Loving & Supporting Your Partner With Social Anxiety
To understand how to help your partner/spouse or someone you’ve started dating who is dealing with social anxiety, you first need to understand what is social anxiety and how it affects a person’s life.
Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder that causes a person to constantly fear humiliation, judgment from others, and the fear of rejection. It is one of the most common anxiety disorder that can cause severe distress to a person.
People can experience a bit of social anxiety now and then. When you walk into a crowded room, or when you’re asked to present a speech in front of people – these kinds of situations can cause people to feel anxious. Social anxiety becomes problematic when this anxiety starts to interfere with a person’s daily life.
People with social anxiety tend to avoid situations where they think they might be judged by others. This can severely affect their personal life, work performance, academic performance, and any chances at a potential romantic relationship.
I’ve had people say to me that my disorder is not that huge and that all I have to do is push through it. Learn to face my fears. What they don’t understand is that “facing my fears”, so to speak, isn’t that easy.
When I enter a crowded room, I feel nervous and my heart rate increases. It becomes difficult for me to concentrate on anything else but the people in the room and my rising anxiety. If you know someone who has social anxiety, then avoid saying and doing these things:
1. Don’t tell them to calm down. People with social anxiety are not able to control their reactions to a situation. Your telling them to calm down will have the opposite effect.
2. Don’t ask people with this disorder why they are feeling what they are feeling. Pointing out things like these will only raise their anxiety than reducing it.
3. Do not tell them that they are any less than you. If you don’t feel anxious in social situations, pointing that out to your friends/partner with social anxiety will hurt them emotionally and mentally.
What To Do If Your Partner Has Social Anxiety:
1. Understand Their Emotions
What you need to remember, first and foremost, is that social anxiety is an all-consuming and irrational disorder. Rational responses during such distressing situations are not likely to help. Instead, try to understand their emotions. Accept their anxious state, help them calm down, and be patient. Instead of saying, “No one cares, you’re okay.” say, “I can understand what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling. It is just your anxiety, it’ll be okay.”
2. If They Are Angry, You Stay Calm
Anger during uncomfortable situations is common. Instead of focusing on their anger and where that anger is coming from, your job is to remain calm and quiet. Their anger is not because if you or something you did. It is most likely that they’re embarrassed and guilty over their disorder. In such situations, stay calm and empathize with your partner over their anxiety. Gently remind them that their disorder is normal and that they have nothing to feel guilty over.
3. Appreciate Their Attempts
People with social anxiety are more likely to avoid social situations and public spaces. If they are attempting to spend time with you in public and social situations, then appreciate their attempts but don’t make a big deal out of it. Instead of pointing out their attempt to appear in a social situation, say, “I’m proud of you for stepping out of your comfort zone”. Encourage and appreciate their efforts. If they don’t want to step out of their comfort zone, respect their wishes.
4. Learn How To Distract Them
If your partner and you are in a social setting and if they are feeling uncomfortable, then help them distract from the situation causing them to feel uncomfortable. Playing a word game, or suggesting taking a walk can be very helpful. These techniques will help them stay in the present and focus on the now instead of ruminating on their negative thoughts and feelings.
5. Keep Communication Open & Honest
Your partner with social anxiety might not feel comfortable communicating openly with you. You must keep your communication open and honest, in a way that is empathetic and not critical. Social anxiety can make a person snappy and say things that they might not mean. Instead of feeling annoyed with them, patiently provide them feedback on their communication skills. If something they say is bothering you then tell them, so they know that their words are hurting you.
6. Accept Them & Their Anxiety
Being in a relationship with a person with social anxiety is difficult but acknowledging and accepting their anxiety and their lifestyle can go a long way in showing them how much you care about them. Social anxiety is a part of your partner’s life and accepting them, flaws and all is important. There will be challenges that you’d have to deal with but accepting their anxiety, empathizing with their problems, and respecting their boundaries can help them feel comfortable with you.
What NOT To Do
Keep in mind some things that you shouldn’t say or do with your partner if they have social anxiety:
1. Do not push them out of their comfort zone if they are not comfortable or ready.
2. Don’t make assumptions. If you’re planning an activity that requires social interaction then first check in with them to see if they are comfortable with such activity.
3. Don’t step into their personal space unless they invite you in. People with social anxiety might not feel comfortable with the idea of someone else in their space. So be mindful of that.
3. Do not interrupt while they are talking. It is not only rude but by doing so you might inadvertently trigger their anxiety.
Things You Need To Remember
While it is difficult to date and live with someone with social anxiety, it is not entirely impossible. Social anxiety can be treated with the help of therapy but like all treatments, it will take time. The key is to remain gentle and patient with your partner and their anxiety.
Your partner may not want to step out of their homes but that does not mean that you can’t. Keep your social interactions healthy and active. Don’t ignore your emotional and mental health. Support and interactions with others can help you maintain your mental health.
Social anxiety can affect a person’s social and personal lives. Love them, support them, but don’t push them into doing something they are not comfortable in.
Keep their spirits lifted, make them feel loved and appreciated, laugh with them, and tell them constantly how proud of them you are. Anxiety is not an easy disorder to deal with but with lots of patience, love, respect, and understanding, it can be easily manageable.
“To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal.” – Boyd K. Packer