Many social anxiety sufferers find themselves trapped in situations where people are very angry with them. In fact, situations where people are very irate with social anxiety sufferers happen so frequently that many find themselves wondering what it is that they are doing to merit such treatment. Why would someone become so angry with me when they could become angry with someone else? This article will reveal some of the dynamics occurring beneath the surface of the anger so that people with social anxiety disorder will understand why it is that they seem to be the targets of the anger of others. Much like the article Are People with Social Anxiety Disorder Targeted? asserts, this article will demonstrate that social anxiety sufferers are in fact not targeted, but rather suffer from a dysfunctional interpersonal dynamic.
I discovered this interpersonal dynamic through marriage. A recurring pattern with between my wife and I has been for me to become angry, upset, and irritated whenever she would fail to follow through on duties that were hers. Basically, what would happen is that she would have some chore to do and she would take several days or weeks to do it, while in my mind this chore was a simple chore that could be done in a few minutes. This caused me to become very agitated, and the longer my wife took to do these chores, the more frustrated and angry I became. And, the more frustrated and angry that I became and the more that I vented that anger and frustration on my wife, the more that she shut down and wanted to avoid the task within her responsibility. Basically, a circular interaction was occurring, and as long as we both were engaging in our maladaptive behaviors and attitudes, the interaction continued to happen; it was harmful to our relationship.
What is the solution? In a marital relationship, especially a new one like mine and my wife’s, change is easier. Change becomes increasingly difficult with the age and experience of different people because they simply have more time to become embedded in their ways. The solution, however, involves changes in both parties. (As a side note, anyone who plays the “blame game” and tries to pin all responsibility on one person is making a mistake. Each person or group in a situation makes mistakes and it is the responsibility of each person or group to fix these mistakes). In the case of myself, I felt that by becoming angry or upset that my wife might want to avoid those emotions and as a result would instead choose to do the things that she needed to do. In reality, my anger and irritation caused her to shut down. As a lifelong social anxiety sufferer, I should have been aware that this is how things work, but I fell victim to making this mistake. In the case of my wife, her mistake was that instead of making an attempt, she would instead shut down and avoid what she was supposed to do, and no attempt was made to communicate that she was thinking of getting her responsibilities done.
What I learned over the past few months was to find some way to break out of this cycle. The only thing, I learned, that I can really change is myself. But, what needed change? After speaking with some friends and some personal reflection, I learned that I might be able to inspire change by creating an emotional atmosphere conducive to personal growth. So, instead of venting all my anger and frustration on my wife, I would instead tell her that I loved her and that I knew that she could do it, even though I only had evidence to the contrary. Then, I would yell, shout, and scream to friends about how incredibly frustrating the situation was. What happened then in turn was that my wife began to open up more and instead tried to do things that she was supposed to. She still messed up and was not perfect, but at last she was trying! Then, after a few more months, it became a habit for her to take care of the bare minimum responsibilities. She also started to learn what her error in the situation was. But instead of avoiding the error, she began to take responsibility for it. It has continued to get better to the present day; things still are not where they need to be, but I believe that as we both continue to work on the behaviors that can harm or improve the situation, that things will continue to improve until finally we are far exceeding the functioning of the average marriage.
What does all this have to do with those suffering from social anxiety disorder? The same exact cycle applies to us and people who are frustrated with us. Someone at work shouts us and we shut down, avoiding that person and the functions we are suppose to perform at work. They see this and then continue to shout at us and we continue to shut down, until finally we are forced to leave the job. Or, someone in a group puts us down in front of all the others; we avoid that person and do not say anything. Then that person says another rude remark, until finally they are running us down in front of the group routinely. We feel very unwelcome, and then we decide to leave.
How do we deal with these situations? My marriage was simpler because both of us realize we are not perfect and are working towards change. How can take these dysfunctional situations where one person may not be interested in changing and make it a productive situation?
The answer is a difficult one, but the only thing we control in such a situation is ourselves and our behavior, while the rest is up to God (or chance if you do not believe in God). In the case of a dysfunctional work relationship, what we can do is perform our job to the best of our ability, ask questions if things are not clear, and talk to coworkers about how they deal with the supervisor. If the supervisor is raging or shouting, we can simply say, “I am unable to talk to when you are so angry. I am going to walk away and will be happy to talk with you when you are calm.” When we take care of everything on our side of the situation, that maximizes the chance that the situation will go from a dysfunctional and difficult one to a positive and productive one.
The same concept applies to someone who is making fun of us. We can act confidently and take the joke with good humor, simply letting it bounce off of us instead of hurting us internally. Or, we can say something like, “Yeah, it’s true. I am an idiot. In fact, I’m probably the dumbest person in the group.” When we say something like that in a tone of voice that indicates we are not bothered by the remark, people around us respect that. When we become bothered and irritated, the other person keeps up with the rude remarks. And, if the remarks continue and this nasty person seems to be the leader of the group, then this might not be a very fun group.
Unfortunately, the truth is that we cannot control the other person, although we can maximize the chances that he or she will change. It is possible to follow everything just discussed perfectly and still not have the other person change, and unfortunately, the reality is that more often than not, the other person will not change because his or her current understanding of human behavior is clouded by years of erroneous beliefs that simply cannot change in a few days, weeks, or months. For us, this means it is either time to move on, or time to force that person out of power. There are other people who are healthier to associate with, but at least we know one group of people that is not healthy to associate with. Whatever path it is that you choose to handling these difficult situations, you simply cannot go wrong if you think about them deeply and discuss them with kind and wise friends. But, if you find yourself in a dysfunctional and difficult interaction with another person who is open to change, this is one successful method for handling it. Good luck to everyone who chooses to employ this method for handling difficult situations!