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.

 

For most of my life, people told me that I was shy. They didn’t ask if I was shy. They didn’t suggest that I might be shy. They were sure. It was obvious. And I didn’t have a way of telling them that it wasn’t true, so, outwardly, I agreed with them, even though inwardly I disagreed.

Now, finally, I know how to explain, so now I can say what I always thought.

I am not shy.

If you met me and told me I was shy, the conversation might go like this:

I’m not shy; I suffer from social anxiety.

What’s social anxiety?

Basically, it’s a fear of other people and especially of their thoughts.

Isn’t that the same as shyness?

No. Shyness is a characteristic that people are born with. Most people grow out of it at some stage in their lives; others don’t. Social anxiety appears later on, usually in adolescence. It envelopes the sufferer, masking their real personality.

So they’re two completely different animals.

No. Because most people with social anxiety have always been shy, and their social anxiety developed out of their shyness.

And you’re saying that you’re different?

Yes. I’ve never been shy. As a child, I was anything but. And if you’d met me first on the dance floor or performing on a stage in front of you, you wouldn’t have suspected me of being shy – unless you tried to talk to me.

Once, I participated in a course that included giving a short presentation. The course instructor couldn’t make me out. I’d hardly said anything during the group discussions, and yet I gave my presentation with no sign of nerves. He called me an enigma. I was an enigma to myself until I discovered the term social anxiety.

In fact, the conversation wouldn’t go like that, because I wouldn’t be able to say that. And so you would go away “knowing” that I’m shy. But I’m not. Really I’m not.

Tune in again, keep in touch and don’t suffer in silence.