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“When someone isn’t talking, my brain tends to fill in the blanks with how I feel about myself.” (Whitney Cummings). We have probably all experienced getting caught up in our own thoughts at some point while communicating. It is when those thoughts interfere with our capability to communicate that you begin to run into problems. In my life, I have experienced significant hardships. Consistent traumatic events plagued my childhood causing a fundamental change in my perception of self. Consequently, my attempts at socialization have been riddled with significant communication apprehension and at times complete stagnation of social endeavors. Living with PTSD has dramatically altered the way in which I communicate, the greatest change in my verbal skills when synchronous communication is the focus. My cognitive processes are diminished greatly by anxiety and hypervigilance when attempting to speak in person with someone. The result of this looks like timely gaps between the message and my response, and sometimes even an inability to respond at all. This can make me seem disingenuous or indifferent to the communicator which in turn creates greater distance between myself and an authentic connection.
Although the effects of trauma on our systems create unorthodox issues within one’s ability to communicate, I will focus on self-monitoring as a starting point to decrease social anxiety in attempts to become more confident in my verbal skills. When I was younger, saying or doing the “wrong” thing could have dangerous consequences, as a result, my self-monitor grew out of control as a means of survival. The ability to navigate fragile situations by anticipating and calculating negative responses was of vital importance back then. Now that I am no longer in danger, my excessive self-monitoring only interferes with my ability to move forward in gaining meaningful connections with others. I will attempt to explore self-monitoring to better understand the role it plays in social anxiety and create a list of tools one can use to regulate excessive self-monitoring.
Self-monitoring, within the context of communication, is an attribute considered to be a pillar of competency. According to author Traci Pedersen, “High self-monitors readily adjust their behavior to the situation at hand- Low self-monitors tend to regulate themselves according to their own internal beliefs and are typically less concerned with social context.” (Pedersen). While being a high or low self-monitor is not regarded as being either good or bad, excessive self-monitoring can drastically impede one’s ability to communicate. Friedman and Miller-Herringer discuss the impact emotional expression has on social interactions stating, “Deficiencies in proper emotional expression can have detrimental effects on social interaction- unexpressive people may be seen by others as less likable.” (Friedman, Miller-Hanniger). In my case, my flat affect can come across as uninterested or even unfriendly. This has highlighted the fact that my body language is communicating a message that I do not intend to send.
Recognizing my body’s inadvertent messages led me to the concept of impression management and the role self-monitoring plays within it. Impression management guides us toward appropriate interpersonal interactions by organizing the presented self in accordance to the particular situation. On researching the role self-monitoring plays in impression management, Turnley and Bolino wrote, “We believe that self-monitoring may play an important role in determining whether impression management attempts succeed or fail.” (Turnley, Bolino). Excessive self-monitoring can often cause me to become paralyzed in communicating, while completely focused on my inner thoughts, perhaps I am neglecting impression management altogether. Although impression management can be a powerful tool in maintaining relationships, it can at times be subject to our own self-perceptions.
Discovering the correlation between our presenting self and our self-perceptions was key in highlighting the mechanisms behind excessive self-monitoring. It is understandable that someone who survives a great deal of trauma experiences altered self-perceptions and low self-esteem as in my case. Yet negative self-perceptions can exacerbate social anxiety, which can lead to unfavorable social interactions that only perpetuate negative self-perceptions. As Alden and the other guy suggest, “In the interpersonal realm, feelings of inadequacy and emotional distress are likely to lead to poor interpersonal behavior, social failure, and so on.” (Alden, ). He furthers his point by stating, “In terms of self-monitoring: A growing body of research has demonstrated that self-focused attention and perseverative self-appraisal contribute to depression and anxiety.” (Alden,). This reiterates the spiral effect where poor self-conceptions precede poor social interactions that in turn create a more negative self-image. This concept can be illustrated by examining the self-fulfilling prophecy. An individual who has low self-esteem with expectations of poor social interactions stalls in a cycle of missed connections and negative self-image while the belief of being a failed communicator is reinforced.
Those with a low self-image are often susceptible to depression and anxiety, which as stated previously can have serious impacts on social interactions. Beatty and Beatty examine anxiety as a learned response to negative stimuli stating, “the body prepares itself to cope with the anticipated reaction by increasing adrenaline flow to generate more energy. If unchecked, the anticipation response eventually becomes so strong that it is triggered prior to the actual communication encounter.” (Beatty, Beatty). This helps to illuminate the impact self-talk has on our image and emotions. Before social interactions, I become quite anxious. In my mind, I’m applying feelings from past social encounters to the one ahead and measuring my own self-worth accordingly. Once the social interaction begins, I self-monitor excessively to avoid negative interactions. However, these adjustments I make during conversations do not apply to the present situation, but rather focus on past interactions that created the anxiety in the first place.
After investigating the role “self” has to play in social anxiety, I am beginning to see that I have more areas to work on than previously thought. Most days I do very little if any face-to-face communication. My unique life experiences have caused me to lead somewhat of a hermetic lifestyle. It is far more comfortable for me to spend a day at home than to expose myself to the multitude of triggers that exist out in the world. There are relationships and instances although, where I desire deeper connections than my current communication abilities allow. These interactions are the ones I care about improving and will be focusing on. It is in these particular interactions that my excessive self-monitoring becomes paralyzing. Often times I will stress over the correct response relentlessly in my mind until I am unable to speak at all. In researching my project, I realize that there is a lot of self-talk management I could be doing outside of social interactions. Learning how our self-image interacts with the way we communicate has been enlightening. I already know that I have anxiety and find it difficult to verbally communicate which adversely affects my self-esteem. But recognizing that there is indeed an opportunity to alter my communication competence before socializing by the way I anticipate the event seems of most relevance. So, focusing on enhancing specific relationships, I will attempt to develop a method of self-talk both before and during interactions.
Denzi Sidali, M.A., describes excessive self-monitoring to be, “detrimental to one’s performance as well as their psychological and physical well-being and it can promote or maintain social anxiety.” (Sidali). She continues to suggest that setting realistic and defined short-term goals is a means toward healthier self-monitoring. I have deemed the most appropriate approach for me to address this issue, in short, is preparation. Before a social interaction I will ask myself a series of questions to prepare myself for more competent and genuine communication: 1.) What does this person mean to me and what do I want the outcome of this relationship to be? By focusing on my relationship goals, I immediately draw my eye from myself to the relationship. 2.) Has this person given me a reason to be fearful of our future interactions? This will help me separate past social anxiety experiences from present-day experiences. 3.) If I could say anything to this person without judgment what would it be? This will help me pinpoint the emotion I genuinely want to communicate in my interaction with this person. I believe meditating on these questions beforehand will give me a better chance at a positive interaction by focusing my thoughts while diminishing apprehension. Once I am face-to-face with this person I will attempt to do several check-ins to try and regulate any excessive self-monitoring. 1.) I will remind myself of the importance of the relationship and my goal. This again is my starting point to pull the focus away from myself and redistribute it. 2.) I will ask myself if I have communicated according to my goals to this point. This will help me identify any excessive self-monitoring behaviors and allow an opportunity to correct my course.
It is my hope that by maintaining this ritual my self-talk/image will improve, my social anxiety will decrease, I will be able to communicate my genuine thoughts and feelings and strengthen my relationships. While there are many aspects I could improve, I believe a focus toward strengthening current relationships by regulating excessive self-monitoring is the best place to start. By communicating more competently in my current relationships I hope to build on that confidence and eventually expand myself socially.
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