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How To Handle Your Fear Of People

We'd like to believe we are insulated against the disapproval of others, but this doesn't seem to be the case. We can be hurt sometimes deeply by criticism. Deep inside we would prefer that everyone like and admire us. No one has yet, however, found a way to achieve this.

We get stuck in ruts by asking unproductive questions. One such query that can only lead to frustration is. “How can I get everyone to approve of everything I do?” We can spend our lives looking for the proper reply or we can realize that this question has no correct answer. Criticism is an inevitable and potentially beneficial part of life. We cannot avoid it: As soon as we accept this our question becomes healthier. We then ask. “How can I deal with disapproval?” Since we cannot completely escape criticism, we can begin dealing with it by preparing for it.

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You can't please all the people all the time.

Sometimes the same act will make you a hero to some and a fool to others. Fifty-five-year-old Dave, a construction worker, bemoans the fact that the fellows who drive the cement trucks don't like him.

“What's the trouble?” a friend asked Dave.

“Well.” sighs Dave as he looks down at the floor, “you see, part of my job is to prepare the basements in new houses. I supervise the digging and the measurements and so on until it's time to pour the cement. Now usually the cement is poured first thing in the morning. But during the night frogs will come and settle into the freshly dug earth.

“The drivers don't like it a bit, but I won't let them pour until I chase all the frogs out of the area. You see, these guys are not choir boys and they'd just as soon pour their loads right on top of the frogs and then be on their way. In fact lately, with all the grief they've been giving me. I think a few of them would like to pour the cement on me.”

Contrary to that these truckers may think. I suppose many would consider Dave something of a hero. Maybe in time, the truckers will come to respect his conviction. For now, Dave will have to face their scorn and follow his conscience.

Fortunately for us all, people like Dave can be found in many places. They balance vulnerability with determination. They can be hurt but they do not let the hurt block their path.

Critics

“Eminent personalities” are people who have achieved greatness in a particular field. What makes great people great? How do prominent scientists, athletes, statesmen, artists, businessmen, etc. reach such high levels of performance?

The one thing all renowned people have in common: Critics!

All great people have critics! Furthermore, I believe this is the only remarkable experience shared by all eminent personalities. Being “accomplished” or “extraordinary” or even “saintly” does not mean “being loved by all.” The lesson is clear. No one attains greatness without facing disapproval, sometimes a tremendous amount of disapproval.

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While talent plays an important role in the development of eminence, It is not the most crucial factor in determining success. Many talented souls never use their gifts for fear of how they might be received. Some of the best writing in the world sits in old notebooks collecting dust because its authors dread the possible consequences of public scrutiny. The same is assuredly true for musical masterpieces and scientific breakthroughs. What we have hidden is so much more than what we share because if we share of ourselves - be it in the form of an idea, piece of art or whatever - we can be criticized and, if we allow it, shamed. Some people look to perfection as a form of protection. “If I am perfect,” they reason, “I cannot possibly be criticized”. So they restrict themselves to small arenas where the outcomes are predictable and the audience remains satisfied or indifferent. No risks, no daring. They resist any force that might lead them into new territories. Fresh scenarios call for new ideas and behaviors. New endeavors frequently invite mistakes. Mistakes, in turn, can lead to disapproval. Each of us has to decide if it's worth the risk.

One of the most important points in human development arrives when one learns how to deal effectively with critics. At this milestone one comes to understand that criticism has no more power than any other communication. Though it may contain information worthy of consideration, criticism does not (by itself) have the power to force a retreat. But we can let it.

Even the healthiest among us have self-doubts. We're not everything we can imagine; we couldn't possibly be. Much of the region we refer to as “deep down inside” questions our adequacy in matters important to us. This isn't a flaw. It just seems to be the way we are constructed. But the criticism hurts because it appears that the critic is the one who has the ability to look deep inside and see the real you. He touches the part of you that has the doubts about your ability, competence or attractiveness. The critic, it seems, is the one who really knows.

