Life as a HSP: Highly Sensitive People Are More at Risk for Social Anxiety
Highly Sensitive People and Social Anxiety
The "Shy" or "Special" Child
As children, highly sensitive people (HSPs) were once labeled as "shy," or special," by their parents and those who came into contact with them, including their teachers, doctors, and classmates at school. In fact, I have no doubt that in many households around the globe, these labels are still slapped on highly sensitive children due to the lack of knowledge about the HSP trait. In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron had this to say on the matter:
"HSPs only appear inhibited because they are so aware of all the possibilities in a situation. They pause before acting, reflecting on their past experiences. If these were mostly bad experiences, then yes, they will be truly shy. But in a culture that prefers confident, "bold" extraverts, it is harmful as well as mistaken to stigmatize all HSPs as shy when many are not."
I completely agree with this statement, as do most of you reading this, I'm sure. However, in spite of that, I do believe it is possible for highly sensitive people to be converted into shy people. Shy in the sense that they are "afraid" of people and interaction.
It all depends upon how much trauma is experienced while young and how much support is received during the trauma.
In other words, should you be surrounded by the caliber of person that instills fear, helplessness, sadness, inferiority, and misery, you are more likely to develop social phobia, due to your hyperactive nervous system.
Let's look at this in more detail.
Why Highly Sensitive People Are More Susceptible to Social Anxiety
Highly Sensitive People (HSP) Characteristics
Most Likely Result
Empathic - Highly aware of emotion and emotional stress in themselves and in others
Grew up in a stressful home environment and witnessed traumatic events occurring
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which leads to social anxiety
Sensitive to Pain, both physical and mental
Experienced mental and/or physical abuse whilst growing up
Fear of people - Social Anxiety
Extremely vivid dreams and nightmares
Witnessed traumatic events, or was part of traumatic events
Fear of certain situations. Re-experiencing those situations in dreams and nightmares - Again, social anxiety/phobia
Considerate to others often at the expense of their own comfort
Bullied and physically abused at home or at school
Fear of people - Social Anxiety
Easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation
Grew up in a noisy, aggressive and overwhelming environment
For some, Social Anxiety. For others, a second personality develops. One which is almost impervious to the effects of loud, noisy or normally overwhelming places - essentially a mask.
Easily influenced by others (at a young age)
Physically abused, sexually or otherwise. Mentally abused and coerced into actions that demean and humiliate
Fear of people, especially authority figures - Social Anxiety
Often withdraw within themselves
Long hours and days spent alone with nothing but fearful and negative thoughts spiralling out of control
Depression, Social Anxiety/phobia
Many HSPs Suffer From Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Misunderstood, Misinformed, and Mistaken: The HSP With Social Anxiety
Although there have been numerous studies on both social anxiety and sensitivity in people, during my research on the net and in several books I have yet to find any studies done on HSPs with social anxiety. However, there is no doubt in my mind, the HSP population 'is' replete with social anxiety sufferers due to our hyper-active nervous system which notices every little detail in our environment, even the unwanted stuff that most normal people would ignore.
From Potential Empath/Healer/Teacher to Potential Nobody
It's sad to see so much potential go to waste. Thousands of highly sensitive people with such incredible potential; almost invisible, hidden away on the periphery of a world dominated by extroverts. I am grateful however, as a HSP, that there are highly sensitive people out there such as Elaine Aron, who are leading the way and allowing the world to see that there 'is' a place for the gentle HSP tribe. Slowly but surely, the world is beginning to understand highly sensitive people. There is a long way to go but we have taken the fundamental first steps towards acceptance and appreciation.
A Double Dose: High Sensitivity + Social Anxiety
I haven't gone into great detail in this article on highly sensitive people with social anxiety, but as you may have gleaned from the table above, HSPs are highly susceptible to social anxiety and PTSD. I am convinced that I myself, as a HSP previously suffered from severe social anxiety which has since steadily abated to mild social anxiety with the occasional panic attack. My teens were fraught with painful and humiliating experiences as a result of my not only being a HSP but also having social phobia. I even began to repress my sensitivity as I'm sure many other HSPs have done in an effort to be "normal." The answer though, is not repression of our innate 'gift' but rather expression! If you are reading this and you are a highly sensitive person, then it means you are on a journey of discovery about your trait, your gift and that is why it is so great to be a HSP these days. The information on our trait abounds all over the internet and in countless books all over the world. We are finally being understood.
If you feel you are a HSP and you have social anxiety then the best advice I can give to you is ... STUDY! Yes, study everything you can get your hands on about HSPs, social anxiety, PTSD. etc. The more understanding you gain, the more you begin to accept your trait and embrace the wonderful possibilities on offer for you.
It's good to be sensitive!
A light, tender, sensitive touch is worth a ton of brawn.— Peter Thomson
I've written a number of other articles about being an HSP. Here is one that you might find helpful: