I recently received the following question below from someone who felt detached from their surroundings when communicating with others. As this is something I also went through, I thought I would address this issue.

‘A lot of the time when I am in a social situation my mind goes blank, I feel disconnected from reality and the conversation itself. This either leads me to say barely anything at all or I end up just rambling as I try to cover up my discomfort.  This is having such a negative impact on my life, I just want to know why this is happening and what can I do to overcome it?’

This issue really comes down to a fear of social interaction which brings on a temporary feeling of depersonalisation. Chronic depersonalisation is mainly created due to the brain feeling under constant threat through a barrage of fear and worry whereas this is only present when interacting with others and so is more temporary than persistent.

People who experience this state often complain of the following

  • Feeling spaced out, in a dream-like state
  • Unable to think of anything to say, mind going blank
  • Extremely self-conscious
  • Feeling fearful and anxious
  • Inability to think straight or clearly
  • A need to get the conversation over with

This feeling of dissociating from reality when in conversation is far more common with someone who suffers from social anxiety rather than general anxiety. This is due to it mainly being driven by low self-esteem, leading to a fear of being judged or rejected.

Because of this, the person can find themselves living more in their head rather than participating in the conversation, be it worrying about how they are coming across, what kind of impression they are leaving, or if the feeling of anxiety or strangeness will present itself.

It is very hard to feel part of a conversation when all our attention is on ourselves

As your awareness can only focus on one thing at a time and is now mostly directed internally, you end up barely listening to what the other person is saying. This then causes you to feel detached from the interaction, creating more fear and anxiety, and so you internalise more.

Due to the fact that the person now has multiple thoughts and fears going on at once, the brain then feels under threat and so it goes into protection mode. This is why you begin to feel detached from your surroundings, as though you are no longer part of reality. Think of it as a computer going slow because it has too many windows open, or freezing up completely as it can’t handle the overload of information.

Unfortunately, this can become a vicious cycle as the more detached the person feels, the more fearful and internal they become which only exaggerates these feelings. They then usually worry about the next social interaction and if it will happen again, which usually means it will.

This can lead to them avoiding social situations unless they really have to. The trouble is that this only feeds into their subconscious mind that there is a problem in communicating with others, and so the fear only increases.

How to overcome this feeling of detachment around others

Understand that this feeling is totally harmless, it is no more than a natural part of the defence mechanism in the brain that is protecting you from what it perceives as an immediate threat. Knowing this feeling is temporary and utterly harmless can help you fear it less, and as this is all about turning the fear down, it is an important part of overcoming this frustrating experience.

Let go of any negative thoughts you have about yourself

Acknowledge that people are not judging you as you think they are. It is just you judging yourself and believing others see you as you do. A lot of people who suffer from social anxiety get nervous as they put people on pedestals. They look at others as though they are better than them due to how they feel about themselves, hence why they are worried about being judged and accepted.

The truth is we are all exactly the same, no one is better than anyone else. The only difference is the thoughts people have about themselves. Learn to let go of any thoughts that bring you down or try to tell you who you are. Realise they are not reality, they do nothing but create a false version of who you think you are.

Work on building your self-esteem and practice self-care

The main cause of social anxiety is due to not being comfortable with who you are. So it is vital NOT to look for acceptance outside of yourself but within.

Increasing self-esteem is another subject in itself, but there are many things you can do to feel better about yourself. One includes looking after yourself by eating well, exercising and being kind to yourself.

Learn to let go of the toxic people in your life who bring you down and surround yourself with people who make you feel better about yourself. Try to give up any bad habits.  Get in shape. Start walking in nature. Join a Buddhist or meditation class. Take up new hobbies and interests that are in line with what you enjoy, anything that feeds your soul.

Learn to look after your physical and mental health the best you can. The truth is, the better you feel about yourself, the more comfortable you will feel around others.

Live in the present and not in your head

When socialising, learn to come out of your head more so that you are more engaged in the conversation. Learn to concentrate on the other person rather than how you feel.

If some anxiety is there initially, allow it to be so. Don’t try and do anything to control it or get rid of it. Just allow any anxiety to be present. Anxiety left alone weakens all by itself. Worrying about it only increases it and places your awareness on what is going on internally rather than the conversation.

One key thing I learnt is to no longer care if my brain tripped out and I felt a sense of detachment, if it happened then it happened. When you no longer care or are concerned about it, the fear weakens dramatically and as it is your fear that actually creates it, then you will find it doesn’t happen, or if it does, it is much milder. Also, by no longer caring, you will find that you are far less self-absorbed than normal, which in turn allows you to be more present.

Don’t avoid social interactions

Keep mixing with others. Teach your brain that there is no threat when being around others. Even if you start small by talking to your neighbour instead of retreating, engaging in conversation with a cashier or making small talk with a stranger at a bus stop.

Maybe build up to joining a new class or take up some form of volunteering, anything that puts you in a position where you engage more with others. The more you practice and the more comfortable you get with social situations, the less anxiety you will feel.

Don’t try and put on a performance or create a character you think others want to see in an attempt to gain acceptance. Again this just puts you back in your head trying to be someone you are not or trying to say things you think people want to hear. This only leads to the conversation feeling forced and unauthentic.

Don’t rehearse a conversation or try to think about what you will say. Don’t feel like you have to be witty or cover any silences, just let it happen naturally and spontaneously.

Accept yourself as you are and accept how things go. Don’t judge yourself if it doesn’t go as you would like initially. With practice and perseverance, things will gradually improve.

The key to overcoming this frustrating experience is about reducing your fear of it and learning to come out of your head. If you follow the tips above, you will find your confidence increases and your anxiety around others will begin to weaken. Also, when you learn to be less inside your head, your awareness will then automatically switch to the outside world and you will feel more present around others.

Paul David
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