Life with social anxiety is tough. Everyday interactions stress you out. Making friends feels like the most daunting task of all time. But even when you succeed in securing a few pals, you may not feel like your relationship with them is actually friendship. You might think the people you hang out with are just doing you a favor.
However, a new study published this month in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology says that this perception is not necessarily true from the point of view of your friends. In other words, you're coming off better than you think you are.
The researchers invited 112 individuals into a lab — some of whom were diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and some of whom were not — and asked everyone to bring along a platonic friend. Everyone was asked about the strength of their friendships.
In a press release, lead author Thomas Rodebaugh said:
"People with social anxiety disorder report that their friendships are worse, but their friends didn't see it the same way. Their friends seem to say something more like: 'It's different, but not worse.'"
The friends of people with social anxiety disorder did seem to be aware that their friends were having trouble, and additionally saw the person with social anxiety disorder as less dominant in the friendship."
In this case, "different" doesn't necessarily mean "bad," which is an important distinction to make. The findings could help people with social anxiety disorder understand that they're wanted. Their friendships are actually meaningful, and Rodebaugh said that many studies confirm that a lack of strong social networks can lead to disease, depression, and even earlier mortality.
Even if you're not socially anxious, it's important to be mindful of those who are. If you see your friend is uncomfortable in a social situation, try to provide that comfort. And now that you know how he or she might feel about your relationship, make it clear how much you value it. You can do a lot to help a friend change a potentially painful misconception!
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