is other people."
- Jean Paul Sartre
Talk about it.
Like most other conditions nowadays, you most often hear about "social anxiety" from people who are trying to sell us drugs.
But for a general mainstream view of what is labeled "social anxiety," we suggest WebMD's perspective here. Typically, many professionals view this as a condition caused at least in part by genes and typically treated by buying and taking certain drugs.
And for a much-needed overview of the whole "social anxiety" domain, see this New York Times article.
"Social anxiety disorder occurs when people become so anxious over the thought of embarrassing themselves in public that normal life is interrupted. Some symptoms of social anxiety: An extreme fear of a situation in which one has to meet new people or may be scrutinized by others. The feared social situations are experienced with intense anxiety or avoided entirely. The anxiety-provoking social situation causes physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, shaking, and pounding heart. The basic symptom of social anxiety is being extremely anxious in the presence of others."
- from freedomfromfear.com
but if you feel like digging a little deeper . . .
One fairly obvious point that is rarely mentioned: "social anxiety" is simply one variation of the problem of anxiety. "Social anxiety" is often treated by professionals as if it were a unique, unusual condition in it's own category, but if you solve the problem of anxiety, in general, you will also solve the problem of "social anxiety."
That said . . .
"Social anxiety" has become the buzzword for what has previously been called one form of "shyness," sometimes taking the form of experiencing a degree of fear of social interactions.
This condition has to do with anxiety that surrounds relationships with other people. Relationships with other people in the world are, indeed, often painful - and can often become a kind of "battle for your mind."
Why Be Social?
These conditions such as "social anxiety" are often made up by psychologists (it is the job of psychologists to make up names for certain conditions and then work on curing or helping them). This situation often starts when a psychologist diagnosis and labels a person with "social anxiety disorder."
(Note: This produces an interesting scenario: the implication is that the "client," for whatever reason, is irrationally out of touch with "reality" to such a degree that they need the psychologists' "help." This diagnosis, of course, feels pretty insulting to the client, involving a put-down ("I am more in touch with reality than you," "you have a problem," etc) which often causes shame, or at least makes the person feel that they are in some kind of a one-down position. Further, this kind of shaming insult is coming, ironically enough, from the psychologist, who is supposed to be helping the client get along better in relationships.)
In this scenario, the psychologist often assumes that:
- Everyone should generally enjoy socializing with others
- Social interations and relations consist primarily of individuals acting in the spirit of love, kindness, unselfishness, and respect
- The time and energy spent socializing with other individuals in one's social group is, for the most part, rewarding and well spent
- If a person doesn't enjoy socializing with one's immediate social group, there is something "wrong" with them that needs to be corrected with the psychologists' help
- If a person prefers other activities different from spending time with one's immediately available social group, a problem typically lies with the individual and not with the social group.
In our humble view, the reality is more that:
- If a psychologist would only remember back to his or her early school days, he or she would most likely remember periods of cruel jokes, put-downs, insults, fights, and endless rounds of teasing or being teased.
- The social interactions and relations of many groups consist of individuals acting in the spirit of jealousy, greed, envy, gossip, treachery, fierce competition, debauchery, and sometimes downright cruelty.
- Perhaps one's immediately available social group is a bad influence on an individual, and the individual is wise to stay away from them.
- Perhaps the individual in question has better things to do than waste time fooling around with things that his social peers might be involved with.
- Perhaps the individual in question is perceptive and sensitive to the put-downs, insults, teasing and so forth that is fairly common in many social situations, and prefers to occupy themselves with other, less threatening or degrading or more productive or enjoyable activities.
One might do well to know that many Nobel-prize-winners, great scientists, philosophers, thinkers, and artists of all kinds were sometimes downright antisocial.
So, is a habit of avoiding social interactions completely unjustified? Maybe not.
Social Life: A Closer Look
Taking a hard, close look closely at social situations, and looking under the surface of what seems to be going on . . . it can be surprising and disconcerting what is discovered. To put it mildly, you typically do not find individuals acting with love, kindness, selflessness, politeness, and so on towards each other. Far from it.
"Every man is born in a certain social context, in a more or less organized community.
Relationship to the social environment enters the very essence of his being.
When a person lives in conformity with the traditional norm of society, he feels a sense of security.
But when, for some reason or other,
there is a disturbance of his social relationship,
he experiences anxiety.
When he acts unethically in an ethically oriented society, he becomes anxious.
When he acts ethically in an unethical society, that also makes him anxious.
The root cause of such anxiety
is the conflict between individual behavior and social norm."
- Haridas Chaudhuri
The Social Jungle
In one perspective, a typical social situation resembles much more something like a jungle. Although physically, people are not necessarily attacking each other, in other ways - emotionally, mentally, socially - people are fiercely competitive, at times ruthless, in a constantly churning game of subtle or not-so-subtle one-upsmanship.
