We’ve all had the experience of walking into a party or going on a date and feeling nervous. It’s completely normal to feel a little shy or jittery in certain social situations from time to time, especially if we’re asked to give a performance or presentation in front of an audience.
Social anxiety disorder is different. It goes beyond the typical feelings of social shyness we all have. When you’re suffering from social anxiety disorder, you experience extreme and overwhelming feelings of chronic and debilitating shyness that keep you from participating in daily activities. While, at times, everyone has difficulty with social anxiety, there are certain risk factors that turn isolated instances of social anxiety into social anxiety disorder.
Why do some people develop social anxiety disorder while others don’t? There are several factors that will put you at greater risk for developing social anxiety disorder. If you’re experiencing the symptoms of social anxiety disorder, it’s important to speak to a doctor about available treatment options.
The Gender Risk Factor
Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from social anxiety disorder. Differences in hormones and brain chemistry are one possible reason for this. The female sex hormone estrogen affects the production of mood stabilizing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, making women more sensitive to social situations. Emotionally, women also experience different forms of social pressure than men, making it more difficult for them to connect socially if they are dealing with low self-esteem.
Women are also more likely than men to experience sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and these are also risk factors for social anxiety disorder. Troubled relationships, especially in childhood, can cause social anxiety disorder later in life, and this is another reason that women are at greater risk than men.
The Family Risk Factor
If your family has a history of social anxiety disorder, you’re more likely to develop the disorder yourself. This is especially true if someone in your immediate family is affected, either your parents or a sibling. The exact reasons family history is a factor are unknown, but it’s likely a variety of causes. Genetics heavily influence brain chemistry, temperament, and predisposition to many different emotional disorders. The family history factor points to a possible genetic component that influences whether or not you develop social anxiety disorder.
Another reason that the social anxiety disorder of an immediate family member might put you at greater risk for the same disorder is the environmental factor.
The Environmental Factor
Environment heavily influences everything about who we are and how we feel. Environment can be a factor in social anxiety disorder for a number of reasons.
It is possible that children “learn” social anxiety disorder from their parents. If your parents or someone else you spent a lot of time with growing up displayed extreme nervousness in social situations, you’re more likely to pick up this trait as well. Their behavior sent you the message that you should be afraid of social situations.
Another environmental factor that often leads to social anxiety disorder is controlling or over-protective parents. They might not have displayed socially anxious behavior, but, instead, their domineering nature might have created a sense of dependence in you and given you the feeling that you need to be protected from the outside world. Again, you were sent the message that the world is something to fear.
The Negative Experience Factor
People who experienced teasing, rejection, extreme embarrassment or bullying as children often develop social anxiety. Children are emotionally ill-equipped to handle the feelings that result from the social isolation brought on by these events, and they might become scared to open up to social situations in the future.
Other negative experiences or traumas such as abuse or dysfunctional family relationships can also be a factor in the development of social anxiety disorder.
Clearly, there is no one reason that anyone develops social anxiety disorder. It’s usually a combination of the above factors. If you or someone you love is dealing with social anxiety disorder, there is help available. It is often difficult to seek treatment, especially if the fear is so intense that you avoid even leaving the house, but it’s important to contact a healthcare provider who can help you discover ways of overcoming your social anxiety disorder for a healthier, happier life. You don’t have to suffer alone.