You feel like you shouldn’t be here. You KNOW you don’t want to be here, but you are. Your palms get sweaty and your heartbeat picks up pace, the pores on your face begin to leak as the entirety of nerve endings in your head just go crazy. At this point you battle to maintain some sort of calm, or maybe you’ve been through this so many times that you don’t even try to keep your cool anymore. Either way, all what echoes inside your throbbing head is that bellowing wish to be somewhere else. Not just anywhere else but away from everyone else.
The luckier patients of social anxiety only feel uncomfortable while speaking in front of a group of people (especially strangers) but the more unfortunate ones go through this ordeal in all social situations. In some of these cases, the victims’ travails can be linked with (sometimes a series of) childhood experiences; a skeleton in in their closets, possibly ones which they may never even be aware of.
Early childhood trauma plays a massive role in grown up life, perhaps more than we know or choose to admit. Most things we encounter as infants and young children occupy portions of our minds, both conscious and unconscious. With children age 0 – 6, traumatizing childhood experiences are lodged deep in the subconscious and almost always defines adult personalities. Many prefer to believe that these experiences may not traumatize a child as they simply ‘won’t remember’ or ‘don’t understand’ what they go through or have been through. While young children may not understand such events, they do not entirely forget these experiences, but their silence is only from the difficulty to voice out their reactions.
Assuming the mind of a young infant with a troubled childhood was being explored. For example, an infant boy unfortunate to be a victim or a witness to domestic or sexual abuse is not too young to acknowledge that his security or that of someone dear to him was under threat. His silence is down to nothing other than his inability to express his emotions verbally. In his troubled mind, he constantly replays every shred of the series of threatening or dangerous encounters, battling with great impairment to put the pieces together and to make sense of what happened.
Left alone to face the turbulence within his young mind, the boy, often unsuccessful in the bid to explain the reason for his unfortunate ordeal or ordeals is left with no other easier option than to play the blame game. He eventually falls victim to his own mentality by either blaming himself, picking at perceived or non-existent faults, or by blaming everyone else through the adoption of a siege mentality. As his mind develops, he loses the capacity to learn and adapt to stressful conditions, surely resulting in the general sense of distress.
Our sense of security and our egos become crushed to the point of suffocation whenever we sense an exposure of our incapacities and vulnerabilities and as our insecurity perpetually magnifies with each social encounter we view as intimidating, the best option is then to crawl back into our shell of solitude, in the company of the only person who at least accepts us for who we are only because there is no other choice. And so we become our own best friends.
Whether or not we believe in the validity of mental illness remains an argument for another day (or another article!), but those who conform with the ideology of social anxiety as a mental health condition can easily relate that an ‘injured’ mind can leave scars behind, and we can all agree that every wound scars badly when left untended to. More so, many a time, mental illnesses never quite heal themselves. Also, those who believe in social anxiety as an inherited personality disorder will be quite interested to note that factually speaking, personality is NOT inherited but developed through our mental responses to experiences we face in life.
The ailing mind of a child requires as much or even more attention than that of an adult in order to prevent the adoption of flawed personalities. We all need healing in one way or another, but the mind of a broken adult is far more difficult to rehabilitate than that of an infant child most especially when and if the unhealthy state of adult mentality occurs as a snowball effect from a traumatized childhood.
There shouldn’t be judgement on the right or wrong manner of mental development after distressing experiences in general, much less for victims of childhood trauma. Insecurity is a normal reaction to an abnormal experience and it grows when the trauma is not properly processed. This often happens due to ignorance to the suppressed emotions of a child having to deal with abnormal experiences; those which would leave a fully grown adult shaken, talk more of a growing child.
There is always room for mental healing although processes may tend to re-traumatize individuals and the time for healing will vary from person to person as well as in relation to duration and gravity of such traumatic experiences.
Victims of social anxiety must not see it as a permanent illness. They should be encouraged by themselves and loved ones to spend as much time as possible with each other and with groups who have faced similar circumstances at one point in their lives, keep a scheduled daily activity in order to maintain unperturbed levels of motivation to get tasks done regardless of external distractions, and engage in regular exercise. The key motive is to avoid isolation and face the fear of admitting they do indeed have a health issue. That will be a major step towards self-discovery and will serve as incentive in their bid to get the help they truly need.