The critic represents the adult version of the bogeyman. In and of itself, it has no power. We can, however, give it clout - sometimes a lot of clout. Just as the bogeyman kept us out of the attic, the critic can, if we let him, keep us from climbing more significant ladders.

It might help to know the kinds of criticism others have faced. For instance, when Thomas Edison was a child, the headmaster of his school told him that he “would never make a success of anything.” Likewise, a teacher once told Albert 'Einstein, “You will never amount to anything.”

A newspaper editor once told a young struggling artist named Walt Disney that he had no artistic talent.

Fortunately for us all, Edison, Disney, and Einstein all kept producing. They continued in the face of discouragement. But what of all those who did not? What of all those “unknowns” that should have been known but whose voices fell silent after I being discouraged?

We have to learn to live with some disapproval. Otherwise we will live our lives solely for the purpose of endearing ourselves to critics. Don't give faultfinders your undivided attention. Instead, learn as much as you can and then get back to work. Is it a coincidence that all great people have critics? Maybe the mission of the critic is to keep things from changing. Perhaps talent threatens the status quo.

All people can be great people. In order to fulfill our potential, however, we must deal with the fear of disapproval. Never let naysayers have the only word.

If you ignore criticism completely, you may miss some valuable lessons. Constructive criticism - criticism delivered in a respectful manner intended to help - can, of course, be very beneficial. But so too can the caustic variety based on ignorance and vindictiveness. Destructive criticism might have been what Nietzsche had in mind when he said, “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” Even an insult can provide an education. It all depends on what you do with it.

We like to think that if we had been there as the naked king paraded by, we too would have courageously exclaimed, “The emperor has no clothes!” Maybe so. Maybe not. It's hard to know. We like to think we have the stuff heroes are made of, but we don't like taking the risks necessary to find out.

We live in a world where we can all be heroes, although not everyone's heroism will be recognized by the crowds. The opportunities are endless if we are willing to face the fear and understand the true nature of heroism. Heroism describes the triumph of virtue over adversity. I glimpsed such a triumph recently while on a picnic in the park. While there, I saw a mother push her wheelchair-bound son through the park. As they traveled, the young man, who appeared to be in his late teens and suffering from cerebral palsy, leaned over the side of his chair and took in the people and events that surrounded him.

Mother's sturdy legs kept a steady pace as she accommodated the hills and turns. All the while she maintained a conversation with her young passenger. I wondered what they talked about. They seemed familiar with their journey, as if this may have been an important part of their daily routine. They weren't proud. But they weren't ashamed either. They personified both tragedy and triumph. They probably never realized they were heroes. If asked, I bet the mother would deny the great courage she displays every day. She would probably tell us she is only doing what she can to help her son.

But, oh, what courage!

Not all dogs bite

Some heroes care for the less fortunate. Others, like the emperor's young enlightener, speak the views of the frightened and the silent. Different kinds of risks, but risks nonetheless. They have a common thread. All acts of courage communicate the same message: “This is me!” Every act of courage makes an important statement about vou. The soldier who jumps on the grenade to save his buddies makes a powerful statement. So too does the person who begins volunteer work at the local hospital. The risks are very different but the message remains the same: “This is me!”

With exposure comes vulnerability. By exposing your beliefs and convictions you open yourself up for possible ridicule and rejection. Yet without this self-disclosure and vulnerability neither honesty nor intimacy would he possible. Psychologist Charles Gourgey explains that we must have “the willingness to be embarrassed.” This is “the only medicine that can heal a pretender. If we are pretending, we are trying to preserve an image of ourselves that we know is false. If we are willing to be embarrassed, we become free of the tyranny of this false self-image.”

If I somehow communicate “This is me!” I may wind up mortified. If I refuse to expose the real me, however, I will experience boredom, guilt and loneliness. So what do we do? If we want to thrive, we have to risk the humiliation. And if the humiliations come, we must be willing to face them again. Once you have walked through the fear of being embarrassed, you are well on your way to making your mark on the world.

