She Is Braver Than She Thinks: A CBT Experiment On Social Anxiety

March 06, 2017

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If you cannot brace the overwhelming attention given by other people, do your best to fit into the ideal. Let us face it! We live in a society that is governed by a set of standards. This is why we employ dress code at workplaces and guest etiquette at weddings. Most of us have a preconceived notion that conforming with the majority leads to wider acceptance and to less judgement. But, is this always the case?


Last month, I had the privilege to partake in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) whereby a subject was tasked to address certain thoughts with the aid of Exposure therapy. Exposure therapy occurs when there is a gradual interaction between the person and the feared object or situation. This method works well with people who suffer from Phobia. 

For the purpose of anonymity, the subject's name will be replaced by a fictional character from the Harry Potter series. Hermione is weighed down by her Social Anxiety. Social Anxiety (or Social Phobia) refers to the extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations. This is why the objective of the experiment is to disprove her assumptions that she attracts attention due to the presence of negative traits (i.e., physical appearance and other internal factors).

The premise is simple! She wore an over-the-top outfit while interacting with people in different types of places. Picture a woman with a face mask, black eye-shadow, dark clothing, and blue hair. Will you stop and stare? The mere thought of eyes gazing in her direction made Hermione's heart pound.

We carried the experiment in three places with increasing influx of people. The first stop was a secluded coffee shop. Words cannot describe how terrified she was. If I was asked to go face-to-face with something that I fear the most, I would feel the same way. The act of stepping out of the vehicle and venturing to the coffee shop was a huge accomplishment in itself. 

Decked with the Gothic fashion, she expected at least 15 stares from strangers. Oh! She was mistaken. Only 5 people gave her the time of day as others were preoccupied with their business. They glanced for a few seconds and went back to their personal conversations. At the end of the first stop, she mustered the courage to visit a tourist spot.
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You read that right! We took Hermione to a tourist spot where 4 travel buses pulled up. Despite the rainy weather, people flooded the souvenir shops. It was too late to back down! Out of all the guests, about 6 people stared. There was a particular moment that touched our hearts. A kid was so fascinated by her eye-catching looks that he told his mother about it.

She continued to interact with the vendors politely. I was so PROUD of her.

As we reach the end of our experiment, she became more comfortable with what she wore. The last stop was a popular fast-food joint. She anticipated that over 20 people would stare, but less than 10 people cared! She realized that people were "too self-absorbed". They would unintentionally stare for a while. It is a normal response, which is likely a result of biological and evolutionary factors


When was the last time you tried to fit into the ideal to be accepted? Was this an efficient solution to experience less scrutiny from the society? Well, it works in most cases. 

A crucial point of this experiment was self-expression. Do not be afraid to welcome the piercing stares. Looking is all that they can do, anyway. Feel free to break away from the majority as long as you do not commit crimes or harm others. Make a difference.

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Re-framing your robust thoughts may not be easy, but it is possible! Hermione understood that. Much like her, you are braver than you think.

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  1. Awesome read! Enjoyed it from top to bottom.


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