Social anxiety disorder has a harsh effect.

The graph below shows a generalized view of social development in 2 groups of people: 1, normal people and 2, people with social anxiety disorder.

 

 

social development chart

We all start at zero social skills. In fact, for the early stages of our lives, we humans do nothing but sleep, poop, eat, and cry.

As we enter into school, that is when many of us are introduced to people outside the familiar faces of our family. We see complete strangers and we start socializing with them. Socializing doesn’t mean we start discussing hobbies or scheduling dinner plans, but rather, socializing at the very simplest: looking at each other, saying “hi”, sharing toys, stealing toys, simply being comfortable next to each other, having fun on the playground, building sand castles together. Slowly, as we age, our social interactions grow as well: we begin having conversations, having parties together, sleepovers, going out to events together.

We all start on pace- to have normal, social development. For those with social anxiety disorder, something happens along the way that disrupts our development (the red X in the chart). It could be a panic attack. It could be a embarrassing moment. Maybe some had a gigantic fart and everyone heard it. It could be an overwhelming moment. Maybe we were playing a piano song in front of the school when we got anxious and froze. Or maybe it could be from bullying: being overweight, a minority, being smaller and easily picked on. All the above might lead a person to fear social interactions and want to withdraw from social interaction.

The problem is this: whatever the trigger of our anxiety, whether biological or environmental or from a specific incident, our social development will slow or even stop. In fact, it’s very possible that our social development will even regress, as a person’s anxiety and fear actually leads to limiting their social interactions and opportunities for social growth. In some extreme cases, a person experiencing a traumatic social event may even develop agoraphobia (wiki) and stay indoors, nearly eliminating all social interaction!

And this is the ultimate tragedy of people with social anxiety disorder — their opportunities and the trajectory of their lives are being limited by fear and anxiety. While they see their peers out having fun, partying and dating, they are at home, immersing themselves in escapism and video games. And while their peers begin getting married and starting families and finding their careers, people with social anxiety have limited opportunities for both, as normal (though anxiety-provoking) first dates and interviews seem like overwhelming juggernauts, requiring an unbelievable amount of courage.