According to new research, people with social anxiety disorder have an unfounded opinion that their friendships are shallow. However, according to researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, these peoples’ friends frequently have a very different point of view. Those with high anxiety typically think that they’re coming across much worse than they really are, and this study suggests that the same is true in their friendships.
The study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, finds that people with social anxiety disorder often overestimate how bad their relationships are with friends when compared to what their friends believe. Indeed, social anxiety disorder goes beyond just shyness. The condition is a recognized psychiatric illness in which those struggling with the affliction frequently live in fear of meeting new people. This constant stress results in passing up social invitations or work opportunities for fear of being rejected, embarrassed or otherwise singled out.
According to experts, 13 percent of people in Europe and the United States experience various forms of social anxiety disorder. Less severe cases involve fears of a single situation (such as public speaking), while more severe cases include fears about interacting with people in general. In the new study, researchers had a group of 112 participants, each diagnosed as having or not having social anxiety disorder, perform a battery of psychological tests designed to assess the quality of their friendships. Each participant brought along a friend, who agreed to take part in the testing.
While people with social anxiety disorder report that their friendships are worse, their friends didn’t see it the same way. Their friends tended to say something along the lines of “it’s different, but not worse”. Study findings showed that people with social anxiety disorder reported that their friendships were significantly worse, with these misperceptions being stronger and more prevalent among younger study participants and in situations where their friendships were relatively new. The friends of people with social anxiety disorder did seem to recognise that their friends were having trouble, and additionally saw the person with social anxiety disorder as being less dominant in the friendship. Investigators believe that the knowledge obtained from this study could help people with social anxiety disorder understand that they don’t need to be nearly as insecure.
It goes without saying that forming friendships is extremely important, as the lack of a strong social network can leave people vulnerable to a host of problems, including disease, depression and even early death. Thankfully, social anxiety disorder is treatable; decades of research suggest that talk therapy is just as, if not more, effective than medications for long-term treatment of the disorder.