Why You Can Have Both Positive Self Esteem and Social Anxiety
I usually try to write posts that are helpful or informative in some way about social anxiety, but this one will be more of an opinion piece. In this case, I want to talk about why positive self-esteem and social anxiety are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
This post was inspired by an article I read over at the Shine Sheets blog by Scott A. Spackey.
I don’t totally disagree with the premise of the author of the post: In a nutshell, he argues that often, people who are introverts become insecure about the fact that the (North American) world generally values more extroverted qualities.
He argues that this insecurity might be mistaken to be social anxiety (and that social anxiety is an overdiagnosed disorder).
Below, I’m going to list the concerns I have with this position and the reasoning for each.
Insecurity Is Not Social Anxiety
The article I noted above was titled, “How To REALLY Overcome Social Anxiety & Feeling Insecure.”
Now, that may have been the choice of the website and not the author (it was a guest post), but in my opinion, it was an inaccurate title for the post.
I *think* the author of the article is arguing that true social anxiety is not the same thing as being an insecure introvert (or extrovert).
In which case, knowing how to overcome insecurity on its own really won’t touch true social anxiety (the clinical type). That type of social anxiety often requires medication and/or therapy.
Introversion is Not Social Anxiety
I know they get mixed up a lot, but introversion is not social anxiety. You can be an introvert, and become easily over-stimulated by being around people a lot, but that doesn’t mean you have social anxiety.
To be diagnosed with social anxiety, you would need to experience symptoms of anxiety when in the presence of people and have irrational thoughts that you are being judged.
By the same token, an extrovert can have social anxiety. A person might NOT get overstimulated being around people, but still have anxiety symptoms and feel the need to escape. This is quite hard, because you want to spend time with people but can’t.
The article above talks about how social anxiety could just be a genuine dislike for being around people that has not been uncovered. This seems quite unusual to me, and I’m not sure why it is being associated with social anxiety. It’s a separate thing if you don’t like people.
Social Anxiety Is Not Over-Diagnosed
It drives me a teensy bit crazy when it’s suggested that social anxiety is an over-diagnosed disorder.
As though droves of socially anxious people are knocking down the doors of psychiatrists and psychologists asking to be diagnosed and put on medication.
Social anxiety is common but under-diagnosed for all the reasons you can imagine. Nobody wants to admit to having social anxiety, much less visit a doctor about it.
Social Anxiety is Hyperactive Arousal to Social Threat
This leads to my final point about what social anxiety actually is: hyperactive arousal to social threat. I’m not sure I’ve seen it worded this way anywhere, but to me, that is the language that makes the most sense.
All of the symptoms related to social anxiety, like shaking, blushing, sweating, etc. are due to a triggered arousal system.
That trigger can be anything, but it’s related to feeling threatened socially.
Medication works by reducing the arousal. Therapy works by reducing the perception of social threat and/or by reducing arousal. None of this really has anything to do with insecurity or not having positive self-esteem.
It can, of course, be the case that a person with social anxiety does not have positive self-esteem.
But that’s totally separate, and would not be taken into account when making a diagnosis of social anxiety.
It could be that we’re just using different language, but I really hope that some care can be taken when discussing social anxiety.
I’ve argued this before when discussing different things, but we need to be very clear: social anxiety isn’t introversion, it’s not a lack of positive self-esteem, it’s not insecurity, and it’s not over-diagnosed. Suggesting anything of the contrary is inaccurate.