Do you sometimes feel misunderstood, or like you just don’t fit in? Is socializing painful or something you avoid? Is mixing at a party or large group a torturous experience?
If so, you could be suffering from social anxiety? People suffering with this are often introverted by nature and feel that they are constantly being judged negatively by everyone around them. As such, they find it difficult to make new friends or maintain relationships.
These people are often drawn to online friendships, as the cyber world can be anonymous and much less threatening. Without the need for eye contact or body language, contact with others over the net, can be much less overwhelming on the senses. The written word on its own, can be tolerated by someone with social anxiety, as it can give them the time they need to choose their words carefully and to be sure to express themselves in a way that would not be perceived critically. For this is what someone with social anxiety feels every minute of every day: that they are being negatively judged or critically perceived by others. For some, it destroys everyday life and they are confined to the only place where there is no anxiety, the sanctuary of a solitary existence at home.
Although there appears to be a genetic basis to social anxiety and its evil partner depression, there are a number of behaviours that can be un-learnt just as easily as they are learnt as a coping mechanism for anxiety.
As a result of these thoughts and anxieties, people with social anxiety have few friends and find making new friendships very difficult and not just because of trust issues. Their fears and negative thinking can render them vulnerable to friendship with toxic people, who in turn, erode their self-esteem and self-concept, even more and it feeds into a vicious circle.
Relationship gurus, such as Marc and Angel, list some common toxic behaviors to social interactions which is useful information for those who have social anxiety and who may wish to improve their social interactions:
1. Taking everything too personally. – People are toxic to be around when they believe that everything happening around them is a direct assault on them or is in some way all about them. The truth is that what people say and do to you is much more about them, than you. People’s reactions to you are about their filters, and their perspectives, wounds and experiences. Whether people think you’re amazing, or believe you’re the worst, again, it’s more about them. I’m not saying we should be narcissists and ignore all feedback. I am saying that so much hurt, disappointment and sadness in our lives comes from our taking things personally when it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of others’ good or bad opinion of you, and to operate with your own heart, intuition and wisdom as your guide.
2. Acting like you’re always a victim. – Another toxic behavior is persistent complaining that fuels your sense of victimization. Believing you’re a victim, that you have no power to exert and no power over the direction of your life, is a toxic stance that keeps you stuck. Working as a life coach with people who’ve suffered terrible trauma in their lives but found the courage to turn it all around, I know that we have access to far more power, authority, and influence over our lives than we initially believe. When you stop complaining, and refuse to see yourself as a hapless victim, you’ll find that you are more powerful than you realized, but only if you choose to accept this reality.
3. Obsessive negative thinking – It’s very hard to be around people who speak incessantly about the terrible things that could happen and have happened, the slights they’ve suffered, and the unfairness of life. These people stubbornly refuse to see the positive side of life and the positive lessons from what’s happening. Pessimism is one thing – but remaining perpetually locked in negative thoughts is another. Only seeing the negative, and operating from a view that everything is negative and against you, is a skewed way of thinking and living, and you can change that. Seek out positive people and look out the way they perceive obstacles and problems in their life.
4. Lack of emotional self-control. – An inability to manage your emotions is toxic to everyone around you. We all know these people – those who explode in anger and tears over the smallest hiccup or problem. Yelling at the grocery store clerk for the long line, screaming at an employee for a small error she made, or losing it with your daughter for spilling juice on the floor. If you find that you’re overly emotional, losing it at every turn, you need some outside assistance to help you gain control over your emotions and understand what’s at the root of your emotionality. There’s more to it than what appears on the surface. An outside perspective – and a new kind of support – can work wonders.
5. Cruelty (or lacking empathy and compassion). – One of the most toxic behaviors – cruelty – stems from a total lack of empathy, concern or compassion for others. We see it every day online and in the media – people being devastatingly unkind and hurtful to others just because they can. They tear people down online in a cowardly way, using their anonymity as a shield. Cruelty, backstabbing, and hurting others for any reason is toxic, and it hurts you as well.
6. Needing constant validation. – Last but not least, people who constantly strive for validation by others are exhausting to be around. Those men and women who get caught up in the need to prove their worth over and over and over, and constantly want to “win” over everyone around them, are unintentionally toxic and draining. Know this. Overly-attaching to how things have to look to others can wear you out and bring everyone else around you down. There is a bigger picture to your life, and it’s not about what you achieve in the eyes of the masses. It’s about the journey, the process, the path – what you’re learning, how you’re helping others learn too, and the growing process you allow yourself to participate in.
What can you do to help someone/be a friend to someone you suspect has Social Anxiety?
- Be alert to when they attempt to join into conversations and listen to them with consideration, and without judgement.
- Be aware that although they might appear rude and abrupt, they would never intend to come across in this way, and it is often their lack of social experiences that make them withdraw, or be incapable of responding appropriately.
- Accept them the way they are, and always remain positive whilst empathizing.
- Invite them to social outing without pressure, such as small groups situations or in a situation that they would not find threatening, such as stopping by their desk each day for a quick chat.
Something to Ponder About