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Social Anxiety

The 4 Types Of Social Anxiety

A deeper dive into the types of social anxiety so you can figure out what your dirty secret is

Social anxiety is like an unstable teenager taking over the reins.

It’s irrational, demanding, attention-seeking, and above all else, excruciatingly annoying. You never know when it will explode in your face (and in which manner) and how it will make you look.

Like a teenager, social anxiety is multi-faceted (in this article, we will identify the four types of social anxiety). 

While it might feel like it’s pure chaos, ultimately, it boils down to one or two reasons why it’s acting the way it does.

For example, you might feel social anxiety while conversing with a close friend, yet it’s nowhere to be seen when you need to ask a stranger for sunscreen because you’re a silly willy that goes to the beach without it.

Huh? It’s not chaotic; you have a different reason for acting one way versus the other.

Don’t worry; we’ll make it make sense in just a little bit. 

But before we do that, let’s add another layer. As we move through the different stages of life, we’ll move between the four types of social anxiety (even experiencing a few simultaneously).

Something that was once easy for us to achieve is now a mountain to climb. 

Things like eating out alone, asking for directions, showing up at a networking event, or texting a friend. 

Like a teenager, it springs upon us unexpectedly. It has us searching for the previous younger version we’re comfortable with. 

Where’s the kid I once knew?!

This might revolutionize how you think about social anxiety (hold your horses now!): it’s not so much the situation that creates your social anxiety but what you think will happen while you’re, you know, socializing.

In her book “How to be yourself,” Ellen Hendriksen talks about the BIG REVEAL. 

Namely, your social anxiety protects you (by helping you avoid what you fear), so no one finds out about your dirty secret. 

What that dirty secret is, only you know. But now you’re worried everyone else will know.

Here, I’ll let you know my “dirty secret”: I’m not the intellectual I see myself as being. Maybe because I get tongue-tied, forget a word, misuse one due to being trilingual, or I think I got through life by sheer luck.

In scientific terms, this would be labelled as the “inability to convey a desired social impression.” Yep, that’s me.

For over a decade, I walked around believing without fail that I was boring. I had nothing to say and was incompetent due to my awkwardness. 

Since that wasn’t the impression I wanted to make, I overcompensated and let social anxiety guide me.

David Moscovitch, the author of “What Is the Core Fear in Social Phobia? A New Model to Facilitate Individualized Case Conceptualization and Treatment“, states in his published paper that the four dimensions of social anxiety boil down to these criteria:

  1. Feared stimulus (this is your dirty secret/big reveal/fatal flaw you’re trying to hide). For example, you find yourself shaking while conducting a presentation. Another way to look at it is that a feared stimulus is the THING that triggers your social anxiety.
  2. Feared consequence associated with the stimulus (this is the catastrophe that’s waiting for you should the stimulus be activated). For example, everyone will notice that you’re shaking; thus you shouldn’t be up there.
  3. Fear triggers and contexts (these are threatening social situations). For example, being interviewed by a panel or being asked to present what you’ve been working on.
  4. Fear-related avoidance, escape, and safety behaviours (how do you act in the face of this stimulus and the consequences you fear so much happening?). For example, you might put your hands in your pocket.

Raise your hand if, all this time, you’ve been doing your best to avoid being negatively evaluated, rejected, embarrassed, and losing social status without genuinely considering the root cause of WHY these outcomes might happen.

You might think that being negatively judged or rejected are your FEARED STIMULI (see #1 above), but in truth, they are your FEARED CONSEQUENCES (see #2 above). These are the things that you think will happen once people find out your dirty secret.

This tells us that it’s not the situation or the stimulus that makes you feel social anxiety; it’s what you THINK the consequence/outcome of the situation will be that’s getting to you.

Let’s clarify what all this means in human terms.

Suppose you believe you fall short of others’ expectations of you and feel inadequate/awkward/stupid (feared stimuli). 

In that case, you’ll do anything to avoid running into situations (fear-related avoidance) that might expose you (the big reveal). This is why you might not have a problem asking for sunscreen, but you don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable to your friend.

Because what happens when you’re exposed? People will negatively judge you; you might be embarrassed, etc. (feared consequences). 

Now we get to the core of it all. David Moscovitch, in his research, concludes that everyone with social anxiety can be placed into four boxes based on the feared stimulus.

5 quick ways to manage social anxiety

5 Quick Ways To Manage Your Social Anxiety Today

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.

These are what we now know to be the four types of social anxiety.

No matter who you are, your background, or your experiences, you’ll find a type to relate to. Chances are, you’ll relate to more than one, as these are all interconnected. 

Each type of social anxiety is the dirty secret/fatal flaw/big reveal you’re trying to hide.

Notice how each type of social anxiety centers around a DEFICIENCY you think you have (compared to your friends or society).

