Social anxiety is the fear of being in social situations, being negatively scrutinized by others, and being publicly embarrassed. This makes an individual suffering from social anxiety to be highly self-conscious, hesitant, and avoidant of social situations.
The major cause of social anxiety has been found to be neurochemical imbalances. The neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and gamma ammunobutric acid (GABA) are responsible for anxiety and arousal, and the dysregulation of these neurotransmitters have been found to cause social anxiety. This makes social anxiety all the more worrisome as it is something that occurs from birth. Studies have shown that people born with such neurochemical imbalances have a high risk of having social anxiety in adolescence and adulthood.
The immediate negative consequence of social anxiety is having very limited social interactions. The fear of being negatively scrutinized by others and being publicly humiliated and embarrassed, along with being highly self-conscious, makes the individual to avoid almost all kinds of social and interpersonal interactions. This includes the most simple and basic social situations such as going out for a walk, jogging, buying something from the nearby shop, going to the bank, and even talking on the phone.
The individual with social anxiety, due to all this, grows up isolated, having very limited social interactions. The fruitful interactions that the person has are limited to parents, siblings, and a few others with whom they might feel comfortable. The other kinds of interactions that they may have are the necessary ones such as in school, college, and workplace, which tend to be very discomforting.
Having healthy, fulfilling interpersonal interactions is a basic need for any individual. A plethora of research in psychology indicates that positive relationships are essential for social adjustment, happiness, and wellbeing. What makes matters worse is that social anxiety may become a deterrent for the individual to even have enjoyable alone time.
The high level of self-consciousness and fear of being embarrassed becomes a big obstacle for a person with social anxiety to have a good time even when the individual does not necessary have to have fulfilling social interactions. Everyone likes to have a good time by going out to have a good meal at a restaurant, buy new clothes at a market or mall, or simply traveling to and visiting places of interest.
Social anxiety, however, makes the person avoid such activities, because even the presence of people and having the most basic interactions with them can seem to be daunting. Therefore, social anxiety does not just become an obstacle for fulfilling interactions, but it also deters the individual in having the simple pleasures in life and in many ways inhibiting personal growth.
With having very limited social interactions and avoiding pleasure seeking activities that add to their experience, the individual with social anxiety grows to become socially awkward and someone who may always seem to be tensed and worried, worsening the condition. The social awkwardness may at times even drive others away, further reducing opportunities for social interactions and increasing the fear of being embarrassed.
Not having many people to socialize with, the person develops a shell around him/her, making him/herself more and more isolated from the social world. This naturally develops an unfulfilled need for intimacy and an unfulfilled desire to have satisfying relationships - it develops the highly unpleasant feeling of loneliness in the individual.
Loneliness makes an individual feel unwanted and worthless. The desire to have fulfilling interactions and relationships, but being unable to actually have such experiences turns out to be very emotionally painful for the person. This inability makes the person to further lose confidence and feel highly inferior as compared to others.
The individual starts feeling that others have friends, but he/she does not have anyone to talk to. Sitting alone and viewing others laughing, smiling, and having a good time with each other becomes heart-wrenching for a person who experiences loneliness. The person begins to feel that he/she may never be able to have friends and one day will die alone, and nobody will even know or care about it. This consistent feeling makes the person morose, melancholic, and hopeless.
The hopelessness that begins in terms of not being able to have friends gradually develops in almost all spheres of life. An extreme lack of confidence develops in the person, to the extent that he/she loses any kind of desire. The individual loses all desire to have a good education, a successful career, and simple activities like eating food, having a shower, getting out of bed, or even smiling. The person clearly begins to suffer from a severe depression.
Because this depression stems from being unable to have social interactions due to social anxiety, which leads to loneliness, others do not really understand what or why the individual is going through such a state. The person might be having all the comforts in life, but is still depressed, seems to be alarming and unrealistic for others. Often, instead of depression, others view it as laziness, carelessness, or just excuses for not doing anything.
The individual getting the realization that nobody really understands him/her worsens his/her condition. Being highly depressed and not getting any kind of social support from others gets disheartening for the individual. This in a way adds to the social anxiety of the individual as it makes him/her further keep a distance from people. The whole cycle then continues, but in a more severe form. A more severe form of social anxiety leads a more severe form of loneliness, which further exacerbates the feeling of depression, stunting any kind of personal growth and wellbeing. In the end, the person gets stuck in a vicious circle – the vicious circle of social anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
Social Anxiety, Loneliness, Depression - The Vicious Circle

Social anxiety, therefore, is something that needs to be taken very seriously. It is a highly debilitating problem that an individual experiences, which leads to further severe psychological difficulties. It is for this reason that children with social anxiety need to be brought up in a nurturing environment that makes them emotionally competent.
This is where the role of parents, siblings, relatives, peers, and teachers come in to play. They are the ones who can provide that nurturing environment involving care, comfort, support, and acceptance. This will certainly help the individual to deal effectively with the fear of embarrassment in public places as well as the feeling of being unwanted, inferiority, hopelessness, distress, and a complete lack of confidence that may all come along with it.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

1 comment:

Brian Arbenz said...

Some very clear insights in this piece -- and regrettably, they are familiar to me from my experiences. I have made much progress overcoming isolation, but obstacles remain. Setbacks happen, but so does progress.