Take a group of four individuals. One is determined to prove himself intellectually superior to the others, and constantly tries to prove to the others how smart he is, or how stupid they are.
Another tries to be the funniest, out-doing all the others by being able to get the most laugh (if one person tells a joke, he has to tell a funnier joke.)
One exerts a kind of psychological control by throwing verbal jabs, poking fun at one person's personality traits or qualities of character (it's irrelevant which ones - a person can be derided for being smart, stupid, beautiful or ugly, loud or quiet, whatever).
One, believing herself to be the most physically attractive of the bunch, will directly or subtly direct the conversation towards topics of beauty or lack thereof.
The other knows herself to be less physically attractive but more intelligent, so she tries to direct the conversation towards more intellectual matters.
This is, in a sense, an illustration about identity, or what a person's character or ego-identity is based on. If a person bases their ego-identity on being intelligent, beautiful, a good conversationalist or storyteller, a funny comedian, or whatever - frequently a person find their ego-identity - in other words, they find "themselves" - under threat. Because often, someone close by is trying to prove that they are more intelligent, beautiful, funny, etc whatever - and sometimes succeeding.
Power alliances, ganging up on one another on issues, going on trial on the witness stand - the whole arena is filled with many pressures and tensions, subtle and overt - and it takes not a small amount of "ego-strength" or mental and emotional toughness, not to mention political savvy, to survive in this "jungle."
Most social groups have some type of informal power hierarchy, a social pyramid. Emotional reactions then make their way from the top on down the pyramid. For example, the president of a company yells at an employee. That employee yells at their assistant, who is a father. A father then goes home and yells at his wife; the wife then yells at her son; the son then takes it out on his younger brother. The younger brother then kicks the dog. In ways such as these, reactions are "passed around" and taken out on those around us, with those at the bottom in terms of power often taking the brunt of it.
Those who survive and thrive are not necessarily the most beautiful, intelligent, funny, and so on, but rather, those who are actually the most astute "politicians" - who are able to strengthen and maximize their own ground or ego and weaken and minimize that of others. This often translates into the "meanest."
"How did the rich and powerful individuals who move the earth
get where they are today?
Are they smarter? Faster? Better looking?
Certainly not. Some are even short and ugly.
What, then, is their edge?
The answer is simple:
That's all. And if you want to get where they're going, you'll be meaner, too."
- Stanley Bing, Fortune columnist and author
Again, if a person is aware of all this, and is sensitive to it, it can be easy to see why one might choose to put socializing on a lower priority scale, and prefer reading a book. Those who are labeled with "social anxiety disorder" are sometimes those individuals who are simply perceptive enough to see what is really going on, and for whatever reason are either unprepared for or are unwilling to deal with it.
And often in cases, due to experiences of overt cruelty, a person can learn to avoid others and keep to themselves, our of simple self-protection and survival.
Undoing the Past
What is called "social anxiety" might also come when one goes through unpleasant experiences and then generalizes from them, imagining that future (or present) interactions will be similarly painful to those of the past.
One day a cat touches her paw on a hot stove.
The cat, from that day forward, may avoid hot stoves from then on out.
Another cat, after touching her paw to a hot stove, may avoid stoves in general.
Another cat, after touching her paw to a hot stove, may avoid kitchens in general. The cat may develop a phobia of kitchens because she does not want to get burned again. Here, the problem does not lie in "avoiding" itself, it lies in overgeneralizing what one needs to stay away from.
In another way, say a person experiences has an unpleasant experience with a rat. From then on, any other rat can often trigger than person into a similar emotional state - experiencing a degree of fear, anxiety, avoidance behavior, and so on. This effect would only multiply the effects, becoming much worse, if that person were to find themselves in a room full of rats.
The same thing can happen with people. If a person experiences a certain degree of unpleasant situations with people, then people themselves can trigger emotional states such as anxiety and fear and so on, in the person. And in a roomful of people, the effect can become amplified.
When emotional reactions like this become "programmed" in or "conditioned," the solution lies not in re-training our conditioning in a different direction, but in undoing the conditioning altogether. This process of "undoing one's conditioning is part of the process involved in some of these exercises.
In doing this, we further suggest the book How To Conquer Negative Emotions by Roy Masters, which is actually a sequel to the Psychology Arena Champion of the LiveReal Products
What To Do?
Read about anxiety
Learn how to deal with stress.
"Part of the training of life
is to increase one's ability to tolerate anxiety."
- Haridas Chaudhuri
It can be helpful for a person to learn skills of political savvy - the often subtle and unspoken workings of power in interpersonal relations (See The Battle for Your Mind, the book Top Dog, Bottom Dog by Robert Karen, and much of the work of Roy Masters) as well as to develop as much "ego-strength," emotional intelligence, and character as possible in order to survive in a tough world.
Answer this question correctly: What is "Faith"?
Check out some of these exercises.
Check out the LiveReal Psychology Arena Champion Products
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