Social Anxiety Disorder is not Shyness

Thu, 03/21/2013 - 14:43 -- tim henry

In “Social Anxiety is not the Same as Excessive Shyness” Chris Alaimo describes the thoughts and feelings that a person with social anxiety disorder can relate to.  Read Chris’ entire article here.

There is a difference between shyness and social anxiety.  We agree with Chris that social anxiety disorder is not shyness.  A shy person may have social anxiety disorder, and they may not.  A person who meets the diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder may be shy, but they may not have this personality trait.  

Some people who come for treatment at the Social Anxiety Institute in Phoenix express feelings of shyness.  Many others, participants of the CBT groups run by Dr. Thomas A. Richards, say that they, in fact, do not feel shy at all.  They do not define themselves as being shy.  These people appear very friendly and talkative. They want to socialize, but they are smothered and trapped in anxiety thoughts, feelings and habits.

Some shy people are fine with being shy and it does not impact their choices in life.  They are comfortable with their shyness.  A person with social anxiety, on the other hand,  beats themself up because of having this condition.   This is part of the vicious cycle of anxiety – the over-thinking, over-analyzing, worrying, and anticipatory anxiety, all of which reinforces social anxiety and often results in some degree of depression.

It is not difficult to understand why people without social anxiety may assume that the disorder is similar to shyness.  After all, everyone can relate to feeling shy at one time or another. It’s a word we all know and use frequently.  Everyone can relate to feeling shy at one time or another.  In studies, nearly half of Americans describe themselves as being shy.  Severe shyness is, however, something different.  And social anxiety disorder is something different yet again.

It is, therefore, understandable that people with social anxiety disorder often receive comments from friends or family such as,

“don’t worry”,

“relax, you’re fine”,

“just do it”, or

“it’s no big deal.” 

These comments, no matter how well-intentioned, are just platitudes for the person suffering from social anxiety.  They are ineffective.  Don’t you think a person with social anxiety would stop worrying if they could?  This gets to the core of social anxiety – irrational thinking, doubts and worry.  Social anxiety is all-consuming; it can affect nearly all parts of a person’s life.  It limits a person’s world.  It  becomes a part of every decision, every thought.

Your friends and family members probably mean well.  They simply don’t understand the depth of social anxiety.  It is, unfortunately, more detrimental when it is your therapist or psychologist who is offering these platitudes.  Similar to the general population, many therapists who claim to treat social anxiety do not fully understand the disorder.  This is extremely frustrating for the client.  It can increase feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Treatment for social anxiety must be done the right way, in the right order, starting from square one.  It isn’t “just do it”.  It doesn’t begin with “don’t worry”.  It doesn’t involve flooding the person.  After all, a person with social anxiety faces their fears every day.  If simply facing fears is a path to overcoming social anxiety, we’d never have social anxiety to begin with.