Friends And Social Anxiety Disorder

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I had no friends growing up. I was unpopular. I sat alone by myself. Nobody liked me. If someone did try to be my friend, they would quickly realize I was weird and wouldn’t want to be near me.

Absolutely none of the above is true, of course, but at the time it all seemed very true to me. The reality is I had a group of friends I was close to and we remained friends for many years after high school. Unpopular? Sure. I was so unpopular that I was elected Senior Class President. I’ll never remember what gave me the gumption to run in the first place,

I’ve had friends who I haven’t seen in over thirty years show up on Facebook and were shocked when they read my blog. That doesn’t sound like you at all, is the comment I get the most. Making friends is often extremely difficult for people with social anxiety disorder and to make matters worse, people with this disorder tend to assume that the friendships they do have are not of the highest quality.

The problem with this perception, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis, is that it’s not necessarily true from the point of view of their friends.

“People who are impaired by high social anxiety typically think they are coming across much worse than they really are,” said study co-author Thomas Rodebaugh, PhD, associate professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences. “This new study suggests that the same is true in their friendships.”

Much more than simple shyness, social anxiety disorder is a recognized psychiatric condition in which those struggling with the affliction often live in fear of meeting new people, passing up social invitations or work opportunities for fear of being rejected, embarrassed or otherwise singled out as a failure. That sure sounds like me, even to this day. Isolation Is all too easy for me. When I do isolate I wallow in self-pity and become angry that everyone has left me all alone. Although I have not been diagnosed specifically with social anxiety disorder, it is frequently associated with bipolar disorder.

The study finds that people with social anxiety disorder often overestimate how bad their relationships are with friends, when compared to what the friends say.

“People with social anxiety disorder report that their friendships are worse, but their friends didn’t see it the same way,” Rodebaugh said. “Their friends seem to say something more like: ‘It’s different, but not worse.’ ”
People with social anxiety disorder reported that their friendships were significantly worse (as compared to people without the disorder). These misperceptions were stronger and more prevalent among younger study participants and in situations where the friendship was relatively new, researchers found.

The friends of people with social anxiety disorder did seem to be aware that their friends were having trouble, and additionally saw the person with social anxiety disorder as less dominant in the friendship,” Rodebaugh said.

The findings could play an important role in helping people with social anxiety disorder understand that their friendships may not be as terrible as they might imagine. Helping people form friendships is in itself important, because many studies confirm that the lack of strong social networks can leave people vulnerable to a host of problems, including disease, depression and even earlier mortality, Rodebaugh said.

Source: Washington University

  11 comments for “Friends And Social Anxiety Disorder

  1. November 24, 2014 at 22:30

    I am a superficially social person who has trouble letting people in. I was terribly lonely and unpopular in grade school and junior high. I went to a small rural school where the only way to be cool was to be athletic. I was so unpopular I was not invited to the grad and walked home 13 miles through fields and along rural roads on the last day of school.

    High school in the city was better but I still tended to move from group to group. I don’t think bipolar tendencies were the only factors though I have read that social awkwardness is a common feature. I was shy and never felt that I fit in. I suspect that much of the time I did fake it reasonably well.

    • Bradley
      November 25, 2014 at 01:13

      Feeling like I don’t fit in is a feeling I know all to well. I’m sorry it was so difficult for you. I’m sure it was more difficult than it even sounds.

  2. November 24, 2014 at 20:38

    Intriguing insight. As the years passed, I increasingly isolated myself, primarily because I found myself unable to establish boundaries and maintain balance between my needs and the needs of others.

    • Bradley
      November 25, 2014 at 01:06

      As I alluded to in the post, I tend to isolate and then blame the world for my being lonely.

      • November 25, 2014 at 06:26

        Good that you have insight and realize that your thought process is contributing to your isolation. You are writing, though. To that extent you are reaching out. I wish you the best in find and creating a small community in which you feel unconditionally loved and safe (like your church community).

  3. Anonymous
    November 24, 2014 at 18:44

    Your entry is interesting. I thought that I was the only one with bipolar disorder that had social anxiety. Before being diagnosed, I was pretty much the life of the party. Now, I have no friends. However, I do have family and I feel that’s pretty much all I need in my life.

    I think the reason why I have no friends is because I’m kind of ashamed of having bipolar disorder. And, I have this feeling that I’m no longer quick-witted and sociable due to the subduing effects of the medications I take.

    Thanks for sharing your post. It makes me feel better that I’m not the only one out there with this problem.

    • Bradley
      November 25, 2014 at 01:04

      Nope. You’re not the only one. In fact, it’s more like “Welcome to the club.” I’m happy to see this post helped.

  4. Lora
    November 24, 2014 at 13:26

    I think only certain kinds of people will even befriend folks with these issues. In the adult world, if you scratch the surface you’ll find these friends have a family member, or someone they are very close to, who has some kind of interpersonal difficulties. I say this because I’ve seen instances where some people will just back off and not even present themselves as friend candidates. So I guess I’d say if the person crossed the friendship threshold in the first place, chances are pretty good they will be comfortable with the friendship, even if it is kind of odd.

    Great post Bradley. One to add to your ministry file.

    • Bradley
      November 24, 2014 at 13:56

      Odd friendships are my specialty. Always love to read your comments. You make some good points

  5. Cat
    November 24, 2014 at 11:27

    As always, as great post, Bradley. This is something I needed to here right now.

    • Bradley
      November 24, 2014 at 11:41

      Glad it helped, Cat

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