Growing up, many of us can recall a time when we felt a degree of embarrassment, or even shame. In fact, is it even possible to get through adolescence without being shamed by friends, family or just others in school? Not a great thought. And guilt, well that’s another feeling which we grapple with as we develop relationships and try to fit in somewhere. But what if those emotions were both linked to social anxiety, in such a way that those with the disorder suffer even more greatly? It doesn’t bear thinking about, but unfortunately it’s a link which makes life that little bit harder.
As a human, we feel shame when we violate the social norms we, or others, believe in. In such moments we feel humiliated, exposed and small. We want to sink into the ground and disappear. Shame makes us direct our focus inward and view our entire self in a negative light, more specifically it could be defined as self-condemnation. It is a major attack against the self in which the individual believes they will be found utterly unacceptable by society. As a result of its overwhelming force, shame can cause feelings of disgrace. A person who feels shame wants to hide from everyone.
Feelings of guilt, in contrast, result from an action for which we accept responsibility. Guilt causes us to focus our attention on the feelings of others as a result of something which we have done. This ultimately leads to self criticism for said mistake or behaviour. That self criticism can become something of a downward spiral. Of course, psychologically speaking, there is overlap between shame and guilt where the shamed person may also have feelings of guilt.
But how does this relate to social anxiety disorder (SAD)? Well researchers have found that social anxiety, which is characterised by a fear of being scrutinised by others, has features that are closely linked to the concept of shame and, to a degree, guilt. For example, those with SAD tend to ruminate about social interactions that have been, or ones which they may well be avoiding. That rumination elicits feelings of shame as their perceived inability to participate in society’s most fundamental action, socialising. Alternatively, the self-deprecating attitude which those with SAD often demonstrate can be considered to run in parallel with shame about their perceived shortcomings as a person. All the while, the sense of guilt for letting people down, like friends or family, because sufferers feel unable to put themselves out there, plays right into the negative viewpoint that is so common in those with social anxiety. What is more, there have been studies which demonstrate an increased likelihood of internalised shame in those with social anxiety disorder. That makes for a very complex and draining situation for an individual to cope with.
The team at oVRcome have developed a programme which uses exposure therapy through virtual reality experiences to support those with social anxiety. We have also developed a free Social Anxiety Test which delivers a personalised report to see where you are at. Why not take it today and begin your journey to managing the effects it can have on us all?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy has emerged as one of the most useful tools when it comes to social phobias. This may be as the emphasis is on changing thinking patterns, understanding individual responses to situations, as well as modifying behaviours in a manageable fashion. The emphasis is on helping the patient face and become desensitised to the stimuli of social situations that cause them the most trouble. Ultimately, it will also support them in processing those feelings of guilt and shame which are understandably connected to social anxiety disorder.
As researchers continue to work on the links between social anxiety and internalised feelings such as guilt and shame, it is clear to us that the complexities of the condition run deeper than simply avoiding social situations. Those emotions are challenging to come to terms with at the best of times, let alone for someone with a heightened anxiety. And as we know that the rates are higher in those with the disorder, it is safe to say that we would do well to push for more support to be available for those who need it most in this area.
Social anxiety disorder has come a long way since the early days of someone being labelled as “shy”. In an earlier post to our blog, Social anxiety - up 'til now, I took a look at the developments of the research, definition and treatment of social anxiety, and how it is shaping society’s perception today.