her. Instead, my understanding of my own behaviour emerged over the course of the sessions and came from within.
"That’s the most valuable thing I’ve taken away from my counselling sessions, a better understanding of myself that has come about from having the opportunity to explore and consider my past at my own pace.”
Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
01851 871094 / 07815662208