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Social Anxiety

What's The Root Cause Of Social Anxiety

Here’s my hot take on this

Knowing what the root cause of social anxiety is a great starting point to learn how to manage it.

For most of us, it’s a blur. 

Maybe you can pick up an event here or there from memory that you think had an impact on your developing social anxiety, but it goes much deeper than just one or two events in your life.

There’s a Reddit Thread titled “I’ve always been like this,” and this person talks about how for as long as they can remember, they’ve been terrified of people, although there’s no recollection of any event creating this fear.

Someone replied saying there was probably no event at all, they also have always had it, and it’s the way we are wired.

No. No. No. 

This is when you need to be wary of people’s opinions. 

We are WIRED for social connection. We are WIRED to seek out others. We are NOT wired for isolation and fear of others. 

We know this because well science.

Let’s start at the top to get to the root cause of social anxiety.

The other day, I cringed at how my kids interacted with each other and their friends.

 Ignoring each other, dismissing each other’s feelings, pushing, screaming, calling out names, “You’re a baby, no you’re a baby!” “Leave me alone” “I wish you were never born!” “Go away,” and then 5 minutes later, everyone is skipping along, loving each other.

I’m sure you’ve seen this if you have children or remember being a kid. Not attaching any kind of significance when you were blown off by someone because the next day, you were back at their house playing as if nothing happened.

It’s almost as if, at that age, we’re immune to social rejection.

Now a piece of me dies inside when I see my kids behaving like this. 

My social anxiety kicks in, thinking I need to mend the relationship, address the feelings, and make sure everyone feels included, but there’s no need for any of that. 

They automatically fix it themselves by moving on. At some point, though, it becomes more complicated.

Research shows that around age 5, we develop a sense of “reputation” – we start thinking about what others think about us.

A study concluded that the liking gap begins when children are 5 years old when they first become concerned with other people’s evaluations of them.

In a way, that’s good, right? It helps us hone our social behaviour to feel like we’re part of the group, can make friends, and so on.

5-year-old children start to manage their reputations, behaving more generously when others observe them.

The dark side of this is that depending upon our environment during our formative years can lead to social anxiety. To the loss of our authentic selves.

What I mean by the environment is anything we’re exposed to regularly in childhood that can have an adverse or positive impact on us: family, teachers, friends, sub-culture, or religion, to name a few things.

Imagine a 5-year-old who is more concerned about what others think about him. 

If he has good influences in his life, for example, parents who instill in him a sense of pride and ownership over his actions and allow him to express himself without any backlash freely, he’ll be less likely to develop social anxiety.

 Compared to if he were to have parents that place high value and importance on appearance, “proper” behavior, achievements, and so on. Or are overly critical or controlling.

This also goes for having teachers capable of embracing and applauding someone’s individuality and quirks instead of putting those down, which unfortunately happens way too often.

A child that grows up hearing:

  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Why can’t you be like x, y, or z?”
  • “When are you going to grow up?”

or similar phrases will begin to internalize that there’s something off with him and that he needs to shut that down. 

Having people tell you constantly what they think about you is quite traumatic, to say the least.

Additionally, being surrounded by people who are “judgmental” of others has huge implications. 

Growing up hearing people judge others they don’t know negatively can make someone internalize the message that “everyone is judging everyone else,” so, of course, they’re judging me too, and here I am, not being good enough.

Everything I’ve just described makes up childhood trauma. A big contributing factor to the root cause of social anxiety.

5 quick ways to manage social anxiety

5 Quick Ways To Manage Your Social Anxiety

There’s no substitute for effort, but you can speed up the process if you understand and take these 5 ways seriously. This is your starter pack; what you do with it is up to you.

Here are a few ways that childhood trauma can manifest in social anxiety later on:

  • Having difficulty saying what you’re thinking without emotional outbursts.
  • Being afraid to trust anyone fully or commit to a relationship.
  • An intense dislike or mistrust of authority figures.
  • Avoiding certain types of social events or speaking with certain people.

Many people mistakenly believe that trauma is only related to domestic violence, sexual abuse, tragedies, or big events with a definite before and after. 

The truth is that little t trauma slowly seeps and builds up in us without awareness. 

It accumulates through time and becomes a part of us that we end up on a Reddit board telling someone on the other end that their social anxiety is probably unrelated to any event, and it’s how we are wired.

And in a way, this person is right. 

Social anxiety was wired into that little kid, unknowingly. And maybe because he was more sensitive, aware, or insecure, and without the right people around, social anxiety slowly crept in and built up.

This is where biological factors (brain chemistry and structure, family history) and temperamental factors (shy or more introverted) can contribute to the root cause.

Now, as this kid grows up and becomes a teenager, without intervention, social anxiety grows through bullying, isolation, unhealthy relationships, and more trauma. 

Self-esteem takes a hit, and he’ll start caring way too much about what everyone thinks of him.

From such experiences, we fear being judged for who we are. We learn how to wear a mask (a different one for each person we encounter b/roll of shots with different play masks on) and end up unable to be our authentic selves in adulthood.

Instead, we show up as a shell of ourselves to make others comfortable.

And that perpetuates social anxiety because the less we can freely express ourselves, the more constricted we get and the more frustrated we are. 

We’re conditioning ourselves around social anxiety. And from that come other emotions we’re not too keen of: shame, sadness, fear, jealousy, emptiness, and guilt.

Ok, all of that makes sense, but let’s organize it so we can see how all these things stack up.

Here are 4 contributors to the root cause of social anxiety:

(as an FYI, you don’t need to have all of these, but it’s a good starting point to check which ones you can relate to)

  1. Predisposition (biological factors that include genetic predispositions, brain chemistry, brain structure, and family history of anxiety)
  2. Environment (external circumstances such as childhood trauma and negative experiences such as bullying and social rejections)
  3. Temperamental (individual personality traits and temperament, for example, being more introverted)
  4. Psychological (cognitive distortions or thought errors, negative self-image)

If one were to, let’s say, grow a social anxiety plant, these would be the 4 essential elements they’d need. 

Now, it’s great to gain insights into what happened in the past and how those experiences affect you now, but insights won’t explain what’s currently driving your social anxiety.

So, now that you have more clarity over the root cause of social anxiety, the next burning question you need to ask yourself is:

“What’s keeping my social anxiety alive and kicking?”

In next week’s episode, I will answer this question by going all in with the plant analogy because it’s important to understand what kind of jacked-up water is keeping your social anxiety plant alive.

We got to the root cause of social anxiety’s origin in this episode, but now we need to get to the root cause of why it’s still hanging around.

For now, take time to review your memories and truly process them. Remember the details and the events, and try to connect them to your feelings today. 

See if you can have a few a-ha moments! I’d love to hear them.

I’m answering the question “What is the root cause of social anxiety?” which basically boils down to a mix of the following factors:

  1. Predisposition (biological factors that include genetic predispositions, brain chemistry, brain structure, and family history of anxiety)
  2. Environment (external circumstances such as childhood trauma and negative experiences such as bullying and social rejections)
  3. Temperamental (individual personality traits and temperament, for example, being more introverted)
  4. Psychological (cognitive distortions or thought errors, negative self-image)

I'm Roxana

I went from being scared to ask a question out loud to hosting summits online. I love coffee, french crepes, and working from home. My mission? Help others build their social confidence to make friends, have conversations, and be comfortable around people!

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As a social anxiety expert I share my best strategies and tips that I’ve learned on my journey to help you manage your social anxiety.

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5 quick ways to manage social anxiety guide

There’s no substitute for effort, but you can speed up the process if you understand and take these five ways seriously.
5 quick ways manage social anxiety

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