Good News for People with Social Anxiety

Individuals who suffer from social anxiety disorder fear judgement and ridicule from others, making it difficult to form friendships. Even when sufferers find a close friend, the disorder may still make them feel unworthy. Thanks to research and clinical trials, there are a variety of ways to help suffers change their own self-perceptions.

Self-judgement can be your own worst enemy

When a person suffers from social anxiety, this condition causes self-doubt and fear of how others perceive him. This makes the individual feel isolated and cut off from others, making it very difficult to form friendships. Even when the close friends he does have prove time after time that they value the friendship, this lack of self-worth can make the sufferer feel as though he doesn’t deserve that friendship. Are there ways to break this vicious cycle?

The study

In a recent study, Dr. Thomas Rodebaugh and his group of researchers interviewed individuals suffering from social anxiety disorder and their close friends. They were attempting to find out how the perception of the two individuals differed. The participants generally viewed themselves as a “bad” friend – unworthy, a poor friend due their own failings. Surprisingly, their friend viewed the friendship as being different, not bad. The perception differed because of the condition itself and how it was manifested, not due to the friend suffering from the condition. In other words, could it have been “all in their head?”

What research has taught us

Dr. Rodebaugh’s YouTube video demonstrates how people suffering from social anxiety disorder may feel. He points out their insecurities, thoughts about not coming across well and the fear that they are being judged harshly by others. He also points out that almost everyone suffers from self-doubt at least once during his or her life. There are many methods of helping individuals overcome or cope with social anxiety, including learning relaxation techniques, learning to think objectively about how their mind works plus help with practicing “exposure.”

What is exposure?

Exposure can be seen as practice. Just as those individuals who are afraid of non-venomous snakes or spiders may benefit from safe exposure to these creatures, so, too, can a person with anxiety about being in social situations learn to deal with their condition by being exposed to being out in the public eye. The old adage of “practice makes perfect” may very well be true in these cases. Many individuals suffering from social anxiety disorder suffer from fear of the unknown, or they may have had a negative experience in their past that has influenced them to the point of fear. Dr. Rodebaugh’s research has shown that individuals suffering from social anxiety disorder are afraid of the judgement or ridicule of others. Sometimes, even after repeated exposure to social situations, people may still remain fearful, so what else can doctors do to help them? 

The good news

Since much of social anxiety stems from the belief that others will ridicule the sufferer or will judge them harshly, Rodebaugh has found a practice that seems to work. In one clinical study, he had subjects make individual speeches to a group, videotaping the participants as they spoke. Afterward, when they expressed fearing the worst – judging themselves as having come across so negatively that they didn’t want to try again – the act of simply allowing half of the individuals to view their own performances during the speech gave that half of the test group enough confidence to more readily face a second speech. When test subjects saw themselves differently, as seen through others’ eyes instead of their own self-critical perceptions, they found new strength and even the beginnings of confidence. They weren’t as “bad” as they feared they would be so perhaps they could learn to be even better.

What this means

When coupled with support by close friends, family or a therapist, repeated exposure can reduce anxiety. By using a variety of techniques, individuals with social anxiety disorder can once more learn to function in situations that previously would have been seen as impossible. These techniques include relaxation methods, learning to think objectively about how their minds work and how that makes them feel, practicing being in social situations and learning how to judge themselves rather than trying to perceive how others judge them. While the comfort level may not be total, it can become bearable for most sufferers.