Social Anxiety Benefits
Have you ever thought that there might be benefits of having social anxiety? I was reading the book “How to Be Yourself” by Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, and was fascinated at her list of potential “benefits” of social anxiety.
It makes sense to me to a certain extent that social anxiety has some benefits. Otherwise, why would this trait have survived this long through evolution?
Obviously, severe disabling social anxiety is not something to be taken lightly or something I’d wish on anyone.
But, Dr. Hendriksen argues that if you are looking to stop having social anxiety and “be yourself,” you need to start thinking about your personality in a positive way.
She argues that you don’t actually need to change who you are, because there are actually a lot of good things about you. Instead, you just need to get rid of the thought distortions that make you think you’re not good enough.
I think there’s a lot of merit in this idea! To that end, I thought I’d run through and consider each of the points that she mentions in her book. If you’re interested in learning more about each of these points, she includes her own anecdotes and research evidence in her book. I highly recommend it if you have not read it.
First of all, Dr. Hendriksen notes that people with social anxiety are careful thinkers. I don’t think anyone would argue with this point!
Part of the problem with social anxiety is overthinking which makes it hard to be in social situations. However, that careful thinking can actually be a positive in some cases.
When you think long and hard before you act, you’re less likely to be an impulsive risk-taker, which can sometimes get people into trouble.
You’re also more likely to weigh the pros and cons of choices that you make, which might help you make better decisions and plan for the future rather than doing whatever feels good in the moment.
Good at Remembering Faces
This one surprised me, but it’s backed up by research! In a study comparing people with generalized social anxiety and those without social anxiety, researchers found that people with social anxiety have better memory for facial expressions.
This makes sense if you consider that the socially anxious are often scanning faces for signs of threat. Obviously, the more you are looking at people, the more you will notice.
I’d say this can go both ways though. Some people with social anxiety find eye contact so incredibly distressing that they probably look at other people less.
But the fact remains that if you do have social anxiety, you probably also have this superpower to be able to hold facial expressions in memory.
I can think of a number of careers in which this might come in handy, especially for those working in a helping capacity such as a therapist, nurse, social worker, etc.
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It’s no surprise that most socially anxious people also consider themselves to be high on the empathy meter.
You are, after all, spending most of your time worrying about what other people are thinking.
While some will argue this makes the socially anxious self-centered or self-absorbed, I’d have to say it’s the complete opposite. The reason for being so focused on others’ perceptions of you is often because you want other people to be happy.
You want to make other people feel comfortable, you’re willing to forgo your own needs if it helps to improve your relations with someone, and you’re overly considerate of others’ situations.
As an example, many people with social anxiety speak of a feeling of being rushed when doing things. Rushed when putting change back in their wallet at the checkout. Rushed when filling out or signing forms. Rushed when speaking.
Why do you feel rushed? It’s a weird kind of back-firing of thinking that you are making other people feel more comfortable if you do things quickly.
Listening skills also made the list of things that socially anxious people do well. It’s no surprise that people with social anxiety often prefer to listen than to speak and be in the spotlight.
This means that you’ve likely spent a lot more time listening than speaking in your life. And, listening is a skill like anything else, so the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Rather than thinking about what to say next, you might be adept at asking questions to keep the focus on the other person.
I’ll play a little Devil’s Advocate here though and say that social anxiety can also interfere with listening. If your anxiety is so high that you can’t pay attention to what’s being said, then that’s a problem.
Just know that you have a gift of not always needing the spotlight that will serve you well if you can get your anxiety under control. While that might not seem like a big deal to you, there are lots of people who are not good listeners and it has nothing to do with being anxious.
High standards go along with being a perfectionist, so this one does not come entirely as a surprise.
If you have social anxiety, you are likely conscientious about not making mistakes. While this causes problems in social situations where you need to be thinking on your feet, in other areas of your life this could be a benefit.
Things like being a loyal employee, reliable friend, and dedicated parent are all traits that go along with having high standards for everything you do.
Socially anxious people are ultra-diplomats, when you consider their ability to shapeshift themselves into whatever they think people expect from them.
While at an extreme, diplomacy turns into problematic people-pleasing, as a character trait, it can mean having respect for people of different backgrounds and showing sensitivity to other’s perspectives.
If you are socially anxious, know that you’ve been given the gift of diplomacy and being able to “read the room” so to speak, to adjust what you say to the audience that you say it.
Dr. Hendriksen did not mention caution, although this might go along with over-thinker. I actually heard this mentioned by a researcher in the area of social skills.
What she noticed was that people with ADHD who also had social anxiety was that social anxiety “put the brakes” on their ADHD tendencies in conversation.
In other words, if those people with ADHD lost their social anxiety completely, they’d just end up with a different set of problems.
Is your social anxiety covering up another problem or making another problem less noticeable? I’m not saying this is a good reason to hang on to your social anxiety, but it’s interesting how different mental health issues can interact. Food for thought.
To sum up, there are certain benefits to having social anxiety that may be part of a “socially anxious personality” that you may not want to get rid of entirely.
One more thing to note: Dr. Hendriksen acknowledges that not everyone fits these characteristics. Some people, often those with more severe social anxiety, can be sarcastic, bitter, unhelpful, etc.
But often, that is just a veneer to hide what’s going on underneath. Or, it’s a defense mechanism because of things that have happened in their past. If that’s you—know that those parts of you are not likely your “true” personality.
I’d love to know: what do you agree with? What did we get wrong? Do you see the benefits or only downsides of social anxiety? Be sure to share in the comments.
And if you struggle with social anxiety, sign up for my newsletter for tips and advice.
Related Articles about Social Anxiety
- What Is Social Anxiety? 10 Things to Know
- What Are the Four Types of Social Anxiety?
- Social Anxiety vs. Shyness
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