1. Skills-driven (perceived flaws in social skills and behaviors)

This type of social anxiety is when you feel your social skills are not up to par. The world crashes every time you stutter, forget your name, or get emotional, making you feel awkward and misunderstood. 

You feel like the awkward one who hasn’t figured out how to do life yet while everyone else is cruising by, high-fiving each other along the way.

Sorry, no high fives for you.

You’re worried you don’t know how to properly carry a conversation as a mature adult should or that you missed the memo on how not to overshare yet still be vulnerable enough to build a genuine connection.

Here are some of the “dirty secrets” associated with this type of social anxiety: you have nothing to say, you’ll do/say something stupid, you’ll offend someone, act inappropriately in the situation at hand.

If this sounds like you, try to drill down into what makes you think you suck at your social skills and why that would be the case. Many studies show that just because you feel anxious or awkward doesn’t mean that’s how others perceive you.

2. Symptoms-driven (perceived flaws in concealing potentially visible signs of anxiety)

This type of social anxiety is attributed to your physical symptoms (while experiencing stimuli). The idea that you have anxiety over your anxiety. 

So if you’re in a social situation and start sweating, you’ll be anxious about the sweat. Or the blushing. Or the shakes. You’ll think everyone can see your struggle and judge you for it (negatively).

If you see someone attractive a few feet away and become anxious about them, noticing that you notice them, you might blush or shake. You’ll further zone in upon that physical symptom, making it worse.

The truth is that these physiological symptoms we’re experiencing lie solely within our bodies and are not visible externally. We think people can see how high our heartbeat is or the sweat between our boobs.

Here is the “dirty secret” associated with this type of social anxiety: you’re not able to control or hide your anxiety (which will be revealed as truth via blushing or sweating, for example). 

If this sounds like you, remember that most people are too consumed with their anxieties and thoughts to pay close attention to your physical changes. 

They might be so subtle and gradual, making it impossible for someone to notice. If you’re focusing too much on the symptoms themselves, try to avert your thoughts toward something or someone else.

3. Appearance-driven (perceived flaws in physical appearance)

This type of social anxiety is in line with body image issues (along the spectrum of body dysmorphia). 

You’re worried everyone can see your most personal flaws (crooked nose, asymmetrical face, disproportionate weight, messy hair, and so on) and judge you behind your back

You probably have a more negative view of your appearance than anyone else around you. It makes sense because it’s the focus of your attention, which lends you to believe that that’s what everyone else is also focusing on.

The underlying “dirty secret” here is that whatever “flaw” you have is a reflection on you.  Depending on the “flaw,” you believe people will think you’re lazy, unorganized, indifferent, or without shame. 

These “flaws” in physical appearance become associated with some underlying meaning you give, making it hard to think otherwise about them.

If this sounds like you, try your best to overwrite the thoughts you have about your “flaw.” The more you try to conceal it, the more attention you’ll bring to it, so try to disconnect by reminding yourself that everyone has something they wished they could change about themselves. 

It’s normal.

4. Character-driven (perceived personality-related flaws)

This type of social anxiety is when you feel like your entire personality sucks, and everyone thinks the same (hence why it’s so hard to make friends). 

That you’re too boring, stupid, or not cool to hang out with. You probably think you’re incompetent at your job, and even if someone were to ask you about it, you wouldn’t know what to say.

This is a sneaky type of social anxiety you must watch out for because it can seep into your bones and make you believe what you think. 

No one is witty, funny, confident, and so on all the time. Chances are that the people you meet are just normal, ordinary.

Here is the “dirty secret” associated with this type of social anxiety: that you’re boring, stupid, not cool, or not funny.

If this sounds like you, remember that you’re not a comedian. Your job isn’t to create stories and jokes to keep people entertained. Your presence, kind words, and thoughtful questions are enough for people to value you and want to be around you.

To truly understand the power of this knowledge, think of it this way: once you know what your dirty secret/big reveal/fatal flaw is, you can pinpoint the situations where you’re more likely to be exposed.

For example, if you think you’re boring, you’ll probably try to avoid situations where you have to give information about yourself away (dating scene, happy hours, one-on-one conversations). 

Then, to avoid being exposed, you’ll avoid such situations altogether or use coping mechanisms such as asking a lot of questions of the other person, censoring your thoughts, or over-rehearsing what you will say before speaking.

This information is golden because you know what to work with and can seek help to improve your life and well-being instead of relying on safety behaviours).

I hope this post has made you think a little more about your social anxiety and how you experience it. I’d love to hear which type or types of social anxiety you have.

We’re breaking down the four types of social anxiety so that you have a better understanding of the root cause of your social anxiety

Here are the four types of social anxiety:

  • Appearance-driven (perceived flaws in physical appearance)
  • Skills-driven (perceived flaws in social skills and behaviors)
  • Symptoms-driven (perceived flaws in concealing potentially visible signs of anxiety)
  • Character-driven (perceived personality-related flaws)

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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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