The fear of people is quite common. One name for this condition is shyness.

If strangers, authority figures and members of the opposite sex can all be threatening, then there certainly is a lot to fear. Beyond this, we do not seem to have adequate guidelines on how to act in some of the most common situations. For instance, if you watch any group of people long enough you will probably notice that most individuals simply don't know, or haven't made up their minds, whether or not they should say hello to a stranger. And how friendly is too friendly?

We don't have exact directives on how to relate to others. What's funny to one may be offensive to another. What one might consider “being too forward,” another might consider meek. We can develop our sensitivity and tact but we never erase the risk altogether. In relationships we can be hurt. Each of us must ask ourselves. “Are they worth it?”

Shyness can be a terrible cross to bear. Retreating from the social world to avoid danger does not provide a happy refuge. It merely creates a prison of loneliness and missed opportunities.

Shy people find little consolation in the fact that many people share their affliction.

Having established the extent of the problem, we are left to ponder its consequences. We are constantly reminded of how the fear of people affects us.

It is disheartening to think what will happen to silent scholars after graduation. What happens when no one is there to insist they “hand in” their views? Too often great minds have weak voices. If we could get them to speak up we would all be richer.

It seems folks can be intimidated by recognition and acclaim. An art dealer once said, “It's hard to explain, but so often you will see an artist struggle, struggle, struggle without any success. All the while sticking with it, producing a particular style of art. Then when he starts to get noticed and his pieces start to sell, he will change his style . . . sometimes completely. It's an amazing thing, but you see it all the time.” Amazing and unfortunate.

Some people fear their gifts. A talent will get you recognized. It may also get you appreciated. Furthermore, it may incite envy. In all cases, however, a special skill will single you out as an individual, pull you out of the anonymity that accompanies life in the herd. Being unique can provoke anxiety. Yet if we shall be true to ourselves we have to walk through the tear. Gifts scream to be opened. They contribute to our calling. They help point us in the right direction. Even when we follow a correct path, we encounter fear.

Deep inside we all know we need other people. Because we need them so much, it can be frightening to risk their disapproval. The individual who drops a facade may lose some so-called friends. But in time, if she has the courage to stay honest, she will end up with real friends. In order to survive the vulnerability that comes with honest self-disclosure it can help to hold on to the simple fact that there are many many good people out there.

Not all dogs bite.

Develop encouraging relationships

Intimacy involves at least two types of risk, exposing one's self and then accepting the individuality of another. It sounds easy enough. Still, both of these can be frightening. Intimacy requires a great deal of self-disclosure. These are the special relationships where you share important things - things that, when expressed, make you feel vulnerable.

Interestingly enough, one of the most revealing statements we can make about ourselves involves our perception of beauty. We say a lot about ourselves when we point out the things we feel are beautiful. And we learn much about others when they reveal to us things they regard as magnificent.

But just as sharing ourselves can be difficult, so too can receiving personal thoughts from those in our lives. When we hear things that remind us that the people close to us are truly unique we are also reminded that we are, to some extent, “different.”

The paradox of mental health lies in the fact that mental health comes only to those who accept their fair share of craziness. We all have quirks, idiosyncrasies and amusing fantasies. When we get dose to someone, we enter their private terrain. If you expect to find things just as they are in your unique world, you will be disappointed, confused and afraid. When we understand that each person has a special set of talents, flaws, gifts and peculiarities, intimacy becomes an adventure.

Soldiers in dangerous combat situations need all the courage they can muster. So we learn a lot about courage by studying how people fare in battle.

General George Patton claimed that there are “no atheists in foxholes,” suggesting that when their lives are on the line, combat soldiers look to God for support. Even those warriors who might have denied His existence the day before, while safe and warm back at the base, find faith when their fear and uncertainty rise. We can learn in the face of death.

