How Do Maladaptive Behaviors Worsen Social Anxiety Disorder?

Common Maladaptive Behaviors Keep You From Treating Social Anxiety

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How do we define maladaptive behaviors? Maladaptive behaviors are types of behavior that may keep you from adjusting to situations. Often seen in those with social anxiety disorder (SAD), maladaptive behaviors are adopted in an attempt to lessen anxiety and fear, but can actually worsen your condition because they prevent you from adopting truly adaptive patterns of behavior.

Many people with social anxiety inadvertently develop maladaptive behaviors to cope with social situations and manage their symptoms. These maladaptive behaviors can be dysfunctional and may even reinforce the problem with social anxiety that you are trying to improve. 

Common Maladaptive Behaviors

Maladaptive behaviors can range from passive communication to substance abuse. Many people with social anxiety may engage in these common maladaptive behaviors:

1. Passive Communication:

Because people with social anxiety prefer to avoid confrontation, they may minimize their feelings or opt to not discuss things that bother them.

This can worsen your social anxiety because without making your feelings known, your needs can go ignored. In this way, passive communication reinforces social anxiety by enabling you to ignore your thoughts and feelings. 

2. Avoidance:

If you have social anxiety, you may try to lessen your nervousness by avoiding triggering situations, such as by doing the following:

  • refusing to give a speech in public
  • turning down event invitations
  • backing out of engagements at the last minute
  • not taking classes that involve public speaking
  • eating alone or limiting what you eat in front of others
  • not asking questions in class
  • turning down promotions at work

While avoiding these situations may prevent you from having anxiety in the moment, avoiding these situations regularly can worsen social anxiety in the following ways:

  • limiting your social circle
  • making you feel more lonely
  • contributing to low self-esteem related to your lack of social abilities and skills
  • restricting advancement in your career
  • affecting your grades
  • placing restrictions on where you go and what you do

3. Anger:

Some people with social anxiety may become angry. They may be frustrated with themselves or upset at others for forcing them to engage in social situations or for ignoring their needs. These feelings can become pent up and finally be expressed as anger.

You might vent your anger in unhealthy ways or lash out at loved ones, which makes you feel guilty afterward and actually makes your social anxiety worse. While not everyone with social anxiety will feel anger. for those who do, it can be a significant problem.

4. Substance Abuse:

If you suffer from social anxiety and must do something that scares you, such as giving a presentation at work, you may be tempted to treat your anxiety with alcohol or drugs to calm your nerves.

People with anxiety disorders are three times more likely to abuse alcohol or medications than other people. While using these substances may provide you with some relief, it is short-lived and can be very harmful. It can become a crutch you have to rely on, raising the potential to become addicted. 

Eliminating Maladaptive Behaviors

Rather than using maladaptive behaviors, healthcare providers stress the importance of developing adaptive behaviors.

Adaptive behaviors are actions that allow you to change your response to make the situation more positive.

These behaviors are essential to successfully manage the demands of daily life and engage with others. They may include

  • Social skills: This might include things such as conversation skills and how to make new friends. Developing social skills will make it easier for you to cope with social interactions despite feeling anxiety.
  • Personal responsibility: Taking personal responsibility means not leaning on others to support you unnecessarily. This might include developing routines in your daily life to be able to maintain employment and maintain a household, despite your anxiety.
  • Public speaking skills: If public speaking is a specific issue for you, adaptive skills might include taking a class to overcome your stage fright and develop your public speaking ability.
  • emotional regulationLearning how to regulate emotions when they overwhelm you is a necessary step to developing adaptive skills to manage social anxiety.

Many with social anxiety lack appropriate adaptive behaviors; however, that does not mean it is impossible to stop maladaptive actions.

Working with a therapist who specializes in social anxiety disorder can help you to identify your maladaptive behaviors and triggers and then develop a strategy for addressing these issues.

By practicing social skills to reinforce positive thoughts, therapy can make a significant difference in overcoming maladaptive behaviors. 

A Word From Verywell

If you find that maladaptive behaviors are interfering with your ability to overcome social anxiety disorder, it may be helpful to meet with your family doctor or a mental health therapist to discuss the issues you are experiencing. If you've not received treatment for SAD, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication are two scientifically validated forms of therapy that may be helpful to you.

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