Is social anxiety holding you back?
Social anxiety can manifest itself in a number of ways, but all of these will have a common theme; they involve other people. If you had this whole planet to yourself, chances are you wouldn’t suffer from social anxiety – yes, the clue is in the name! But it's not just other people being around you that concerns you, it's what you think they are thinking of you which is the hallmark of social anxiety.
If you live in fear of others judging you negatively, then it's quite likely that you are suffering from social anxiety.
Let's see how this can manifest itself in practice. James, an Essex farmer in his 30s, found family outings in public really difficult. His toddler’s temper tantrums would often attract the attention of passers by, making these trips a tremendous source of embarrassment and something, unsurprisingly, he would try to avoid whenever possible. Attracting unwanted attention from others is something anyone with social anxiety would find very challenging. The social phobic’s preference is to be invisible in public, to go under the radar, undetected and unseen. So to be thrust under the limelight attracting others' attention for them is a nightmare. This is just one example of a situation that people with social anxiety can find difficult; there are so many others.
Here’s another example. Catherine, a stay at home mum from London in her 40s, found it difficult to meet with her in-laws. Feeling much less comfortable with her husband’s family compared to her own, she was afraid of them judging her negatively. In fact so much so, that just like James, she would find any excuse to avoid contact with them. Her fears were, as is often the case, unfounded. There was no real reason to believe that her in-laws were critical of her; she was basing her assumption purely on how she felt emotionally. Catherine’s social anxiety had really been holding her back, resulting in making her feel pretty rubbish about herself, and because she didn’t think too much of herself, she expected others to feel the same about her too. Social anxiety often presents simultaneously with reduced self-esteem and confidence levels – so it really is no surprise that sufferers can think and feel just like Catherine did.
Starting a new job, meeting new people, initiating conversation, requesting a pay rise, asking someone out on a date, asserting one’s needs, ruminating over past social performance, giving presentations, public speaking, attending job interviews, participating in group activities, anticipating challenging events, making new friends, saying no trying new things and encountering potential conflict are just some of the situations that can be difficult as a result of social anxiety. The usual behavioural response to these challenges is to either avoid or escape these situations. Tactics like this may appear to help briefly in the short term, but can often result in very negative effects in the long term, producing quite life-limiting consequences in fact.
The good news is that life can be made so much easier thanks to cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
CBT has plenty of evidence to prove that it has helped many to not only to recover from this issue, but to improve their quality of life overall.
What might you do if you social anxiety wasn’t holding you back? How might your life be different?
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About Vickie Norris
Vickie Norris MSc (Psych), PG dip CBT, PG cert CBT, BA hons.
Vickie is a BABCP accredited CBT psychotherapist with 17 years experience in mental health who specialises in treating depression and anxiety related conditions.