Updated: Mar 18, 2019
Feeling nervous when you are attending a social gathering, making a speech, doing a presentation or just hanging out with new people is perfectly normal. You would have to be inhuman to not ever get nervous.
For people with social anxiety disorder however, these situations are torture. Performing in social situations often leads to intense anxiety attacks. These attacks may be so bad they become disabling making anyone who suffers from social anxiety disorder to become withdrawn, sometimes never leaving their home.
The anxiety is a result of fearing judgement, criticism, being humiliated or laughed at. Something that may seem so small to someone who doesn’t have this disorder can disable someone who does have this disorder. For example eating in front of others and making small talk, even if they are close family or friends, can bring on an anxiety attack.
Social anxiety disorder doesn’t stay the same. It either gets better or it grows into a monster. Often people who don’t seek help end up fearing life.
All day and every day is filled with:
Fear of people in authority
Fear of abandonment
Feeling guilty for standing up for yourself
Terrified of personal criticism
Feel like a victim
Feel over responsible
Wonder what’s wrong with them
Lose hope and
Have very low self-esteem
It is hard for someone who doesn’t suffer from social anxiety disorder to understand the agony and trauma that the sufferer goes through.
On the outside it might look as though that person is ‘fine’ whilst on the inside that person feels like a fraud and that they are going to be found out any minute that they have this craziness going on inside.
The fear of being found out is linked to being forced to expose the secret. The secret is that they are totally dominated by anxiety but try to keep it hidden; not so different to an addict trying to keep their addiction undisclosed.
The underlying terror is that, if they are ‘found out’ they will be rejected and then abandoned. Even though this never happens, the fear keeps the sufferer looped into the anxiety.
So How Does Social Anxiety Affect Your Daily Life?
Having social anxiety disorder crippled my life for several years. I now run support groups for people who are overcoming this disorder and these are some of the situations they have shared with me.
Names have been changed.
"I have social anxiety and it is worst when I have to deal with anyone in authority. I have to sort out my tax bill but when I try to phone the tax authorities, my anxiety is so high that I throw up. I pluck up the courage to try again later but the same thing happens. I think they will be annoyed with me and they might punish me. I push it out of my mind for a few days then try again but I feel rejected before I’ve even made the call and I can’t even pick the phone up. I never speak up at work and I know everyone walks all over me but I don’t care as long as I don’t have to speak to the boss. If I ever do, like when I have my review, I have to take beta-blockers before I go to work. Sometimes when I know I forgot to talk to someone different at work I cannot sleep the night before. I’ve never been promoted and I don’t expect to get a better job because of the social anxiety. It just keeps getting worse and nothing I do makes it any better. I once had a girlfriend but it only lasted a few weeks. I never go out so I don’t have many friends to talk to and I find it impossible to make friends because my anxiety is so high when I have met up with them. I can’t tell them how I I’m dealing with all of this stuff inside so I’ve tried to be sociable but at the same time keep this entire secret."
"N oone has any idea what anxiety does to me. I even find it difficult to walk in the street because I think everyone is watching me and I might run into someone I know and I’ll be forced to make conversation. I’m so petrified of bumping into someone that it’s easier for me not to go out at all. But if I do go out I scan everybody I can see to ensure that they are not going to talk to me. If I see someone I think might talk to me I look down on the ground and ignore them as best I can without drawing attention to me. If I do happen to bump into someone I know, I freeze on the spot. People might think I’m rude because I just stare at them and my brain won’t connect with my mouth and I don’t say anything. My anxiety is sky high and my confidence in myself drops to zero. I feel like a complete idiot. It’s so upsetting that I avoid going out of the house as much as I can."
Dealing With How People See Us
When we do open up about our social anxiety and how it affects our life, we then have to deal with other people’s incorrect perceptions and misguided advice.
They say things like:
Work on your self esteem
Brush off rejection
Don’t be worried if you’re rejected
Build up your confidence
Stop the negative self talk
Stop being a people pleaser
Don’t accept the anxiety as being ‘you’
People who love you won’t reject you
Heal your life
Of course people are well meaning but they have absolutely no idea what it’s like to stand in the shoes of someone whose anxiety is so high they might pass out.
These words simply push the sufferer back in to their secretive world because there’s no understanding and no matter how hard we try to explain what it’s like for us, sometimes that doesn’t translate to the other person.
It’s often much easier just not to explain it in the first place. Consequently, this keeps people who suffer social anxiety in hiding.
Fear Of Rejection or Abandonment
This is one of the key drivers of social anxiety. We fear being rejected, or even worse, abandoned.
This fear can be so powerful that sometimes it can make breathing difficult. The fear can feel like you would just before you’re going to die. It’s more of a terror.
This fear often has roots in childhood. If we haven’t resolved historic childhood traumas, they re-emerge as a childlike terror in our adult relationships.
Just because we turned 21, that doesn’t mean our childhood fears disappear.
When I hear people sharing about their anxiety, they often say they feel like a child without a parent. Weirdly, we may often choose people who are similar to our parents because they match our childhood experiences.
In many ways we are trying to maintain control; control over how other people view us and how they might treat us. We are often people pleasers who often put other people’s needs before our own. Of course this never works out. Trying to get reassurance from other people takes us down a dead end. We can’t control other people and how they see us. It can feel like the only option left is to stay hidden.
Shame is a feeling of not being good enough. Shame is at the core of social anxiety and is a feeling of not being good enough, feeling unacceptable and feeling that there is something wrong with us.
It’s a life-destroying poison that eats away at our soul, telling us that everything we do is a mistake, everything we say is a mistake and in fact we are a mistake.
It’s very secretive and prefers its host to keep it hidden away from anyone else. If we make a small mistake, shame will tell us that we are useless, flawed and a failure. It tells us we have no rights, no value and are completely unlovable.
Dealing with our fear of rejection and our inner toxic shame are the key aims to recover from social anxiety.
Welcome To The Socially Anxious World
In Europe and US today, social anxiety is the third largest mental health disorder. In America alone it affects 15 million people a year.
It’s not well understood by the general public or the medical profession and it’s misdiagnosed nine times out of ten.
Often people with social anxiety disorder are incorrectly diagnosed with panic disorder, personality disorder, Schizophrenia, Bipolar, severe depression.
How Does Social Anxiety Affect Your Life?
Perhaps this is you as it has been me. Please get in touch and tell me your story. The more we broadcast how social anxiety affects us, the better for all of us.
"Overcome Your Anxiety" is a 4-week course designed to help you: Understand why you're suffering from anxiety
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