Besides prayer, there exists a second procedure to help troops deal with fear. Prior to combat, officers will take roll call. They call the name of each man, who responds immediately with a resounding reply. Every name called reminds each soldier that he is not alone. Roll call, then, serves as a reminder that “we are all in this together,” an attitude that lifts morale and strengthens courage.

The lesson could not be simpler: we receive courage from others and we can provide courage to others. A fear of people, consequently, begins a vicious downward spiral. If we fear people, we distance ourselves from a major source of the courage we seek. The more we distance ourselves from them. the less we are likely to see, hear or feel their encouragement and our fear deepens. Fear of people begets fear of people.

Those caught in it must find a way to reverse the spiral. They must make a conscious effort to look for someone they feel safe with. That someone may be a professional counselor or a member of the clergy. It could also be a neighbor. Good, caring, understanding people are everywhere but we have to be willing to make contact with them.

It can be scary getting close to someone or asking someone for help . . . so scary that we can focus solely on the dangers and lose sight of the potential rewards. Sometimes, perhaps often, we have to take the first step by ourselves. Once contact is made, however, good relationships produce courage.

Relationships that do not support and inspire your efforts to be true to yourself are not healthy relationships. Instead of encouraging, they discourage. In other words, they take the heart right out of you.

These discouraging relationships can be very problematic. At first glance one might suggest that the best thing to do would be to end an unhealthy relationship like this and move along. And if the relationship cannot be changed, then this advice has merit. Unfortunately, when persons have been discouraged long enough, they can have a difficult time finding the “heart” or the “guts” to end the association. In encouraging relationships, people grow together. In discouraging relationships, individuals have a tendency to get stuck in stagnating environments. But it takes courage to improve one's situation in life and courage is the thing they feel has been taken from them.

One of the clearest signs of discouragement occurs when one gives up on other people. Discouraged souls seem to think, “They are all alike,” and see little hope of finding a relationship that can provide the things they need to thrive. In short, severely discouraged souls give up on the hope of ever being encouraged. They lose faith in the simple fact that there are good people out there. If this faith can be restored, wonderful changes begin.

We can offer courage by way of a hug, a handshake, a shoulder to cry on a kind word, a small gift or even a bit of humor. We can sometimes share courage by simply “being there” for a person in need. Probably the best advice on how to offer courage to someone is to keep it simple. No one arrives at courage through a complicated formula.

People provide courage. In order to find courage, we have to find encouragement. We begin by asking ourselves, “Who encourages me? Which of my relationships seem to instill in me a sense of conviction?” If you consider the questions seriously, your answers may be surprising, even humbling. It is not uncommon for adults to realize that on occasion they still need their parents to help them find courage. Or maybe a grandparent. Or even a child. We need to develop encouraging relationships. We need to make this a deliberate choice.

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People afraid of the blind

If social scientists could have one question answered once and for all, I believe the question most would want asked is, “What causes people to help other people?” In other words what makes people kind? Hopefully, the perfect answer would also include a discussion of what keeps people from helping.

Since I don’t have an answer machine, I have to draw my own conclusions. I believe most people want to be good caring human beings. And if we could be compassionate without risking anything, I bet we'd be the kindest folks who ever lived. It's the risking that gets in the way. Kindness is a form of self-expression that can leave us very vulnerable. Few things hurt more than being rejected or ridiculed after offering to help someone. Then there is the possibility of being ineffective in our efforts to assist. Even though the likelihood of these disasters may be minimal, the possibility feeds the fear. And the fear can squelch the kindness.

I used to live near a school for the blind. Just about every day, students from the school would walk through the neighborhood. One of the things that caught my attention was the fact that they didn't use dogs to guide them. Instead, they depended on long white canes.

They had trouble, however, crossing the streets where traffic could get heavy at any time. Sometimes the students would wait on the corners, almost motionless. Being new to the area, and having no experience with the blind, I didn't know what to do. I was too cowardly to ask them if they needed help. So, for a time, I just watched.

