Social Anxiety

Most people experience a certain amount of anxiety before or during situations which involve social contact with other men and women.

Sometimes, however, this anxiety grows to a point where an individual feels reluctant to enter the situation which causes it.

And because such 'social' anxiety often occurs against a background of personality characteristics such as feelings of inferiority, a lack of self-confidence, poor self-esteem, and so forth, we'll look at these problems too.

Social anxiety (or, as we often say, shyness) produces a pounding heart or blushing, sweating, other physical symptoms of anxiety, a reluctance to talk to others, and intense feelings of embarrassment or self-consciousness.

Some people are permanently and chronically shy, others only experience anxiety in a few specific situations. You may be quite relaxed when meeting people in the course of your work, but find it an ordeal to meet a group of strangers at a party.

So how and why does this kind of anxiety and shyness develop? In short, unpleasant past experience, the emotional traumas and life experience of early childhood, and the way we perceive the world around us.

For example: a young man called Paul, who had recently left school, was initially very confident when applying for employment, but at his second interview he made a serious mistake which confused and embarrassed him. He 'made a mess' of the rest of this interview but afterwards thought 'that was the end of the matter'.

However, before his next interview he discovered he felt very anxious and began to wonder if the same thing would happen again. With each successive interview, his performance worsened and his anxiety increased.

Finally, matters came to a head. In his words: 'I knew I just couldn't face it. When the receptionist called out my name, I panicked - and fled the building!'

But why does the same sort of event produce different degrees of anxiety in different individuals? The answer to this question must be that different people perceive the same event in different ways - an event may not really pose an objective threat to our well-being, but it induces anxiety because we see a threat to our emotional well-being or self-esteem. And these fears are commonly: fear of 'failure' and fear of 'rejection'.

THE FEAR OF FAILURE AND THE FEAR OF REJECTION

A great deal of social anxiety and shyness stems from these two basic fears. 'Failure' means failure (for whatever reason) to live up to your own standards or to fulfill your own expectations of yourself. 'Rejection' means any response from another person which you perceive as an expression of rejection of you as an individual, and may include anything from mild criticism to outright hostility and condemnation.

Even something as harmless as a disapproving look might be interpreted as rejection by a very sensitive person.

Obviously these fears are not always overt - they may be subconscious rather than conscious. But it is possible to interpret many anxiety-provoking situations in terms of one or both of these two fears. For example, you may be reluctant to ask someone of the opposite sex for a date because you are worried about the possibility that he or she will say 'no' - which is, in a sense, a rejection (or at least can be interpreted that way).

Or you may be reluctant to meet people at a party because you believe they might be better dressed or better educated or more socially adept or more intelligent than you.

If you believe this, you may easily begin to worry about whether or not they will wish to speak to you ('rejection' again), or alternatively whether or not you will fail in your efforts to speak to them.

You may feel anxious at an interview because you believe that you are likely to perform badly - in other words, to fail. Similar reasoning can be applied to innumerable other situations: interpersonal exchanges, confrontations, working to deadlines, making a speech, and so on. The possibilities are endless.

If the fear of failure and the fear of rejection are at the root of specific anxieties, we might well ask why people actually 'fear' failure and rejection. The explanation lies in the idea of self-esteem, that is, roughly, the opinion you hold about yourself, or your evaluation of your own worth as a person.

People do not generally give much conscious thought to their opinion of themselves. However, in times of stress or in difficult circumstances, a person may begin to think like this: 'I hate myself. ' 'I can't do anything right.' 'Oh, what's the use? I'll never be able to do it.'

Thoughts like these are a sign of a poor self-esteem - a low opinion of yourself. And a poor self-esteem tends to be associated with feelings of depression, anxiety and inadequacy; so a loss of self-esteem may cause a person to become depressed.

This means that someone with a poor self-esteem will tend to experience feelings of depression and anxiety more often than someone with a stronger sense of self-worth. In addition, he or she will try to avoid any situation which could adversely affect his or her self-esteem. And the most obvious types of situation in which a loss of self-esteem can occur are those which involve failure and rejection.

SELF-IMAGE AND SELF-ESTEEM

Your self-image is the total of all the impressions which you have of yourself. It is built up of your impressions about your body, age, sex, intelligence, personal ability, personality traits, job, achievements and so on, and also how you feel about those impressions.

In addition to your self-image, you will have an image of a set of ideal characteristics: the ones which you would choose for yourself, were it possible to do so. These characteristics make up what is called your 'ideal self'. It tends to be based on real or imagined people whom you envy or admire.

As you probably realize, there is usually a discrepancy between a person's self-image and his or her ideal self: the smaller this discrepancy, the happier he or she will be.

In fact the size of this discrepancy is a rough measure of a person's self-esteem. Thus someone with a large discrepancy between his or her self-image and ideal self will tend to have a poor self-esteem.

