Learn About the 4 Different Types of Social Anxiety
Did you know that there are four different types of social anxiety? It was only recently that psychologist David Moscovitch of the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada proposed this new understanding of social anxiety.
Moscovitch suggests that instead of trying to categorize your social anxiety based on the type of situation that you are afraid of (e.g., public speaking, crowds, one-on-one conversation), it makes more sense to divide fears into four different types of social anxiety.
What Moscovitch proposes is that you are afraid that some “fatal flaw” about yourself will be revealed to other people. In this way, it’s not the situation that you fear as much as what will happen.
Author and psychologist Ellen Hendriksen agrees, writing in her book How to Be Yourself that social anxiety is inherently a fear of the “Big Reveal”; that point at which someone figures out what is wrong with you.
The four areas of fatal flaws that you might fear will be revealed (in a grand catastrophe that makes you look stupid) are the following:
- Flaws in your social skills
- Fear about your anxiety symptoms becoming obvious to others
- Flaws in your appearance
- Flaws in your personality/character
Let’s consider each of these in a bit more detail as detailed by Moscovitch so that you can figure out which one (or more) apply to you.
Flaws in Your Social Skills
If the flaw that you fear will be revealed is problems with your social skills, you might worry that you will make some social mistake or that you just don’t have the skills to interact effectively with others.
These are some of the things that people with this fear worry about:
- You will stutter
- You will have nothing to say
- You will do something stupid
- You will act inappropriately
- You will be awkward or unappealing
- People will cut conversations short with you
Research also tells us that this fear tends to arise the most if you feel as though you are likely to be evaluated or rejected by others.
Having this fear can lead you to avoid talking to people or trying to rehearse beforehand so that you have a script that you can follow.
There are two solutions to this problem. First, if you do actually have a social skills deficit (based on outside observer feedback, because remember, you are your own worst critic!), consider reading books on the topic, visiting helpful websites such as Succeed Socially by Chris MacCleod (or his book The Social Skills Guidebook), and then practicing over and over again even if it’s in front of the mirror.
Second, you can fix faulty thinking that is holding you back. Mind reading usually contributes to negative thinking of this type: Do you really know what other people are thinking about you? It’s impossible to know, so stop imagining what they are thinking about you. It’s not helpful. Put your best foot forward and then forget about it.
Anxiety About Your Anxiety
If you have this fear, you worry about controlling and hiding your symptoms of anxiety when around other people or in performance situations.
If you have this fear you might worry that others will notice you blushing, sweating, or shaking, for example. This fear tends to come up most when you are in the spotlight, such as during public speaking or at a job interview.
I remember one job interview I went on when I was too afraid to pick up the glass of water that was brought to me in case they noticed my hand shaking. I also remember a conference I attended in which a fellow student took beta blockers before her poster presentation because she was anxious about showing signs of anxiety to the people she would be talking with.
If you have this type of anxiety, you feel as though everyone can tell you are anxious, and these thoughts actually make your anxiety symptoms worse.
You also probably do things to try and hide your anxiety such as
- Covering your face with your hands or your hair
- Wearing clothing that will hide your sweating
- Gripping things tightly to avoid shaking, such as a pen or glass while drinking
In fact, it is your attempts at controlling your anxiety symptoms that make them worse. There are many solutions to this problem. If you’ve developed a phobia (for example of public speaking), relaxation training paired with systematic desensitization might be helpful.
This involves learning how to calm down and relax your body and then gradually facing the situation that causes you to become anxious. This is the exact method that I used to overcome a public speaking phobia.
(In the TED talk below, social psychologist Amy Cuddy describes how you can “fake it til you make it” by changing your body language).
If you worry that your weak personality will be discovered by others, then you may have anxiety about your personality/character.
If this is you, you might think the following:
- You are boring
- You are stupid
- You are not cool or funny
Research tells us that people with social anxiety are more likely to believe that they have negative personality attributes.
If you have this type of anxiety, the situations that you fear the most are probably one-one-one conversations, dating, parties, etc. where you might be expected to reveal things about yourself. You might try to hide your perceived flaw by asking too many questions or censoring what you say.
In fact, it is your flaws that make you approachable and interesting and what will draw people to you. Next time, try being open and sharing something about yourself regardless of how boring or stupid you think it is. That’s how you find friends—the ones who stick around even after you are yourself are the ones you are more likely to want to spend time with.
Which of the Types of Social Anxiety Do You Have?
Have you figured out which of the types of social anxiety you have? Is it about your social skills, anxiety symptoms, physical appearance, or personality/character, or a combination of the types of social anxiety?
Once you’ve figured this out, the trick to overcoming your anxiety is to experiment with not trying to hide these perceived flaws and realizing that it’s not a catastrophe after all.
This won’t be quick or easy—remember your thoughts center around a core belief about yourself that is going to take some time to change. However, if you are persistent and keep trying, eventually you should notice a shift.