Will Social Anxiety Go Away?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I have really bad social anxiety. I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything anymore because I’m worried I will say something stupid and people won’t like me. I am not a good speaker, so I tend to say things that sound dumb. Then I spend the rest of the night thinking about what other people were thinking when I said it. I second-guess myself a lot.

It has gotten to the point that even when I am forced to be around people, I stay quiet most of the time. I overheard someone tell their friend that I am “unfriendly” and “aloof” because I don’t involve myself in conversations. It’s like my choices are (1) sound dumb or (2) seem unfriendly.

I can’t make friends because of my social anxiety and I don’t feel like there is anything I can do about it. Does social anxiety get better or go away in time? Or am I stuck being a socially awkward misfit for the rest of my days? —Outcast

Dear Outcast,

The pain and frustration you are feeling comes through loud and clear. You feel like social interactions are no-win situations—you either remain quiet and risk being perceived as unfriendly or try to participate in conversations and risk being perceived as less intelligent than you are. I also imagine this can become somewhat self-perpetuating. As you become more and more self-conscious about your social interactions, it likely becomes harder for you to engage in a way that feels good.

You pose two questions: one, will your social anxiety diminish in time, and two, are you stuck dealing with social anxiety forever. I suggest tabling those questions in favor of a different question: What can you do to make yourself feel more confident and capable in social situations?

You pose two questions: one, will your social anxiety diminish in time, and two, are you stuck dealing with social anxiety forever. I suggest tabling those questions in favor of a different question: What can you do to make yourself feel more confident and capable in social situations?

Joining a therapy group could be helpful. I know it might sound frightening to willingly put yourself in a group of strangers on a regular basis when doing so is deeply anxiety-provoking, but a therapy group is quite different from a typical social situation. First, it is designed to help group members deal with the issues they face. Second, therapy groups are established with rules that are designed to ensure the safety of group members. A group affords you the safety and security of therapy along with the opportunity to explore social interactions and try on new behaviors. As you do so, inside and outside of the group, you’ll have the support of the group to celebrate your successes and to process the things that don’t go as well as you would have liked.

If starting out with a therapy group sounds like too much, that is okay. You might feel more comfortable partnering with an individual therapist first to explore your social anxiety and develop a deeper understanding of it. You could also work with a therapist to develop some tools for coping with the anxiety so joining a group doesn’t feel so daunting. You could even begin working on developing some social skills that you could begin practicing when you join the group.

There are also public speaking groups, such as Toastmasters, that are designed to teach people how to master public speaking. Even people who feel relatively confident in social situations can have tremendous anxiety when it comes to public speaking. Perhaps if you developed a sense of mastery in public speaking, smaller social situations wouldn’t feel so overwhelming.

However you choose to handle this, I encourage you to take a proactive approach. There is treatment available to help you learn to navigate social situations in a way that feels more comfortable and allows you to form deeper, more satisfying relationships. You deserve that!

Kind regards,

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.

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