What Can You Do If You Live In Fear Of Being Judged?
By: Rachel Lustbader
Updated May 12, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley
Social anxiety has to do with the fear of acting in such a way in a social situation that others will judge or develop a negative impression of you. Social anxiety is a prevalent mental illness, yet there is much about it that is misunderstood. People with social anxiety are commonly classified as being shy, withdrawn, indifferent and even unfriendly; but, there is much more going on for that person that these preconceived notions suggest.
The Social Handicap
Excessive fear of being judged by others can be very limiting to those who experience it. They would like to socialize, but their thoughts may freeze when they try to speak in front of others, especially around strangers or in a new environment. They may hang on to just two or three "special" friends they feel secure with and who do not mind that sometimes they fall into long silences. They may develop stage fright, no matter how well they have practiced their lines. People with social anxiety may have a very difficult time with people watching them work. They may do poorly in classroom environments that include one on one appraisals of their degree of knowledge, or a job interview or audition may suffer as a result of the anxiety present. They can become devastated if they are teased or criticized, and they may interpret constructive criticism in the extreme. Becoming the center of attention can positively paralyze them with fear. Due to these fears and the extremely unpleasant experience of anxiety and associations with it, people with social anxiety tend to avoid situations that could trigger the anxiety response. As a result, they miss opportunities to enrich their lives in many ways.
People with social anxiety do not crave connection with other people any less, in fact, many desperately want to be social and to have friends, it just feels very hard to do so.
The Shy Child
The average child usually is ready to adapt in a social environment by age six, but there are always a few in every classroom who are just naturally shy. They shrink from unfamiliar faces and are overwhelmed by new environments. They need more time to process the strangeness. Shy children can be encouraged to come out of their shells, but it takes patience. Children who are teased, shamed or ridiculed for being shy can grow up with social anxieties. They have not learned to adapt to a social environment, only to fear it. Child guidance counseling that includes preparing your shy child for coming events can help overcome the fear of new and strange things. It is important to note that having social anxiety is much more than being "shy". Shyness is not a clinical diagnosis, but this trait can sometimes be linked to other mental health issues. Certainly, not all shy children develop social anxiety as adults and likewise, not all people with social anxiety were shy children. In fact, a person has only to experience social anxiety for six months or more to qualify for a clinical diagnosis.
Designing Your Own Therapy
There are different approaches to treat social anxiety. Ironically one of the most effective is group therapy, which can seem very intimidating to those with a fear of social interactions. Group therapy is very effective because a therapy group provides a safe, supportive environment to practice social interactions, deal with anxiety that may arise, and build confidence. It can be validating to hear from other people that they find you nice to interact with, or that they do not see your behavior as bizarre or inappropriate. You may be better at social interactions than you realize. One of the first acknowledgements to be made is that the fears you feel are excessive and out of proportion or unrealistic. It is important to challenge thoughts you may have that everybody is sitting in negative judgment of your values, or criticizing your work with more realistic thinking. For example, to acknowledge that others are people just like you and are probably filled with their own problems and how to solve them. Practicing realistic thinking will not in itself prevent the panic you may feel before an interview, or the complete despair at the thought of attending the class reunion. This is due to the biological component of social anxiety, your body's anxiety response going into overload. A multi-faceted approach is needed in order to teach your body relaxation and learn tools to be able to experience success and confidence in social situations.
Prepare yourself, just as you might have been prepared as a small children, to enter new environments and face new people and situations. Practice facing challenges in the safety of your home and among close friends.
It is also good to meditate or use other methods of relaxation before attending an appointment, interview or social function that has you feeling anxious. Do a few breathing exercises, listen to some music, schedule a physical work-out and shower, or another technique you have found helps you relax. Other effective relaxation tools are progressive muscle relaxation (learning how to purposely tense and relax muscle groups) and visualization (creating a space in your mind that you go to readily to help you feel calm and secure). With practice, these methods can help train your body's anxiety response to calm much more quickly, giving you the confidence that you will be able to handle anxiety when it arises.
What Can You Do if You Live in Fear of Public Speaking?
The fear of being judged can interfere with your academic and career performance. It can handicap your ability to speak in public and make social gatherings painful and awkward or make you completely avoid doing these things. If you have had social anxiety since early childhood, you will have much new learning and practicing to do, as you likely have not had many positive social experiences.
Social anxiety is treatable, however, and you do not need to accept a life that is limited by fear. You deserve the benefits of human connection and the positive results that come with interacting with others. If you suffer from excessive fear of social interactions, or social anxiety, you may be able to benefit greatly from working with a mental health professional. Betterhelp.com is an online platform that has licensed therapists available a few mouse-clicks away. Perhaps you may feel more comfortable beginning therapy from the comfort of your own home, rather than have to enter a therapist's office. A counselor can help you to understand the link between your thoughts, anxiety response, and resulting behaviors so that you can interrupt the anxious cycle. You can learn to calm your body and mind in situations where you need it in order to do more of what it takes for you to strive for the things that are important to you.