Social anxiety is one of the most common of the psychological disorders. Usually it begins in mid to late adolescence. Basically, it’s a great fear of being judged in social settings. If you have social anxiety, it’s an extremely limiting condition. You tend to avoid social situations because of the fear of being seen to be less than adequate or desirable.

Estimates are that there may be 15 million Americans with this condition. A large number of them suffer with the symptoms of this condition for ten or more years before seeking treatment.

What causes social anxiety? There are a number of possibilities.

In spite of a great deal of research into this condition, there still is no specific cause that has been found. Most researchers believe it is due to a combination of genetics and environment. Of course, you can find experts who believe strongly in one or the other being the only cause of social anxiety.

Environmental Causes

In answering the question of what causes social anxiety, factors related to your upbringing and the environment in which you grew up must be considered. The way you were raised during the early years of your life left their imprint on you until now and further. Your parents taught you a great deal during these years. They also set an example for you that imprinted itself on your deepest part.

If you grew up with parents who were anxious and showed the symptoms of anxiety in social settings, you likely remember those examples even today. If you grew up with parents who were overprotective, who watched everything you did, who talked about how scary the world is, you likely grew up thinking the world is a dangerous place. A place to be avoided.

If you grew up with parents who were abusive or neglectful, you probably grew up with a low self-esteem and a feeling of worthlessness. These, too, are long-lasting feelings that go to the deepest part of you and stay there. As adults, you may see others as someone who will do the same thing to you. People to be avoided.

Experiences you’ve had in your past in which you were embarrassed or humiliated in public situations can clearly lead to social anxiety problems. The emotions that come with these kinds of events tend to generalize, or spread, to other parts of your life. And other situations that are similar to that original event can eventually bring on the same negative emotions as the original event.

Then also, something that happens to you now may be similar enough to that past event that it triggers those negative emotions all over again. It’s like whatever happens to you in the present reaches back psychologically to that past event and drags all of those emotions into your present.

You feel the original feelings all over again. And they may have been dormant for years.

Some of what causes social anxiety also has to do with meeting new people. In many work situations, you’re required to meet new co-workers or new clients frequently. A terrible experience with this can lead to those social anxiety symptoms that cover all times you meet new people.

Another possible answer to what causes social anxiety may have to do with a situation in which you feel “different” from others who are there. This difference may have to do with the way you’re dressed, your skin color, the way you talk, or your inability to feel comfortable in that setting. All of these and more can lead to social anxiety symptoms.

Culture may play a role in developing social anxiety issues, also. Different cultures look at shyness and avoidance of social situations differently. This can affect people in looking for jobs, getting education, or forming relationships.

For example, if American parents use shame as a disciplinary tool, it increases the risk of their children developing social anxiety. But the same is not true of Chinese or Chinese-American children. Their society tends to accept shyness in children differently than ours.

Genetic Factors

Numerous studies with twins have sought to discover what causes social anxiety. The findings from these studies have shown if one twin has social anxiety disorder, the other one has a very significant chance of developing the condition, also.

This indicates a strong possibility of a genetic foundation for the condition.

If you have a close relative, parent or sibling for example, with social anxiety disorder, you’re two to three times more likely to develop the disorder, too. This is compared to someone who doesn’t have a relative with the condition.

Biological Causes

In addition to genetics, there are some other biological factors that appear to play a major role in the development of social anxiety disorder. These factors involve structures in the brain.

Amygdala

Research has shown the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in fear responses and mood regulation, to be more active in people with social anxiety disorder when they’re placed in social situations.

This part of your brain is responsible for assigning emotional meaning to stimuli. If this part of the brain is overstimulated, it may label stimuli as dangerous even when they’re not. Possibly, a genetic predisposition for you to have an overactive amygdala may be the cause of your social anxiety.

Hippocampus

 Another brain region that may be involved in social anxiety symptoms is the hippocampus. Research has shown this region to be smaller in people with social anxiety disorder.

This region of the brain makes memories of traumatic events or threatening events more solidly entrenched in your brain. Research has not yet shown whether the stress from traumatic and threatening events make the hippocampus shrink. Or if a genetically smaller hippocampus is a predisposing factor for social anxiety.

Conclusions

The exact answer to what causes social anxiety isn’t clear yet. Research seems to show a possible combination of genetic and environmental factors to be at the bottom of the disorder. A predisposition for the disorder may be triggered by current stresses.

References

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia).  http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/basics/causes/con-20032524

Social Anxiety Disorder.  https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder