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Social anxiety

How does shyness become social anxiety?

On the occasion of her blog’s birthday, Nicola Morgan wrote a comment on my post. First, she sent me to heaven by praising the way I wrote about SA. Then she wrote:

“It’s interesting to think about how shy children … sometimes become gregarious /extrovert and sometimes don’t, and how shyness can sometimes become SA and sometimes not. I wonder what the triggers might be that would make the difference between the common shyness that comes from all sorts of natural fear reactions, and the one that then tips over into something hard to live with?”

My first reply to this is that the basic premise is wrong. Social anxiety doesn’t always grow from shyness and I’ve never been shy. But I wrote about that before, so I’ll get off my high horse now. The fact is that in most cases social anxiety does stem from shyness.

One reason for this is that both are fed by sensitivity. Anyone who isn’t sensitive isn’t likely to be afflicted by either of them. Also, children who are shy might get teased for being shy and this can exacerbate their shyness and cause them to refrain from participating in activities that could help them to open up.

My answer to Nicola is that it all depends on what happens to the child during childhood. While shyness is usually a trait that’s inherited, SA can come later or alternatively the shyness can vanish. If the child is born into a loving, warm and supportive family and goes on to be popular and make friends, any symptoms of shyness are likely to disappear. If the child is made to feel different or inferior and is shunned or worse by other children, self-confidence will leak out and SA could take its place.

Not all sufferers of SA were bullied, although many were. But most went through things that lowered their self-esteem. This in turn caused them to abstain, voluntarily or forcibly, from parties and other social activities so that they didn’t know how to behave at such activities. The resulting embarrassment lowered their self-esteem even more. It can be a never-ending spiral that doesn’t stop at the SA barrier.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life.

10 replies on “How does shyness become social anxiety?”

Hi again Miriam,
I thought of my 2 sons again when I read this post – oddly enough the one who although shy doesn’t seem to want to label himself with anything, is the one who was taken out of school in his early teens and managed to avoid many kinds of social contact until he was ready to have them. Whereas the other one soldiered on through school although his life there was a misery. So perhaps there is something to be said in favour of a strategic withdrawal when things are at their worst! But of course, they are far from being identical people anyway, so this may not have been the deciding factor.
Very interesting once again – I’m so glad I have this on my Favourites list now.
best wishes, Sheila

Hi Sheila,
I didn’t mean to imply that social contact is preferable to no social contact in all cases. It has to be “good” social contact. The type that lowers self-esteem is no good at all.
I look forward to seeing you here again.

I can see this spiral in my life quite clearly, and then I marry the man who was so ideal for helping me get past certain issues. And I have my children who helped me even more, not because they set out to, but just based on who they are and my experience being their mom. I often think if I had married the wrong guy, someone who damaged my self-esteem rather than building it through his love and confidence in my talents and abilities, I would be a completely different person at this point in my life.

And how come Nicola didn’t visit my blog whhaaaa

Aww. I think Nicola said she visited all the blogs but didn’t leave a comment on every one.

I’m so glad things worked out for you. I bet it was also due to your determination.

I’m wondering how SA and being a mom go together. Sometimes moms have to defend their children in different [social] situations so the children feel someone is backing them up when an injustice happens to them. Avoiding this kind of sometimes unpleasant social contact may cause problems with the child. And also, at what age children of SA moms become aware of this and what is their reaction.

Hi!

I appreciate your post (and your questions) about social anxiety. It is such a tough problem.

I especially appreciate your examining, exploring and discussing the issue in such a thoughtful way because more progress needs to be made in understanding social anxiety.

My own social anxiety is a lot better now. I got help in overcoming it by going to [removed by Miriam]

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