People Suffering From Social Anxiety Underestimate Themselves and Their Friendships

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Worrying woman sitting at desk in office --- Image by ? 169/George Marks/Ocean/Corbis
Photo: 169/George Marks/Corbis

For people who suffer from social anxiety disorder, everyday events and interactions can be extremely stressful. And part of the reason for that, suggests new research out of Washington University in St. Louis, is that sufferers are underestimating how other people feel about them. The researchers invited 112 individuals into a lab, some of whom had social anxiety disorder and some of whom did not, and asked everyone to bring along a platonic friend.

Both the subjects and their friends were asked about the strength of their friendships. “People with social anxiety disorder report that their friendships are worse, but their friends didn’t see it the same way,” study co-author Thomas Rodebaugh said in the press release. “Their friends seem to say something more like: ‘It’s different, but not worse.’” “Different,” in this case, mostly means that their friends understood they were struggling, and saw them as more submissive in the friendship. The younger the study participant was, and the newer the friendship in question, the more they underestimated the strength of the relationship.

It’s heartbreaking to think of socially anxious people leaving a party early, or otherwise bowing out of potentially enjoyable social engagements, because of the false perception that people don’t like them. It’s also a useful reminder of how potent our misconceptions can be — particularly when they cause us to beat up on ourselves.

Social Anxiety Sufferers Underestimate Selves