Family Connection
About Susan Burns
Learning Issues
Social Skills

Social Anxiety

It’s not fun to feel stuck, nervous, and not know what to say and do or to feel unconfident with responses. One can come off sounding all the wrong way. Anxiety can further complicate a situation by inhibiting actions or responding to the wrong cues. What results is feelings of shame and feelings of inadequacy. These deep, uncomfortable feelings are due to fear conditioned over time by the disapproving responses of others.

Social competence is how a person's social skills, when applied in context, appear to others. It is learned through acceptance and approval and is the antidote to feelings of inadequacy. It begins  with social skill acquisition early in life and continues developing through life. Development is conditioned by these early emotional experiences. Individuals often need to be taught social competence. Some children require social skills groups involving precise skill training. Each success builds on the next. The totality of positive experience, shaped by acceptance of others, grows to build a foundation of self-esteem  and self confidence with the ability to relate to others. Rehearsal by trial and error is the means by which behavior gets learned with enough positive feedback (social acceptance) to condition a sense of success, or at least a sense of safety in social situations.

People lack in social skills either because they have not rehearsed enough to learn or experienced enough success from their efforts. Anxiety, often unconscious gets in the way, further interfering with performance and creating bad habits. Negative feedback shapes behavior so that rejection becomes feared and expected. This trauma can block future acquisition of skills. While some experience this only in certain situations and compensate by avoiding the situations, others cannot avoid inevitable rejection.

Many situations, by nature of similarity for their potential of rejection, are triggers that serve to invoke the anxiety of the past trauma, like those of early childhood. A response that is negatively defensive surfaces, thus resulting in further disapproval leading to more feelings of inadequacy. Thus, there is circularity to this cause and effect relationship of fear of rejection, anxiety, and the ultimate consequence that is rejection, building like a storm that grows in fury with each sweep of failure. A person's tendency to respond to the wrong cues or paralyze in fear compounds into a defensive structure. Thus, a person often causes others to treat him badly because he says or does the wrong thing out of his own nervousness and expectancy of rejection.

For example, consider the person that always feels blamed in a social situation even when he is not. Being anxiously hypersensitive, he might misinterpret an otherwise sincere expression or gesture of concern for criticism. In attempts to avoid feeling blamed and “one down”, he anxiously avoids taking responsibility for behavior with aversive strategies such as acting like a victim, or blaming and accusing others for judging him. Sooner or later, he creates rejection, people get angry and frustrated with him. And, unfortunately, he experiences another failure which sets up more anticipatory behavior.

So how do you break the circle? Treatment requires that a person understands what triggers this anxiety, finds out more about the source of it, learns to desensitize around it, learns to accurately interpret social cues. He can learn to choose his responses based on reading social cues rather than reacting. He practices letting others in. With less anxiety, a person is better able to read and learn from social cues, and feels safer about practicing skills. When a person feels confident that he can be seen and accepted, then he can respond to others making them feel accepted. With each acceptance, a feeling of alienation is transformed into belongingness.

Please see article on
 Social Skills Training for Children

Kids' Club Social Skill Groups

Self Esteem in Children


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