Silent Struggles: Coping with Social Anxiety Caused by Parents

This article will explore the concept of social anxiety caused by parents, offering guidance, coping techniques, and a better grasp of its causes and consequences, all aimed at fostering healing and personal growth.

Social anxiety and parenting

Can parents cause social anxiety? The concept of a social anxiety disorder caused by parents is best understood in the context of a social anxiety disorder.

What is social anxiety disorder?

A social anxiety disorder is a clinical mental health condition defined by intense fear or anxiety associated with social situations. Individuals are fearful of being scrutinized by other people in any interactions with peers or adults.

Individuals may be concerned that they will be judged by others as:

  • Unlikable
  • Anxious
  • Stupid
  • Boring
  • Weak
  • Crazy
  • Dirty
  • Intimidating 

Many people struggling with social anxiety disorder are not only afraid of being judged but afraid that they will show symptoms of their anxiety while in a social setting like:

  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Stuttering 

It’s not uncommon for people with social anxiety disorder to avoid things like eating or drinking in public because they are fearful that their trembling hands will give away their anxiety or avoid shaking hands because they don’t want people to notice their sweat.

The severity and type of anxiety or fear can change depending on the situation or individual. Some people struggle more with anticipatory anxiety, like worrying several days in advance of a social event or giving a speech at work, whereas children might express their fear by clinging to their parents, throwing tantrums, or crying.

According to the DSM, 7% of people struggle with social anxiety disorder for at least 12 months in a row across the United States, but another 2% struggle with lower incidences of social anxiety disorder symptoms. Social anxiety affects genders on an almost equal basis, with slightly higher rates associated with non-Hispanic white individuals.

So what about social anxiety and parenting? Can parents cause social anxiety because of how they raise their children? 

Role of parents in the development of social anxiety

Can parents cause social anxiety disorder in their kids? Yes. Studies have determined that there are several familial factors that can increase the development of social anxiety disorder in their children. Parents need to be aware of the fact that children are likely to model their behavior on what their parents do.

– Nature vs. nurture

There is always the issue of nature vs. nurture. However, with social anxiety disorder, there is a higher risk of children developing the condition if their parents have it. This means that other aspects of parenting, like overprotectiveness and modeling behavior, can enhance this risk. 

– Overprotectiveness and sheltering

Parents who are overprotective and shelter their children from social situations where parents might feel uncomfortable can pass that discomfort on to their children. Children can learn to be afraid of social situations and avoid them like they did growing up. 

– Parental criticism and expectations

Parents might set incorrect expectations or criticize their children for certain activities and behaviors that would cause the parents to stress because of the parental diagnosis but, as a result, can greatly influence the development of social anxiety disorder in their children. 

– Modeling behavior

If a parent has social anxiety disorder, they might be overprotective of their children, trying to shield their children from the things that cause parents stress or discomfort, not realizing that this can actually lead to the development of social anxiety disorder later in life.

When parents talk about their fears, the fears or anxiety of social situations, especially with young children, it can force children to model their behavior after what they see their parents do. Eventually, this can cause significant enough distress to lead to a social anxiety disorder. 

Healing and coping strategies

If you are worried about social anxiety caused by parents, there are some coping strategies you can use and opportunities for healing.

– Professional therapy

First and foremost is professional therapy. There are several forms of psychotherapy that can be useful in treating social anxiety disorder. In some cases, things like cognitive behavioral therapy can provide a window into irrational thoughts that control how you feel and act in Social settings.

In other cases, things like immersion therapy can help you recognize that catastrophizing and assuming that the worst will happen every time is not necessarily healthy. It gives you an opportunity to develop legitimate coping skills and social skills and apply them with constant feedback from a therapist. 

– Building social skills

Building social skills goes a long way toward improving and managing symptoms of SAD. Social skills training can target personalized areas for improvement. With the help of a therapist, you can learn particular skills like carrying on a conversation with others, learn how to carry it out and practice with your therapist. Other skills include:

  • Instruction for appropriate behaviors
  • Corrective feedback 
  • Behavioral rehearsal to practice skills
  • Positive reinforcement 
  • Homework assignments

– Self-help techniques

There are several self-help techniques that can address symptoms of social anxiety disorder such as:

  • Reducing anxiety and stress in daily life
  • Learning to control breathing
  • Meditating
  • Mindfulness therapy
  • Focusing on others instead of yourself

– Medication

If you are struggling with SAD, don’t be afraid to get medication to help you manage your symptoms, especially as they apply to social situations. Just because social anxiety disorder caused by parents is possible doesn’t mean that you have to live with the ramifications of that condition and not get the right help.

– Support groups

Support groups are group sessions usually led in individual communities by peers rather than psychiatrists or mental health professionals. Support groups are just that, a place for people to come together and gain support from one another about social anxiety and parenting. Because of their flexibility, people can attend several types of support groups specifically for social anxiety caused by parents.

Summing Up

There is a risk of transmitting social anxiety to the Next Generation, which is why it’s essential that you are self-aware if you have parents with social anxiety disorder. If you struggle with social anxiety disorder yourself or you have parents who have been diagnosed with it, you can learn to break the cycle through education and treatment.