This article was published on August 29th, 2015
Social anxiety is very common with gay men. Most people who suffer from social anxiety don’t even recognize that they have a problem. According to Wikipedia social anxiety is:
An emotion characterized by a discomfort or a fear when a person is in a social interaction that involves a concern of being judged or evaluated by others. It is typically characterised by an intense fear of what others are thinking about them (specifically fear of embarrassment or humiliation, criticism, or rejection), which results in the individual feeling insecure and not good enough for other people, and/or the assumption that peers will automatically reject them.
Social anxiety begins at a very young age, when boys become aware of being different from other boys. Gay boys will fear of being rejected and become hyper vigilant around others.
The fear of being in social situations results in the person avoiding social situations. Social anxiety is not avoidance of people, it is avoidance of people in social settings. Interestingly, the same person who avoids social situations is still able to run large meetings at work, manage many employees, and teach 30 or 300 persons at a time with little or no anxiety. In all of these situations there is a structure and the role is clear, and maybe even having some authority provides comfort. In social situations the rules and expectations of how one is to behave is vague, the structure is flexible. What a person talks about and how it is said is not spelled out. This is where fear creeps in, that is, the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, the fear of being judged, of looking foolish etc.
The most common reaction to anxiety in social situations is to withdraw as much as possible. Bathhouses are a good place for guys with social anxiety because there is sex and connections that can happen without the pressures of conversations in a group of people. It is not surprising that bathhouses thrive, because they provide an outlet for guys. Not everyone in a bathhouse has social anxiety but it is a safer place to meet guys and hook-up without the fear of social conversations.
It’s normal for people with social anxiety to gradually reduce their social commitments and spend more time alone or with one or two friends. This alone time often leads to depression. Most people with depression look for treatment when the cause is likely due to loneliness.
To avoid loneliness, it’s typical for gay guys in their mid-30s or 40s will get a dog or a cat. A dog can work well for the guy to get out and walk his dog without too much social interaction. If he is in a social situation or a date he will have the excuse that he has to get back to let his dog out. The dog becomes a good reason to only have short social interactions. But also the relationship with the dog provides some comfort and feeling of being needed and belonging.
There is nothing wrong with a dog replacing socializing in groups. Having a dog works well as a way of coping with the loneliness and isolation. In fact it works so well that many guys do not even try to socialize and live a life of avoiding connecting, and socializing. Not everyone who has a dog (or cat) has social anxiety but it could be something to examine if the pet helps one to avoid or limit the amount of time in social gatherings.
According to WebMD, social anxiety is relatively easy to overcome by counselling:
The counsellor will “guide the person’s thoughts in a more rational direction and help the person stop avoiding situations that once caused anxiety. It teaches people to react differently to the situations that trigger their anxiety symptoms. Therapy may include systematic desensitization or real life exposure to the feared situation. With systematic desensitization, the person imagines the frightening situation and works through his or her fears in a safe and relaxed environment, such as the therapist’s office. Real life exposure gradually exposes the person to the situation but with the support of the therapist”.
People do not talk about social anxiety and therefore goes undiagnosed and untreated. The result is people who are lonely, isolated and depressed without understanding why. Take a moment to look at yourself and how much social fears and anxieties limit the amount of time is spent in social situations.