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Healing social anxiety

HSP Connection Podcast branded promo banner for YouTube with headshots of host Robbie Leigh and guest Katie Whittier, episode 55 on Somatic Healing (teal background)

Here’s an excerpt from my podcast interview with Robbie Leigh that aired last week:

I went into this as a self-healer. I just wanted to do it all by myself, and I didn’t necessarily want a support system. I’m independent and introverted. I’ve had a lot of trauma with extroversion and trying to make myself into an extrovert no matter the cost.
Then as my nervous system has come online for me, I notice I can engage people in an authentic way, so it’s not as draining to have social interaction. And this is just mind-blowing to me: People seek me out now because they want to be my friend.
I know what’s happening. I know that there are people who want to co-regulate with me now. There’s a higher frequency that my nervous system can put out because it’s in a safer space than it’s been, so people aren’t seeking me out because they want to rehash how bad life is – those trauma bonds that keep people together. Instead, I’m finding people who want to talk about something positive or the change they want to make in their life. So the quality of potential relationships that are showing up for me is totally different.
And I did not want to heal my nervous system for this! I wanted to heal it for other things. But this has been a really exciting and unexpected side effect.


(Lightly edited for clarity.)


There’s a lot more to this story, of course. Truth is, I didn’t realize how much social anxiety I endured on a daily basis until the pandemic shut down the world and isolated me 100% alone in my house. Overnight, I went from being so anxious and overwhelmed that I contemplated suicide to feeling so full of contentment that I was ecstatic to be alive.


  • Therapy did not get me to this point.

  • Medication did not get me to this point.

  • Yoga did not get me to this point.

  • Meditation did not get me to this point.


In fact, no specific modality got me to that point. Isolation was my answer, as it turned out. And I latched onto it with all my might, dreading the inevitable day when the world would open back up again.


But soon enough, the world did open back up. At first, I avoided social contact as much as possible – not because I worried about getting COVID, but because of my debilitating, undiagnosed social anxiety – and for a while, it worked. But by early 2023, it was clear that I needed a different strategy if I wanted to advance my life. Hermitting was limiting my potential and my income in painful ways.


For a long time, I was deeply resentful about having to change who I am to fit in the world. I still feel a strong kick of rage at any hint that human health is associated with social connection. Can health be so dependent on something that causes so much pain? The jury is still out, as I see it. But a lot has happened since my angry months of 2023:


  • First came my autism diagnosis, a clear explanation for much of the social anxiety I experienced. No wonder people exhaust me! I spent years masking and mirroring to make myself acceptable, to prevent people from feeling uncomfortable around me. To hell with it: I decided to start masking lessa lot less.


  • Then came the profound recognition of my highly sensitive and empathic nature, another reason for my high social anxiety: I sense way too much about other people’s inner worlds, and without energetic boundaries to separate their emotions from mine, I resorted to physical boundaries to stay safe.


Almost from the first second that I started training my nervous system, all the social dynamics started to change.

  • Individuation.

  • Boundaries.

  • A defined sense of self versus other.

I felt for the first time in my life where my experience ended and another’s experience began. I could let others be angry with me, or disappointed, or frustrated. I didn’t have to make myself into someone different to keep the peace. I started expecting other people to show up for me, to meet me halfway.


And yes, it was scary. Yes, it meant saying goodbye to what I thought were some of my closest relationships. But simultaneously, new people were coming into my life, people who are grounded in who they are, emotionally independent, self-reflective and mature. I can unmask with them, and they aren’t scared or disappointed by who I really am.


Do you have any idea how life-giving this is?


I’m only partway through this massive evolution, but I’m already seeing the radical ways it will change my life. Maybe someday, I will kiss my social anxiety goodbye for good. Maybe someday, I’ll stop raging at the concept of health depending on social connection. Or maybe not.

But one thing is certain: I have more energy to engage – more authentic energy to engage authentically – than I’ve ever felt as an adult. And it’s wonderful.


All this from regulating my nervous system? Indeed.

Listen to the full episode at the links below.

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