Q. When I was in high school, I had very few friends. At age 13 I hung out with a group of people who often left me out – I didn’t have a lot of self-esteem in the first place, and this lead me to believe that people at school didn’t want me around. I gave up trying with my old friends, and by the time I was in my final year at high school I didn’t really have anyone I could consider a friend at all. I spent most of my time in the library, avoiding people.
Halfway through my final year, I sought therapy – not for this issue, but it became our main focus. The therapist mentioned social anxiety, but I was never really sure. Other than school, I was rarely worried about being around people – I had a couple of friends outside school, and we would meet up every week to go to the pool…we also went to a concert together – plenty of people there, but I loved it! Strangers were fine, it was people I knew that I worried they didn’t like me.
Anyway, I’m at university now, and I’m beginning to think that some of my old “thought patterns” are coming back. I’ll use an example from today: I was in my room and went to open my window; there were a group of people outside underneath it, some of whom were my flatmates’ friends. One of them said “hi” to me – I said “hi” back, and when I went back to my desk I heard them talking, someone saying “well, I like you!” and then laughter. Immediately, I assumed the conversation I hadn’t heard had gone like this:
“She’s always in her room!”
“Such a loner…”
“Does she even have any friends?”
[calls up] “Well, I like you!”
For all I knew, it could have gone completely differently – it’s highly likely they weren’t talking about me at all – but I was worried about going outside or going to shut my window in case they saw me and laughed at me. It is true that I don’t really have any friends in halls – I barely see my flatmates, and I’ve taken to eating earlier than they do so I don’t have to be in the kitchen with them. It’s not that I don’t like them, but I find making conversation with them difficult, and I hate the awkward silences. Plus, if they have friends in the kitchen with them I always feel like I’m intruding, despite the fact that it’s my kitchen too! I do have some great friends on my course, though, and am rarely worried about being around people on campus. Is it possible to only have social anxiety in certain situations?
Also, do you think it would be worth me going back into therapy over this? I had a bit of a sudden ending after about 5 months – long story, but basically my parents (mainly my dad) asked me to quit, and although I told my therapist I didn’t want to leave, he terminated me the very next session after I’d sent him the email telling him what my parents had said. We made some good progress in therapy, I think – I managed to spend some free periods in the dining room at school instead of the library, I’m no longer scared of answering the phone (can’t say the same of making phone calls, though, and I avoid leaving answer phone messages at all costs), and I’ve also been brave enough to take buses and taxis, which I was too scared to do before. Like I said, though, I’m beginning to think I may be slipping back into my old ways of thinking, which I don’t want. Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks in advance.
A. I do not know if you have a social anxiety disorder per say but you are experiencing some social anxiety. You are, as you said, falling back into your old behavior patterns. This is very important information that you have noticed and because of this, it would absolutely be beneficial for you to return to therapy.
You were in therapy and it seems as if it really helped you. You were able to go places and do things that you had not previously been able to do. This is clear progress. Your father, for some unknown and unfortunate reason asked you to stop therapy just when it was helping you.
Now that you are living independently, you can and should seek out help again. You were helped once and there is an excellent chance you can be helped again. Be proactive. Now that you are seeing your old patterns return, be wise, take action and return to therapy. Take care.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 May 2008
Randle, K. (2008). Is This a Social Anxiety Disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/05/12/is-this-a-social-anxiety-disorder/