You may have thought that you are the only or rare example of a person with this problem, but from the point of view of psychotherapy, this is one of the common problems that cause people to call for help. Among them are the largest number of young people, especially adolescents, for whom integration into the company of peers and the impression they make there is often the most important thing in the world.
The positive image that they want to achieve in the eyes of their peers, acceptance, and often popularity, are sometimes the trigger for the development of social anxiety. But it is not just their problem, on the contrary. Concerned parents bring younger children who are too withdrawn and do not socialize enough with their peers, and there are also adults who avoid business meetings, public appearances, meeting new acquaintances and partners due to the intense anxiety they feel in these situations. We believe that a large number of those who never call for help precisely because of fear, shame from the environment, prejudice, and everything that prevents other people from calling for help, let alone those for whom excessive “shyness” is the basic symptom.
If a person feels intense anxiety and avoids different types of social situations in which he can be judged in some way by other people, regardless of whether it is a formal assessment or an impression he leaves on others, then we are talking about social anxiety.
These can be a variety of life situations in which other people are involved, such as:
• Different types of public performance (presentation of your work in front of the audience, oral lecture, singing, playing, any type of performance, a guest appearance in the media, public address to colleagues, schoolmates…). This is often singled out as a separate type of social anxiety and is called fear of public speaking.
• Various types of testing, written and more often oral, a control task, oral answer. This also stands out as a special form of social anxiety and is called test anxiety.
• Different types of social gatherings and visits to public places, e.g. situations in which a person is observed (for example, while eating or drinking), visiting a public toilet, meeting new people and potential partners, going to parties, birthdays, celebrations, weddings, etc. I would be free to call this social anxiety in the narrow sense.
Although the challenges in the described three forms of social anxiety are different, what they have in common is their base: fear of evaluation of other people – potential opportunities to be negatively evaluated by others or to leave an unfavorable impression on other people.
Sometimes it is the fear that they will be embarrassed in some way or turn out to be inadequate, and sometimes that they simply will not leave a good impression (and they think that they SHOULD leave a good, even impressive impression). That is why social anxiety is sometimes called evaluative anxiety because its basis is the fear of negative or unfavorable evaluation (evaluation) by others.
The focus of social, unlike other forms of anxiety, is how others see me, and its content is the fear of a negative impression that I could (AND I SHOULD NOT) leave. What makes the whole thing more difficult is the additional problem that arises and relies on this basic one, and that is the fear that other people will recognize the signs of anxiety and shame (redness, sweating, trembling voice and body), and only that must not happen, because then it is “total debacle, humiliation, and horror”.
Because of all this, a person begins to avoid such situations and thus often prevents himself from achieving his goals in life: to pass exams, to be responsible for grades, to show some of his work, to meet people who could be important to him in life…
The physical symptoms of fear can be so intense that a person lives in the belief that he could lose control and then regain or even get upset with other people, which is an additional and very persistent reason why a person avoids “risky” social situations. Sometimes in these situations, or even when thinking about them, a person develops panic-like physical symptoms. Although these people recognize that they have a problem much earlier, only when their quality of life begins to decline significantly (when they develop the previously described avoidant behaviors that sabotage them in realizing their own potentials and desires), then they call for help.
The good news is that this problem is solvable and that it often does not require medical procedures (depending on the intensity of physical symptoms and the simultaneous existence of another psychological problem), but primarily psychotherapeutic. In some cases, when the intensity of the problem is lower, people manage to overcome the problem of social anxiety on their own, with the help of adequate psychological literature and common sense.
Why common sense? Sooner or later, it occurs to all of us in our lives that every fear, even this one, can be solved only by exposing “danger”. The author often has a habit of saying that we cannot get rid of the fear of the dark if we keep the light on all the time. So in the case of social anxiety. From the safe zone of our room, reading books and thinking about it, without any action in the direction of exposing ourselves to that “dangerous social world that lurks to catch our mistake and make fun of us”, we will not solve the problem.
So, this is not a simple shyness as a personality trait, which has some similarities with the described condition, but is not so strong in intensity that it blocks a person from achieving important social goals in life and does not lead to intense physical symptoms and/or avoidant behavior. Also, if the anxiety related to social situations is so intense that it completely paralyzes a person in social situations, and avoidant behavior is so developed that the person is lonely most of the time due to intense fear of social situations, then we are talking about social phobia.
There is a debate in academic circles about whether social anxiety and social phobia are two qualitatively different problems, or whether they are just differences in intensity. I will not deal with that here to readers who are not psychologists, I will only present what is important for them to recognize the problem and point out the ways in which it can be overcome.
Given that its triggers are numerous and different, and that people differ in relation to them, I will in future texts, specifically address the specifics of each form of social anxiety and show both psychological and biological causes.
What is not social anxiety?
And, now, in this so-called introduction, we will deal with what social anxiety is and what it is not. I have already said, social anxiety is not just shyness. I also gave some guidelines on how you can recognize the differences between them.
Also, not every fear of someone else’s assessment is a sign of social anxiety. We all sometimes worry about how someone will evaluate us and what impression we will leave, so we feel nervous. This happens in all those situations when that assessment is important for us: in front of authorities, when we meet a person we like, when we need to present the results of our work to someone … That kind of anxiety is even desirable because it motivates us to prepare better and better for the “performance”. This type of anxiety is felt by most people, just as most people care about the impression they leave on others. We often say that these emotions are not felt only by psychopaths, or more specifically, sociopaths. If we can tolerate the intensity of the fear, and if it encourages us, not blocks us, then we are talking about constructive fear.
Also, if the impression we leave on other people does not control us, but we control it, and if we understand that a good impression is desirable, but not of absolutely vital importance, then it is a completely healthy and constructive attitude towards ourselves and the world around us. surrounds. The problem arises when the nervousness we feel is too intense and when it blocks us from performing, saying, and showing what we want. When we are dumb instead of talking. Also, the problem is when the desire to leave a favorable impression and/or to avoid a negative assessment is so strong that the person avoids any possibility of experiencing an “undesirable consequence”.
Socially anxious people actually have a very fragile and unstable image of themselves, or, as people often say, have low self-esteem. Among them, are those who have a really low opinion of themselves, so they do not want other people to notice their inadequacy and shortcomings. They avoid situations in which their “inadequacy” can be noticed. On the other hand, there are those who actually have a narcissistic structure – they want to impress others, so they avoid social situations and events in which there is a possibility that this will not happen. No other assessment is good enough, because if they don’t impress others, then they are worthless (“AND THEY MUST BE WORTH MORE THAN OTHERS”). In both cases, it is actually a nonconstructive and unrealistic self-concept – conditional self-evaluation (“I AM WORTH ONLY IF”), and irrational inference.
Creating a foundation for a healthy self-image is an unavoidable topic when solving the problem of social anxiety.
What social anxiety is not, and many mistakenly treat it that way (which in God’s justice can be very frustrating for these people) is introversion. Modern society favors extroverts who are friendly, fun, often in a positive mood, and eager for action, which is mainly based on external activities (such as going out, various social events, and the like). They are often talkative, they like all forms of communication, especially those “in vivo”, they are often proactive, loud, penetrating and if we continue like this we will list everything that modern human, pro-Western society considers desirable.
But the introvert is also very active but in his inner world. He needs his own space and time, and he feels very upset when someone disturbs him. He does contact with other people, not because he doesn’t like them, but simply because he doesn’t have the capacity to express it because of his inner world, on which he spends a lot of energy. That is why too much communication with other people makes him very tired because he perceives it as emotional work. An introvert is often much more immersed in things than an extrovert, so many see him as a quality interlocutor when it comes to serious topics (unlike an extrovert who is more often in charge of entertainment). The introvert likes to sit at home on Saturday nights and read a book while his friends are out, and he is quite happy about that. So, he does not sit at home and does not grieve for not hanging out with others because of shame and fear of what impression he will leave on others.
No, it is done by someone who has a problem with social anxiety. An introvert avoids crowds and mass events for completely different reasons.
He is not afraid, he just doesn’t like it. Also, he is not afraid of negative evaluations of others, but he simply likes to be alone. Introversion, as much as society favors its opposite, is not a negative trait, nor a psychological problem. It is a personality trait, a matter of individual differences between people, just as people are born with different skin, hair, and eye colors. None of this is good or bad, it is simply so.
Introversion and social anxiety are therefore different things. We emphasize the differences between them precisely because of the many parents who want to change their introverted children, considering them overly withdrawn or socially anxious. But there is one catch. It is possible for someone who is introverted to be socially anxious, and then that can slightly complicate things. However, an experienced psychologist–psychotherapist, recognizes well what is there, and can provide adequate advice and help.
In the following text, we will deal in more detail with social anxiety in the narrow sense (fear of meeting new people, visiting social events, celebrations, socializing…
I hope you liked the content about social anxiety?
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