Social Anxiety and Relationships

People with social anxiety disorder want romantic relationships, but they are often too afraid of rejection or too overwhelmed by their anxiety symptoms to seriously pursue them. Social media and other online resources provide expanded opportunities to initiate contact, although it may be difficult for men and women with social phobia to build successful long-term relationships if they don’t get treatment for their conditions. Fortunately, treatment is readily available and can produce excellent results against the symptoms of social anxiety.

The physical and psychological symptoms of social anxiety interfere with all types of communication. These symptoms are pervasive and disabling, and their impact is often compounded by inadequate social skills that are the inevitable price of a lifetime of avoidant behavior.

For a person with social anxiety disorder, their insecurities and lack of self-confidence make it difficult to imagine building a successful and lasting romantic partnership.

This is what they desire most, but with the stakes being so high their fear of rejection or being judged is doubly acute, making them reluctant to take any chances.

Unfortunately, their poor self-image may sabotage their hopes, even if the other person reaches out first. Too nervous or intimidated to let down their guard, or too frozen by anxiety to express themselves clearly, they may inadvertently push the other person away, falling into an instinctive mode of self-protection despite their deeper wishes.

Social Media and Social Anxiety: The Promise and the Peril

Social media sites offer new and exciting opportunities to network with other people, and that has provided hope to people with social phobia.

By its very nature, the Internet adds a protective layer to socializing that can leave men and women with social anxiety feeling safe and secure. Online dating sites, some of which cater specifically to men and women with social anxiety, are yet another way to initiate connections that could lead to romance, and even if such a result is not achieved they still give people with social anxiety disorder a chance to interact with other human beings.

A recent study found that 19 percent of romantic relationships that lead to marriage are initiated through online contacts. This includes 17 percent of spouses who met through dating sites or apps, and two percent who first came into contact on social media sites.

But social media and social anxiety are not a perfect match. Virtual connections are not the same as face-to-face interactions, and in most ways they are a pale replacement for the real thing. Social skills can’t be developed and real relationships cannot be built behind walls that offer anonymity and physical separation, and if contact remains virtual it may only reinforce social anxiety and the isolation that so often accompanies it.

Social media and its offshoots can open doorways for people with social anxiety that might otherwise remain closed. The initial awkward stages of socializing that can overwhelm or intimidate social anxiety sufferers can be avoided when contact is initiated online. But if the initial contact doesn’t progress to something more direct and intimate, it will likely lead nowhere and leave the person with social anxiety feeling even more lonely and frustrated than they were before.

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Getting Help for Social Anxiety

Despite the comfort and ease of online interactions, there is no shortcut to happiness or to meaningful relationships for people with social anxiety disorder. Research shows that higher levels of social anxiety are synonymous with less satisfaction in relationships, so even if a real relationship develops subsequent to an online encounter, the chances of it being successful will be reduced if the social phobia is not addressed.

To increase their chances of a positive outcome in relationship-related endeavors, people who experience the disabling symptoms of social anxiety should seek out treatment for their condition. Inpatient and outpatient programs for anxiety disorders are available through licensed mental health treatment centers, and in general these programs enjoy a high rate of success.

Recovery services will be specifically tailored to the needs of the socially anxious, which in most cases means a healing program centered around cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the preferred evidence-based choice for the treatment of social phobia. Therapists will introduce patients to this powerful method for retraining the brain to react differently to situations that normally trigger anxiety, and CBT sessions will likely be included in both formal treatment and aftercare.

Other services offered may include group and family therapy, where the barriers that prevent people with social anxiety from interacting openly and honestly with peers and loved ones can be addressed, and perhaps at least partially dismantled. Holistic healing practices are excellent for managing stress and anxiety and may be introduced as well, and a limited amount of exposure therapy may be provided to help patients incrementally reduce their anxiety in specific social situations.

Medications may also be prescribed, with antidepressants in the SSRI category as the preferred choice for most patients. People who take antidepressants for social anxiety often report a lessening of the intensity of their symptoms, which makes it easier to face their fears and apply practical strategies learned in therapy to real-life situations.

It should be noted that about four-fifths of men and women who suffer from social anxiety will experience other psychiatric issues as well, most often depression and/or other anxiety disorders. This is yet another reason to seek inpatient or outpatient treatment for social anxiety, since the presence of other disorders can complicate recovery if treatment is not comprehensive and multifaceted.

Through psychotherapy and other forms of treatment, people with social anxiety disorder can overcome their most severe symptoms, and as their social success increases their self-confidence and self-esteem will as well. Ultimately, they should have a good chance of forming meaningful relationships with other people, including the romantic relationships they have craved and desired for so long.