Ever since I was younger, even the smallest actions can hurt me. I try not to show that it bothers me, because I don’t want other people thinking i’m weak. Basically, my whole confidence is based on what other people think of me. I spend almost hours everyday replaying interactions with others, trying to see if there are any signs they don’t like me or if I did something wrong. (Was that off-topic?) If one of my friends ask me to go out with them, I always refuse. I’m too scared to ask my parents because i’m scared of any types of rejection, and my heart races every time.
Whenever someone playfully says a joke, I painfully try to act like i’m not hurt, and I always feel like everyone’s staring at me. Sometimes, I cry at home, hoping that someone can understand me. I’m too scared to talk to anybody, because i’m scared they’ll think i’m doing it for attention. This means that i’m not sure whether I have a mental illness or not. So i’m not trying to self-diagnose here.
Obviously, diagnosis over the Internet is impossible. I would have to interview you, in-person, to know if a mental illness is present. However, I can provide some insight into what you are experiencing.
Generally speaking, you may be describing social anxiety or social phobia. Some of the characteristics of individuals with social anxiety include having an extreme fear of being judged by others, being very self-conscious in everyday social situations and avoiding meeting new people. Individuals with social anxiety fear humiliation, being judged and or rejected by others. Symptoms of social anxiety disorder are typically intense, persistent and can affect day-to-day activities and relationships.
It’s not known what causes social anxiety disorder. Some research has indicated that it could be a problem with chemicals in the brain. Others believe that it could be a lack of social experiences that are contributing to the intense fear. Another possibility is having had negative social experiences which can contribute to the fear of having to interact with people.
The good news regarding social anxiety, is that treatments are available. Your first step in receiving treatment begins by telling your parents. Revealing this information to your parents may likely be difficult for you because you stated that you purposely avoid communicating your feelings to anyone in fear of judgment, including your parents. Even if it’s difficult, give it a try. Social anxiety is highly treatable but you first must have to ask for the treatment.
Once you tell your parents, hopefully they will take you to a doctor. Your doctor will likely refer you to a mental health professional, who may include a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or someone with similar credentials. These are the first steps in overcoming social anxiety.
Social anxiety treatments often involve psychotherapy and/or medication, depending on the situation. These treatments have been found to be effective. Anti-anxiety medications can be quite useful for individuals with social anxiety because their effects can be felt immediately. Those medications are often used in the initial treatment stages of anxiety. They’re usually used “short term” before psychotherapy and during the beginning of therapy.
Psychotherapy approaches for social anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), among others. CBT is a specific type of therapy that focuses on both an individual’s behavior and their thoughts and perceptions about themselves and the world. It involves an individual practicing certain behavior and analyzing the thought processes behind their thinking. The goal is to uncover logical inconsistencies in one’s thought processes. For instance, fear is a major component of social anxiety but when analyzed, one often realizes that it is unnecessary and irrational. Once realized, these insights can lead to a decrease in fear reactions, thus allowing one to do things they had previously had not been able to do.
The initial process of having to ask for help may be a challenge given your intense fear about interacting with people. Despite your fear, try to do it anyway. Working through fear, and doing the things that frighten you, is one of the most effective methods for overcoming social anxiety.
Good luck with your efforts. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle