Hard to Understand Social Anxiety

Posted by on Mar 18, 2008 in Blog, Networking, Success | 0 comments

From Dr. Richards:

Recently, I was having a first appointment with a young woman from another state who had social anxiety.  She and her mother had driven to Phoenix to see me.  The diagnostic appointment was moving along fine, when the mother looked at me and said,

“I try so hard to understand what my daughter is saying.  But I’ve only been afraid two times in my life, and one of those times was when my husband held a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me.”

I was floored.  The daughter looked at me with raised eyebrows, we exchanged glances, and I thought to myself: “Can this be real?  This woman has only felt fear twice in her life?”

I asked the mother again if that is what she meant.  She thought about it and said “yes”. I was still surprised.

I looked at the daughter and said,  “Well, people with social anxiety feel that level of fear and anxiety almost every day of their lives.” The daughter’s eyes grew wider and she began shaking her head in agreement.  “Yeah, mom,” she said, “didn’t you know I felt afraid to do those things every day of my life?”

This incident motivated me to start asking people who did not have social anxiety:  “How many times in your life have you felt really fearful?  Really afraid?  We’re not talking about butterflies in the stomach or a slight case of nerves.  We’re talking about fearing something.”

The answers I received to this question from people who did not have social anxiety surprised me greatly.

The average answer people gave me was about seven times.

I said to people,  “Do you mean you have only felt deeply afraid or fearful seven times in your whole life?” and people would respond affirmatively.

This dumbfounded me, because those of us who have social anxiety are fearful almost every day of our lives if we are engaged in life and have to meet new challenges because of school, work, or other social activities.

Perhaps that is the reason other professionals, including psychologists and medical doctors, do not really understand social anxiety disorder. Not only have they never had it, they have never experienced the depth of the emotional, gut-wrenching fear and dread that occurs on a daily basis.

I could tell you horror stories from my own life, when the fear and dread would overtake my body and brain and I could not function.  I was simply too afraid.

This is the hallmark of social anxiety: the heart-pounding fear and dreadful anticipation of social situations and events (things that other people are simply not bothered by).  People without social anxiety can typically tell you a half dozen instances in their lives when they were really fearful.  Those of us with social anxiety could tell them a half dozen instances in our lives on almost a daily basis that bring on fear.

This is one thing that people without social anxiety do not understand.

A second reason is that they cannot “see” the social anxiety or deeply-felt anxiety and fear in us — we are very good at not wanting other people to see the fear in us.  We could say we are very good “hiders”.  To those of you with social anxiety: More than hope exists for overcoming this traumatic disorder. People can and do overcome social anxiety. We have dozens of people currently at SAI who are in the process of doing this right now.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to live with social anxiety for the rest of your life.  Don’t let anything get in the way of getting better.


To me, this also relates to ‘fear of the approach’ with women. Some men have a fear of approaching women, and need to learn how to become better at ‘the game’ if they want a decent chance of survival and their future generation’s survival.

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