Understanding the Causes of Social Anxiety
Have you ever wondered about the causes of social anxiety? Do you feel as though your early childhood environment contributed to your social anxiety? In this post, I’m going to take a backseat for a change and let some of my readers speak from over the years.
These responses were originally submitted as part of a “Readers Respond” series that I managed at About.com (now Verywell). Unfortunately these stories were lost when those reader series were pulled from the website.
That’s why I want to share them again here, so that you can know that you are not alone. Can you relate to any of these? Feel free to share your own stories in the comments.
- My mother is a controlling, abusive woman, who while growing up constantly belittled me and told me I couldn’t make friends. I am highly intelligent, but she used to tell me because I was so shy “no one would know you weren’t retarded.” Every friendship I had in my life my mom sabotaged. She would even call or write my friends. She was incredibly good at double edged compliments as well as knowing where to stab you in the gut and which way to twist the knife. When I was 26 I finally had to file an Order of Protection against them that went to trial. I won, my mother made a fool of herself. It was my bravest moment ever. I was so scared in the witness seat, I could barely breath, but I had my notes with me and I knew what I finally had to do to start healing. Since then (it’s been three years) I’ve moved three times and changed my phone number. She even harassed my best friend so much she had to change her number. My mom definitely was a MAJOR cause of my social anxiety.
- —Guest OzarksUSA
- My father wasn’t very social and my mother had low self esteem so I may have been on the shy side anyway but I can say with all certainty that it was the abuse from my mother that caused me to have full blown SAD. It was like she was on a mission to hurt me. No matter if we were alone or around family, friends and neighbors, she made fun of, belittled and humiliated me so many times from about the age of 6 until I left home at 17. I can remember times when my father and a few others got on her about it but it only made matters worse for me because she got meaner and when I acted out she then tried to make everyone believe that I was the bad child. I showed signs of SAD when I was little and realized I had a severe problem by the time I was a teenager. I wish I had gotten help back then because I have truly suffered with it for 46 years. Mental and emotional abuse goes very deep and can destroy someone’s life. I would have rather taken a physical beating than to be beaten up on the inside.
- —Guest grammy
- Definitely. Some people are born with a set of symptoms we group together and call ‘anxiety’, but no one is born afraid of people. I could list many factors that could have contributed. I can’t be sure which of them actually did significantly, but to some extent, they have all led me to where I am now. Let’s see… I’ve always been very hateful towards pretentiousness. To me, the whole world is pretentious, and fake, and it makes me very distrustful and suspicious of people, leading me to isolate myself in my attempt to remain pure (not successful or smart). I was hyper and reactive, and spoke my mind as a kid (still do), and because of this, parents and teachers always told me I was bad. A lot. My sister is the most amazing human being ever. Been beside her forever, makes me feel like crap. Having a sensitive natural temperament is a big one. Makes you hypersensitive and fearful. Oh, and another big one, moving here from another country. I feel so uncomfortable and out of place here.
- —Guest hi.
It all fits
- “Your upbringing can also impact the likelihood that you will develop SAD. You are more likely to develop the disorder if: •As a child you were not exposed to enough social situations and were not allowed to develop appropriate social skills. •One or both of your parents was rejecting, controlling, critical or overprotective. Children that do not form a proper attachment to their primary caregiver are at greater risk because they lack the ability to calm and soothe themselves when in stressful situations.” I grew up with a dad who was terribly quiet and a neurotic, controlling, mean mother and didn’t have much family around. My parents didn’t have any friends and as I grew up, I realized I had a problem with forming relationships and people in general. As an adult, I see the same happening with the lack of friends and the anxiety in most social situations. I have kids and have begun to see it in them. I’m at a loss as to how to change this because this is all new to me.
- —Guest MG
My childhood and SAD
- I’m certain I inherited my social anxiety traits from my father. Although we’ve never discussed it, it’s very obvious how uncomfortable he is in social situations. We share so many similarities in our personalities. But besides inheriting SA from my Dad, I also struggled with my sexuality. I did not want to be who I was. Because of my parents’ religious and traditional ideals, I was terrified of their reaction. I was tortured by and hid both the SA and my sexuality from everyone for many years. My Mother was the domineering force in the family and coupled with Dad’s SA, he didn’t play a big part in our upbringing. It was her acknowledgement and praise I craved but rarely got. I was only given negative reinforcement. Striving for “perfection” and never receiving any acknowledgement for it were both emotionally draining. I know it played a huge role in my life.