Sometimes they traveled in pairs, but usually these young adults were alone. If enough time passed, and no one came to help, they would slowly move out into the street and then quickly cross until their canes touched safely on the opposite curb. Once on the pavement they could advance to the next corner where the procedure repeated itself. And each time I saw it I was reminded of their courage and my cowardice.

I knew what was right. I should have helped them. But it did, I confess, take a while. I saw a young woman almost get run over before I began to act on what I knew was right. The first blind person I walked across the intersection gave me a simple, sincere, “Thank you.” I, in turn, wanted to thank her but I didn't think she would understand.

From that point on, I looked for the blind people. I felt good helping them, that somehow I was making a difference. With each soul I escorted across the road, I felt a little stronger.

More recently, I had a similar experience in a post office. As I waited in line talking to a friend, a young blind man walked in. He entered the lobby but stopped after one or two steps. He pulled his cane close to him and stood there silently. I knew he needed help but I waited a minute to observe the reactions of others. Not only did no one assist him, it seemed they were pretending not to see him. I walked over and escorted him to the clerk. People watched. He thanked me. I felt useful.

I guess wherever you go you can run into people afraid of the blind.

“I don't want to get involved,” often means, “I'm afraid.”

Altruism

So why do people help other people? Altruism will occur when it is self-serving. For instance, John will help Jane only if John receives a reward for doing so. Perhaps he hopes to achieve recognition or the respect and appreciation of others. Maybe his action causes him to feel needed or useful. In any case, the love of self underlies what appears to be a selfless act.

Many of us resist this interpretation. We choose to believe, perhaps correctly, that one can sacrifice for the love of others and that this is why we act altruistically. It can seem as if the argument is two-sided. One side suggests that kindness is rooted in the love of self. The other side claims that the love of others leads to altruism. But there exists a third position, one that insists that kindness and courage are founded in the love of self and the love of others.

Self-respect means staying true to your beliefs in spite of the consequences. People who consistently demonstrate altruistic behavior possess at least two important characteristics. First, their ethical code includes a belief that one has an obligation to help others. This belief clearly reflects a love of others. Second, they maintain a commitment to their values. They love themselves enough to express their convictions and this makes them feel good.

Kindness owes its existence to the love of self and the love of others.

Develop your self-esteem

One of the best ways to develop your self-esteem is to work on increasing someone else's. By budding someone else's confidence, we find our own gaining strength.

A simple method for lifting your self-esteem and your courage is the “three compliments a day” approach. Make a promise to yourself that each day you will look for at least three opportunities to compliment or encourage someone. The praise, of course. must be sincere. This means, if they are not obvious, you must look for qualities genuinely worth your admiration, then express your respect. Let others know you appreciate them. Generally people will not bite while receiving sincere applause and you will notice a good feeling within yourself. It's a small yet very beneficial risk.

The expression of praise, like the expression of gratitude, can be difficult. Fortunately, it is something that can develop with practice. Start small if you like. But remember: three compliments each day.

Talking out a fear with someone special can build courage. I’m not sure why it works this way, but I know it is true. Talking out a fear with a friend seems to create the feeling: “I’m not alone.” For the most part, we face fear better in groups. If we fear other people; and hence isolate ourselves, all our other fears multiply.

We need to understand this simple fact: We all get scared sometimes. We all need other people. No one is so superior as to be immune to this fact. It's easy to be intimidate by others if we attribute superhuman powers to them. Don't be misled; ever one gets scared. People become less frightening when we understand this.

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Loving parents encourage their children to try. Effective teachers encourage students to explore the unknown and learn. The best coaches encourage athletes to push themselves to reach their potential. Good friends encourage friends whenever they get the chance.

Conquering the fear of life, however, begins by overcoming the fear of people. We fear less when we have healthy, supportive, encouraging relationships. We need to look for and build such relationships for ourselves and provide these relationships to others. Only then are we ready to take on life.

Society | Self-Help | Lifestyle


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