New research suggests people with social anxiety disorder have an unfounded opinion that their friendships are shallow.

Although it may be extremely difficult for people with social anxiety disorder to make friends, the belief that the friendship are not of the highest order, is wrong, say experts.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, discovered that while a person with social anxiety disorder may believe their relationships are weak, their friends often have a very different point of view.

“People who are impaired by high social anxiety typically think they are coming across much worse than they really are,” said study co-author Thomas Rodebaugh, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences.

“This new 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 the friends say.

Social anxiety disorder is much more than simple shyness. The condition is a recognized psychiatric illness in which those struggling with the affliction often 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 as a failure.

Experts believe 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 an inordinate fear of public speaking. 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 friendship quality. Each participant brought along a friend from a non-romantic relationship who agreed to take part in the testing.

“People with social anxiety disorder report that their friendships are worse, but their friends didn’t see it the same way,” Rodebaugh said. “Their friends seem to say something more like: ‘It’s different, but not worse.’ ”

Study findings showed that people with social anxiety disorder reported that their friendships were significantly worse (as compared to people without the disorder). These misperceptions were stronger and more prevalent among younger study participants and in situations where the friendship was relatively new.

“The friends of people with social anxiety disorder did seem to be aware that their friends were having trouble, and additionally saw the person with social anxiety disorder as less dominant in the friendship,” Rodebaugh said.

Investigators believe the knowledge gained from the study may help people with social anxiety disorder understand that their friendships may not be as terrible as they might imagine.

“Helping people form friendships is in itself important, because many studies confirm that the lack of strong social networks can leave people vulnerable to a host of problems, including disease, depression, and even earlier mortality,” Rodebaugh said.

The good news is that social anxiety disorder is treatable. Decades of research suggests that talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral treatment, is as, or even more, effective than medications for long term treatment of the disorder.

“Current treatments focus, in part, on helping people with social anxiety disorder see that they come across better than they expect they will,” Rodebaugh said. “Our study suggests that’s true for specific friendships as well.”

Source: Washington University, St. Louis