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Social Anxiety: How You Can Overcome It
When I was sixteen, I lost all my girlfriends overnight. We were on a week end school trip to Barcelona. My curious and adventurous nature took over, and one evening I decided to inspect the area. I ended up at a Rock Bar, where I met a bunch of cool people. I lost track of time and by the time I got back to the apartment where we were staying, it was well past midnight.
Everyone was looking for me for hours. They were very angry with me. What I didn’t know was that this night all my girlfriends would make a pact not to talk to me or spend time with me again. And they caught him.
Although I apologized profusely, none of them ever spoke to me again, to this day.
I spent months alone past a snail. I could not understand that people were so cruel. It made me shy, suspicious, and nervous around people, especially girls. I thought “Wow, I better watch my back!”
Fortunately, I tend to get over things quickly, learn from mistakes and move on.
Many people come to me with problems such as shyness, social anxiety, fear of being judged or rejected… people who get nervous when meeting new people, become really self-conscious and blush, or sweaty, nauseated and even tongue-tied.
Some people have had traumatic experiences that made them feel insecure about themselves and around people. Others come up with more ridiculous stories.
I remember a client telling me that when he was four years old, a group of other small children wouldn’t let him play with them and from then on he had trouble forming relationships with people. He is now thirty years old. I asked him “so how long exactly do you plan on being alone and miserable for?”
He built the most ridiculous set of rules around people. For example, he told me that he went to the cinema with a girl. Then he overheard a phone conversation where his friend told someone else that he was in a really dark place.
He could not understand that his friend described the cinema as “a dark place”. He said that he was stupid and that he decided not to see that friend again!
The one thing that I realized during my period of loneliness was that everything that happened was ultimately down to me being too self-centered. I never thought about the feelings of my friends. Yes, they acted very inhumanely, but I kind of brought it on myself.
Really, it all comes down to the same thing:
If you are self-conscious around people, then you are focusing too much on yourself. Therefore, you are too self-centered.
Often, my clients are shocked when I tell them that they have been too self-centered. First, there is usually an expression of shock on their face, followed by a pause, while they go inside and make sense, probably for the first time in a while. Then they usually say something like “You know what Anna? You’re right actually! I never thought about it this way”.
The solution is usually very simple and quick. So if you or anyone you know identifies with what I’ve described here, practice these tips, and notice how you begin to feel more confident and comfortable with yourself, and with others:
1. BE INTERESTED IN PEOPLE: Really interested! Fortunately, we are all different from each other. Otherwise, this would be a very dull planet to live on. I mean, imagine all those aliens out there, all looking alike, with their big heads and green bodies…! How boring! We, on the other hand, are all unique. There is so much to discover and learn from each other that any missed opportunity could be your biggest missed opportunity. If you want to be loved and accepted, first, you must love people and accept them. Allow yourself to be more curious so that you can find interesting things about them. How can you break the ice? Ask a question, pay a compliment, notice something you have in common…
2. BEWARE: People like to talk about themselves, which is great. This means you don’t even have to talk much yourself. Just listen. When I say listen I don’t mean watch them while you decide in your head what to have for lunch. I mean pay attention and show that you are listening. When I say show that you are listening I do not mean identify something that you may have in common and completely take over the conversation. I mean identify something you may have in common and keep asking more questions.
3. Focus on them: Instead of focusing on making people like you, focus on making them feel good around you. When someone feels good around you, they are more likely to like you and want to spend more time with you. Have you ever met someone who maybe you talked to for just a couple of minutes but who left a lasting smile on your face and that warm feel good vibe with you? And that when they left you just could not wait to meet them again? To make people feel good, you have to feel good about yourself first. So when you go out and meet people, they become infected with your vibe. I know there is something that makes you feel really really good… now, whatever it is, do more of it more often.
4. FIND A SENSE OF HUMOR: Getting over the fear of embarrassment and rejection is simply a matter of practice. The more you experience these, the more resistant you become to them. After being rejected by each one of my girlfriends in one go, I think I meet all the requirements that would take most people years, in a matter of hours. So in a way I license real early. Since then, no amount of embarrassment or rejection has mattered. I learned not to take myself so seriously. In fact, with clients and in seminars, I often ridicule myself on purpose. Why? Because if I can make you laugh, it means you feel good. And when you feel good, you learn better and faster. So who cares at whose expense it is? Laughter is the best medicine after all.
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