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It’s totally normal to feel a bit of anxiety in the lead up to a big event, such as giving an important speech to your company’s shareholders or meeting your long term partner’s family for the first time. Any situation where you are invested in people having a positive reaction to you will naturally generate a few butterflies in the stomach. However, for those suffering from social anxiety disorder, otherwise known as social phobia, the constant fear of embarrassing oneself or being negatively judged in public places is so great that they will restructure their lives to avoid social situations entirely.
A person is typically deemed to suffer from social anxiety disorder if their normal everyday functioning is impaired due to a (usually irrational) fear of social interaction. Some people suffer from generalised social anxiety disorder, which occurs when the person enters any social situation where they are likely to feel judged or be at the center of attention. For others, their social anxiety relates to a particular scenario, such as public speaking or eating at a restaurant.
Social events that most people would find exciting and enjoyable can be utterly terrifying for someone who suffers from social anxiety disorder. Some people go red in the face when there is an anxiety attack, while others sweat or tremble or experience a pounding heart.
As far as we currently know, social anxiety disorder is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Research indicates that children exhibiting high levels of behavioural inhibition are significantly more likely to develop social anxiety disorder as young adults. Behavioural inhibition refers to behaviour patterns involving reluctance to try new things, introversion and fear of the unfamiliar. Behavioural inhibition is now thought to be an inheritable genetic trait which can be passed on by one or both parents to a child, increasing the child’s likelihood of developing social anxiety disorder.
Of course, a child raised by parents who have high levels of social anxiety is going to be at a much higher risk of developing the similar issues as a young adult, simply from conditioning and learned behaviour (irrespective of the child’s genetics). Other environmental causes of social anxiety disorder include: abusive or neglectful parents, having a physical disfigurement that draws attention and ridicule, speaking with a speech impediment or simply going through embarrassing or humiliating experiences that live on as haunting memories. Research also suggests that children who are over-protected are less likely to develop adequate levels of social acuity, which leads to embarrassing/difficult social interactions and subsequently the development of anxiety regarding new situations.
What can be done?
Hypnotherapy can be extremely effective in combating social anxiety disorder, allowing people to start enjoying new experiences, instead of wasting countless hours of their life worrying about all the bad things that could happen or how people will perceive them negatively. Through hypnotherapy, past associations to disempowering experiences can be broken, making room for new positive associations to grow, creating a more fulfilling, stress-free future!
(Photo by Anita Peppers)