It is extremely important to remember that there may be an objectively real difference between your ideal self and your self-image. On the other hand, your self-image may be based on your own wildly inaccurate perceptions and beliefs about yourself.

Depending on the nature of these inaccurate perceptions (do you see yourself in a favorable or an unfavorable way?); the gap between your self-image and ideal self may be either smaller or greater in your mind than in reality.

So how do people cope with this?

1. Selective interaction: a person associates only with people who behave in a similar way to himself, or with those people whom he knows will reinforce his self-image (which, incidentally, is one reason why shy people often have a small circle of a few close friends).

2. Defense mechanisms: for example, a person may disregard, discredit or misinterpret the unfavorable reactions of others towards his speech or actions (because if he were to accept those reactions as appropriate, he might be forced to re-evaluate his self-image).

3. Selective evaluation of self. In other words, a person ignores aspects of his own behavior, appearance or personality which contradict his self-image.

4. A person behaves in a way that evokes from other people the sort of responses which will reinforce his self-image.

Techniques like these, which can help to stabilize and justify one's self-image, are very important, because we tend to feel anxious and depressed when our self-image is threatened. And of course the anxiety and depression increase in proportion to the importance which we attach to the part of our overall self-image which is threatened.

EXPECTATIONS AND SELF-IMAGE

Our self-image has a major effect on the way we behave and act in any situation.

For example, if you perceive yourself as a poor conversationalist or an unassertive person, you probably have difficulty in speaking to people or in asserting yourself. If you believe you are attractive, you probably behave as if you expect to be accepted; if you believe you are unattractive, perhaps you behave as if you expect to be 'rejected'.

But no matter what you expect, people usually respond accordingly. However, research has shown that we actually use other people's reactions to our behavior as confirmation that our self-image is correct!

Thus changing the way you see yourself can be a major step to altering both your behavior and people's reactions to you. We shall see how it is possible to change one's self-image by using visualization techniques later.

Of course, our expectations are not limited to the examples described above. We all hold expectations about every single aspect of our lives.

For example, you will have a set of expectations about the behavior and attitudes of your wife or husband, your personal friends, your colleagues at work, and so forth. And within each area of expectations, you will hold what can be described as negative and positive expectations. For example:

  • What you expect from yourself
  • positive - intelligence, aptitude, determination, tolerance and so on
  • negative -stupidity, ineptitude, lack of persistence, lack of tolerance and so on.
  • What you expect from life
  • positive - good rewards, fair play, recognition of your individuality and so on
  • negative - to be cheated, downtrodden, abused and so on

As we have already suggested, a person's self-image and expectations are closely linked. For example, a man who expects to succeed at his job, gain promotion and obtain high financial rewards may have an image of himself as intelligent, confident, successful and skilful in business.

A person with so many positive expectations and such a strong self-image will almost certainly have a high self-esteem. Nor is it difficult to see why people with many negative expectations about life, relationships and the world in general tend to have a poor self-image and a low self-esteem.

ANXIETY CAUSED BY THREATS TO EXPECTATIONS AND SELF-IMAGE

Threats to one's expectations or self-image can produce anxiety and depression in many ways:

Threats to positive expectations: if you hold a number of positive expectations to which you attach great importance (such as obtaining a job, pulling off a business deal, gaining promotion, establishing and maintaining a relationship, obtaining respect from your children), and these expectations are not fulfilled or are placed at risk, or even if you worry about the possibility that they will not be fulfilled, you may develop anxiety.

Holding negative expectations: any negative expectation which you hold will predispose you to feel anxious and depressed, because of the way in which negative expectations can reduce your self-esteem.

Threats to self-image: any situation which might affect your self-image in such a way that your self-esteem is reduced will produce anxiety (and depression if the reduction of - self-esteem actually takes place).

Emotional Freedom Technique

EFT tapping in Somerset is a new kind of therapy which can provide long lasting improvement for emotional difficulties in many common problem areas - and there is usually no need to engage in long term therapy. No matter what you are dealing with, EFT or emotional freedom technique can actually rewrite new neural patterns in the brain.

That is why it offers effective relief and is a short term therapy which provides long term release from issues that are very common - including anxiety, depression, lack of confidence, fear of intimacy, and other common trauma.

No matter what your issues, EFT - aka emotional freedom technique - is a powerful therapy, ranking second only to hypnosis in my opinion, and it certainly offers hope whatever your stress or emotional issues.

FEELINGS OF INFERIORITY

Such feelings - which seem to be extremely common - stem from the perception that the people around you possess the characteristics of your ideal self, while you do not. These perceptions can cause a great deal of anguish and anxiety.

Generally, feelings of inferiority involve a poor self-esteem, feelings of depression, and critical thoughts and feelings about one's abilities, appearance and other personal qualities. The answer is to gain greater self-confidence....


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