- —Guest Daniela
Childhood had everything to do with it
- I was told at seven years of age that I was adopted. About that time, my brother being two years older than I, was thought of, by the school, to be a genius. He had a photographic memory. I had to listen to her carry on about her genius son, never, was I mentioned. I’m sure she never considered how small and inadequate it made me feel, or how antisocial I became. Until, a family member brought it to her attention. Then it was too late. I refused to let anyone get close enough to help. That little girl is now 53, and although I have learned how to forgive some of it and let go of some of the anger, I am still antisocial and I find it hard to trust people. I don’t want to be that way anymore. So, it’s study and learn everything I can. I will overcome this. I beat drug addiction, and I can beat this.
- —Guest Linda
- I’m pretty sure my parents triggered this, but I’m sure they didn’t mean to, or know what they were doing. When I was growing up, all my opinions and ideas and feelings that I’d try to talk about with them were ignored or brushed off as unimportant. I longed to be noticed and loved by my parents, especially my father. They just never realized how big children’s feelings really are, or that they even have them. They thought that kids don’t feel like adults do. They never gave me hugs or told me I was beautiful or congratulated me on things I did well on. They just pushed me hard and got upset whenever my grades started falling and assumed I never had self-image issues as a teenage girl. We never talked about anything personal, my problems were never a big deal to them. I know they love and care about me, though. It’s just been difficult and painful and lonely.
- —Guest Becca
- For almost 50 years I lived with the knowledge that there was something wrong with me. As hard as I tried, I could never do or say the right thing. After my mother died, I learned a lot about her I would never have accepted before. Yet, the facts became apparent. She did not want to be a mother and she definitely did not want more than one child. She did not like sex possibly due to abuse by her father, who later abused me. She resented me totally. She did everything to make me feel worthless, unlovable, stupid. It worked. My mother was the head of the family. My father earned the money and she ruled the roost. He had no idea what went on when he wasn’t around. He was probably as fearful of her as I was. I let her ruin my life because she instilled guilt in me and literally brainwashed me. Now I am trying, after all these years and being on various medications, to dispose of the guilt and the negativity and get down to the real me.
- —Guest DJ
- YES! To begin with my Dad is shy and backwards and my mother has very low self esteem on top of all of her other mental and emotional problems. Her father was an alcoholic and loved to embarass her and she did the same to me. But because she was such an emotional wreck she got very abusive with it. She severely made fun of and humilliated me in front of family, neighbors and friends. Things got very bad before her nervous breakdown in which she was hospitalized. She got help but there was no one to help me. She followed me around calling me names and told me no one would marry me because I looked like a pumpkin (I have a space in my front teeth). One time when I was 14 she fell on the floor laughing when she saw me dancing. I won’t dance in front of others now. These are just a few of the many cruel things that she did to me. To this day she still does not know the life long sentence that she put on me. She was sick then and has appologized to me many times and I never bring it up.
- —Guest Linda
I am certain childhood activated it
- My Mom has severe OCD and hoards things. She also has severe Soc. anxiety d/o. Her hoarding and messy house allowed her to keep people away. But I was a child in her home. So I didn’t have many friends over. That led to lack of peer support and severe bullying; that led to me being an extremely anxious mother myself. I was also seperated from my son when he was only 3 weeks old and his father lost his job. I became extremely overprotective as his father became more abusive. That led to me literally attending school with my child in Kindergarten. I spent every Monday with him all day. That led to my son being teased; the very experience I wanted to protect him from. Because he was gifted, he was “observed for performance’ and constantly compared with peers. That and my constant presence along with genetic and social issues resulted in my now 20 year old son having SEVERE soc. anxiety d/o, which, until recently, he treated with marijuana. End of story. Now he’s sober.
What are your thoughts about the causes of social anxiety? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.
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Causes of Social Anxiety (Real-Life Stories)
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