Happy minds … write happy words

Theories in analysing and combating Social Anxiety

By David Stewart

Sufferers of Social Anxiety will often verbalise their condition in a multitude of ways, “I can’t go outside”, “I cannot walk down that street”, “I’m worried about speaking to people.” These statements are a description of the limits Society Anxiety can put upon an individual but they do not contain within them the root cause of the problem itself. All phobias ultimately break down further into more specific fears that we forward- pace in our mind.

Consider the aforementioned statement: “I cannot walk down that street.” Unless the sufferer is physically handicapped, this statement is a well intentioned but misunderstood analysis of the situation. It is better therefore to analyse Social Anxiety and its origins by asking questions that elicit how a person has come to the conclusion that this particular area is not a place through which they feel comfortable travelling. One can do so by asking questions that eliminate non-fears that are not a component of the phobia itself but rather merely serve to muddy the waters in finding out the real issue.

“If there were no people on the street, would you be comfortable walking down it?”, I would expect the answer to be “No” in the case of Social Anxiety, otherwise one would be looking at a fear of open spaces and not socialisation. By questioning the client on what parts of the situation are not a worry to them and eliminating these components, we are left with the one card that holds up the entire house.

“If everyone who passed you in the street was incapable of thought, merely robots following a programme, would you be socially anxious?” An negative reply to this question chunks down even further the condition from one initially stating an ability to move, to a more understandable fear of others’ thoughts about us. Herein lies the root of Social Anxiety. In the absence of self-worth, we will search for self-worth in the judgement of others. Just as a country seeks to import what it does do not possess, an individual devoid of confidence will look for validation in the outside world.

Unfortunately, the majority of people around us are so concerned with their own lives that they are not in the business of mothering us, no one is able to fill an emotional void other than the individual who feels the emptiness.

Furthermore, by looking outwards, via others’ estimation, for validation of our worth in the world, our facial expressions and tone take on weak and suspicious characteristics that compound the problem. One who walks into a store looking for the one positive glance from an assistant that will refute their self-doubt, appears to him or her as an anxious individual.

Anxiousness is contagious, panic spreads like wild fire. There is some comfort in this, it removes any paranoid theories one might hold about the world being ‘out to get us.’ The reactions of other people, for the most part, result from the verbal and physical communication we give them; one who is anxiously seeking validation unwittingly sends a frequency to others that they are insecure, reminding others of their own security and causing them to act in a defensive manner.

It is the matter of judgement and that search for support in others’ eyes that underpins Social Anxiety as a condition. Circumstantially the origins of the condition are vastly disparate, from childhood abuse to perhaps only a mere sensitivity as a child that was not nurtured into confidence in one’s formative years. Despite these differences in past experience the destination is ultimately the same – an absence of the self-worth that gives us a grounded contentment in the presence of others.

This hole in one’s esteem can only be addressed by the client re-evaluating or even mentally discarding the importance of past events in shaping their current beliefs. By accepting that the past is dead we allow for the birth of a new future, in combination with encouragement in loving oneself the fear of social situations diminishes.
Cognitive Restructuring of this type can be an exhausting process and one can resort to the familiarity of their discomfort rather than embracing the world in a more rational light. Light to the newborn will cause tears whether it is a rational enlightenment or not.
The client must make a decision: remain painful but protective cell, or emerging from behind these walls into a world that is not the judgemental dystopia previously accepted as reality.

The second choice may be difficult, but with repeated work on resistance to change; anxiety can be transformed into an exciting curiosity about others and a deep inner contentment. Our fear of others’ judgement evaporates in the realisation that we write our own future and require not the hand of others to define our meaning as human beings.

Dave Stewart, Marketing assistant



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