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  • Writer's pictureLaura

Social anxiety isn’t a choice…

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

Someone recently asked me to describe what help I needed for my social anxiety. My answer was simple, ‘I don’t need help, I just need choice’.


For so many of us, living with social anxiety is something that is part of the everyday. We plan everything we do that involves ‘out there’ and ‘others’ meticulously, whether that be going for a walk at a quiet time of day, or finding our way through an unexpected social interaction such as weather talk with the neighbour.


It’s an exhausting and often veiled existence in a world that prides itself on physical togetherness. Anything outside of this is deemed a psychological problem, but are we truly that problem, or is this perhaps more a reflection of a societal problem that does not accept how we want to live?


From an evolutionary perspective, we are well known to be social animals. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, media discourses were largely fixated around the impact of social isolation where those who experienced loneliness had the most dominant voices. This is one perspective and a valid one, but there are other narratives out there. Being social doesn’t mean having to be around someone in person.


Personally, I find in person or face to face interaction extremely difficult, but I don’t perceive this as a problem until the point where it is imposed on me as one. Where we live in a social world that continuously pushes us into unwanted and forced social situations, we are then told that we are ‘anti-social’, ‘difficult’, ‘rude’ or even ‘hostile’ for resisting these situations.


This transcends across multiple contexts, including work, education and many other realms of life. There are a plethora of political actors who push the rhetoric of ‘face to face is best’ in these contexts. But for who is this truly benefiting, and more to the point who is being given the choice?


Choice..


Choice is the central problem when it comes to societal attitudes towards those with social anxiety. For those who enjoy taking part in face to face activities, the choice factor doesn’t register, as their own preferences and needs are naturally met. Yet for those who would prefer to not engage in face to face interactions, choice is pertinent. Choice is also absent. Where we have to ask permission to be ‘excused’ from social and professional contexts, and are faced with debate, argument and then made to feel guilty for not wanting to partake, this emphasises how we are not permitted choice, because it is not about our needs.


In-person vs remote has been a pressing debate over recent years, such as the ‘back to the office’ and pro face to face learning rhetoric. Personally, I think that both perspectives are equally as valid, but we do need choice. We live in the digital era, which has only made choice more possible than ever before. It doesn’t need to be a dichotomy, digital experiences and connections are equally as valid from my perspective. I can go a number of months without seeing a friend in person, yet we speak every day online.


There is always an alternative method for social interaction. We just need to set down our battle sticks and start to accept individual differences. By doing so this will allow choice, put an end to a debate that is going nowhere, and help us to see that it isn’t about being together or apart. It is more to do with tolerance surrounding the ways that we prefer to be together.


There will always be instances of mismatch, such as where one person’s need clashes with another person’s want. The issue lies where a face to face interaction is imposed or forced, without consideration of alternatives. In such situations, it would be helpful to distinguish between need and want, where one person’s mere preference could result in another person’s sheer distress.


Returning to the initial question asked surrounding my own social anxiety. What could be more helpful for myself and many others, is to change the way we target those who want less face to face interaction as being difficult, and become advocates of choice.


By doing so this may be a remedy for social anxiety, along with a happier, healthier and more productive society.




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