Social Anxiety and West Coast Culture: How does it relate to my dating life?

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Could West Coast culture be affecting my dating life?

I’ve long had a fascination with understanding the differences between East and West Coast culture in the US.  I’m going to take this chance to share some of my thoughts about the Coast Cultures and how it relates to social insecurities and what I’ll call “hiding”, particularly on the West Coast.  The caveat is that these are generalizations and may not apply to everyone. 

Having said that, part of my own personal working hypothesis is that on the West Coast people tend to be more private, tentative and get preoccupied with what others are thinking.  Many of us grew up with the saying,

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Now, when my mom said that to us I’m sure it was meant to teach us proper manners and to not just blurt out any old thing we felt in the moment that might offend someone.  But as I’ve been reflecting on it, I’m realizing the message received in many situations was something like:

“Don’t say what’s true, people don’t want to hear that, and people can’t handle that.”

I think it also communicated things like:

·       Others can’t handle your truth (or you).

·       You’re kind of threatening, so don’t be direct. 

·       And especially for guys:  Guys are threatening, and girls don’t trust you, so be careful, filter what you say. That’s what good guys do. 

Without intending it, these old messages fostered the seedlings of shame and the belief that in some way, “I’m not ok.”  We often refer to this as a sense of shame:  somehow I’m not ok and I don’t want others to see that.

Many of us learned to keep certain things to ourselves and filter what gets shared.  Many folks learned they’re too much, others are sensitive or fragile, and it’s not a good idea to just be who you are or say what you think. 

With these kinds of messages embedded in our iOS (internal operating system) they can create a subtle self-doubt that is pernicious and paralyzing.  It can cause us to doubt and distrust ourselves at fundamental, even non-verbal levels.  Yet it shows up in our attitudes towards ourselves and others.

On the other hand, many of my East Coast transplant friends, particularly if they haven’t given in to West Coast sensibilities, often tend to say whatever shit they think.  In general, I think East Coast cultural values trend more towards directness, honesty and less preoccupation with others’ sensitivities.  The operating social platform is more like:

“Hey, I’m ok, you’re ok.  And if not, we’ll sort it out…if loudly and brashly, nevertheless, we’ll get it all out and we’ll survive.” 

A West Coast bias that keeps you feeling alone?

As a result of being programmed with sensitivity to others’ sensibilities I think West Coasters have struggled more with being open, direct and honest.  They tend to hide a little more, can feel more reluctant, ashamed or hesitant around approaching others. 

So, whether it’s West Coast culture, a family value or personal constitution that influences values and behavior, lots of people tend to worry about how they’ll be seen, what others will think and/or say about it them, and how they need to compensate for that. 

Regardless of culture, shame and insecurity can cause us all to get stuck!

Shame, even if we don’t recognize it as “shame” per se, makes us all freeze or hesitate and become self-conscious.  In turn we bottle stuff up, hesitate about being direct and honest, don’t trust others or ourselves, and end up feeling disconnected from others and ourselves and painfully alone. 

According to Brene Brown, social psychologist, researcher and acclaimed author, resilience is the opposite of shame and the antidote to hiding, feeling unworthy or not enough.  Include in that, the sense that it’s not ok to really be myself for fear of being too much or feeling unwanted or rejected.

Brene’s work tells us that actually being vulnerable is they key.  Vulnerability is actually COURAGEOUS, not weak or undesirable. 

What shame tends to keep us from:

·       Going for what we want

·       Believing we’re enough/acceptable as we are

·       Feeling good about ourselves and life

·       Being open to taking risks that could create positive experiences

Ok, so what?  How can that help me?

Daring Greatly, as she calls it, or courageously risking being vulnerable is the antidote to shame.  Shame only has an edge when it can freeze us, make us hide, or rob us of our future with negative narratives about our past.

So here are a few ways to respond to the shame that underlies some of the self-doubt that keeps us from feeling good about who we are and how others see us:

·       Uncover the shame by understanding it

·       Overcome the shame by naming it and uncovering it

·       Becoming more accepting/loving towards the parts that have felt the shame

·       Finding ways to move past freeze and courageously into places we feel more vulnerable

I plan to write more on Brene Brown’s work with shame and Daring Greatly.  For now, she has a popular Ted Talk and a book, Daring Greatly, that are good places to continue exploring these ideas.

I love hearing how these ideas are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you feel, how you date and creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping successful singles create the love and life that they want!