What is social anxiety?
“Individuals whose social skills have not been fully developed are like travelers who have just set foot on a foreign land. They do not understand the local language and cannot integrate into the local life.” Psychologist Philip Zimbardo described social anxiety in this way.
In our clinical work, we repeatedly hear those patients with interpersonal difficulties say: “I think there is a code word between them that I can’t understand.” They have some rules that I don’t understand. Whenever I am in a group of people, I always feel that I am a particularly clumsy one-I just try to pretend and hide my clumsiness from others.
First of all, we must make it clear that social anxiety is different from introversion. Introverts are quiet and conservative, and will not overly amplify external criticisms, and will not be affected by external evaluations. People with social anxiety will feel the trouble of avoiding conflict (that is, they have both approaching and avoiding mentality). They both want to contact and communicate with others, but also worry that others will make negative comments on themselves.
The behavioral performance of people with social anxiety may be withdrawal or depression, such as refusing to communicate with others, always being silent and staying in the corner in group activities; but there are also a few people who will go to the other extreme, they are eloquent and very active. In order to conceal their inner anxiety, give up their own views and beliefs, and adopt the way others like to do what they like.
In daily life, there are not many people who really meet the diagnostic criteria of social anxiety disorder. They just have emotions or tendencies of social anxiety, or are just “shy” (social silence) in their personality traits.
How is social anxiety formed?
Despite the effects of genes, temperament and environment, acquired factors have a more obvious influence on the symptoms of social anxiety. The following conditions may cause social anxiety:
· Experience stressful, humiliating incidents, or experiences of being abused or neglected, such as being scolded publicly by teachers and parents, and being made fun of by others.
· Some specific family parenting styles, such as being too authoritarian or overprotective, will make children feel that they lack family warmth and produce social anxiety. If parents always blame or correct their children’s behavior, they will further aggravate the children’s social anxiety symptoms.
· Observing the behavior of others can also produce social anxiety, such as seeing your siblings or classmates being bullied by others.
· Life changes require individuals to take on new social roles, such as getting a job promotion or marrying people from different social classes.
The process of people being contaminated by social anxiety is divided into three stages, which is called the “vicious three circle” theory of shyness and social anxiety:
The first stage is “fear”. When people with social anxiety are ready to interact with others, their hearts will be filled with fear; they worry that they will not behave well and will leave a bad impression on others. This kind of worry has caused them to have negative expectations and automatic concepts about the results of the exchange. The expectations are constantly being strengthened along with the concerns of the visitors, which makes their worries more serious. They are entangled in whether they are actively responding or evasive, but generally speaking, at this stage, they are still preparing to approach others.
The second stage is “shame/self-blame”. When negative expectations and automatic concepts continue to grow stronger, social anxious people’s reflection and guilt on their behavior become more and more serious, and their shame and self-blame will cycle. Under the influence of shame, they will feel that others have become harsh, contemptuous, and full of malice, so they have feelings of anger and resentment towards others. At this stage, they no longer try or want to approach others, and the typical characteristic of their behavior is avoidance/withdrawal.
The third stage is “anger/resentment”. The emotional experience of shame can be alleviated by blaming those who are more advantageous than yourself. Therefore, after developing feelings of anger and resentment, they turn the target of attack and accusation from the inside to the outside, and they begin to complain about others’ selfishness and disregard for others. At this stage, the typical characteristic of their behavior is attack or passive attack.
In the three cycles of escalation, negative emotions and cognitive concepts are constantly being strengthened.
How to change social anxiety?
We need long-term “exercise” to cultivate social adaptability. To change social anxiety, three aspects need to be changed:
1. Choose a social situation that suits you.
People with social anxiety need to be clear that they are fully capable of controlling their behavior, managing and controlling their physical arousal (such as sweating, shaking, blushing, etc.). There are countless kinds of skills that are reasonable, appropriate and can achieve the ideal social effect. We can constantly try and choose the way of communication that suits us to achieve the ideal state of social adaptation. The process of changing social anxiety is also a process of constantly discovering and understanding yourself.
2. Efforts to make changes in cognitive concepts, so as to identify and adjust negative emotions.
In essence, most social anxiety comes from your unreasonable cognitive concepts. They often focus on their own shortcomings while turning a blind eye to their strengths. Therefore, it is necessary to change the individual’s negative, unreasonable, and maladaptive way of thinking, and establish a more positive and self-supporting way of thinking.
The following is a “list of cognitive distortions” that people with social anxiety should work hard to overcome:
All or nothing: If your performance is slightly imperfect, you will feel that you have failed;
Overgeneralization: Treating an isolated negative event as a failure mode that will last forever;
Opinion penetration: Overly obsessed with a certain detail of a negative event, thinking that the whole life will be bad, just like a drop of ink in a water glass;
Negative positive events: Even if there are positive events, they will still use some reason to support their negative opinions and maintain their negative beliefs;
· Try to figure out others: arbitrarily think that others are harsh on oneself, full of hostility and unkindness, but do not check.
· Terrible: Think that a small mistake will have extremely bad consequences. For example, when a date request is rejected, I feel that I am orphan.
3. Make continuous efforts.
Just as you must keep exercising, you can regain a healthy body. The key to reducing social anxiety and improving social adaptability is to persist in social adaptation training every day.
Overcoming social anxiety is a long process. Those who are accustomed to avoiding social situations may still be troubled by social anxiety again after a short-term treatment. “Under normal circumstances, the entire treatment process will not be smooth. Visitors will always be plagued by cognitive behavioral problems, and even weak external factors will make them relapse.”
Lynn Henderson said, “Therefore, the social adaptation model emphasizes that visitors must face this reality and must understand that social adaptation is a process of constant arrival. Social adaptation training is not so much a treatment plan, it is a kind of A lifestyle worth practicing.”