The intense and overwhelming self-focus of social anxiety symptoms has apparent parallels with traits of egotism or selfishness. In the blog-post linked below, the writer, at the time a university student, makes this association about her social anxiety symptoms – whilst making it clear that her judgments are purely personal – and finds a silver lining in the revelation that they have provided, in the context of her Christian faith, which calls her to be humble and selfless.
When experiencing social anxiety symptoms at a university freshman event, the writer, Julia Ann Gilbert, describes turning to her faith for strength: “I remember stepping away from everyone to take time to pray and go over Bible verses I memorized to help me cope with my anxiety and for awhile it worked! I stopped focusing on myself and met new people. As my gaze shifted from myself to God others I became more and more at peace.”
She subsequently experienced an anxiety attack in her car, causing her to reflect further on her symptoms and behaviour: “This weekend, the more I considered these things the more I realized just how selfish these fears are. (I know I might raise a lot of eyebrows by saying that anxiety is selfish but as I mentioned at the beginning of this post everything I write is solely reflective of my own struggle with anxiety!).”
Viewing her social anxiety as a moral failing, the writer sees humility as a remedy: “It takes our fears about how we are viewed and replaces them with thoughts on how we can serve others. Humility seeks no personal gain, no words of affirmation, and no recognition.”
The writer’s faith-based understanding and response to her social anxiety does have parallels with medically approved treatments, such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and mindfulness, in terms of flawed thinking and focus – albeit with overt moral judgement which treats the anxiety as a personality trait rather than an illness. CBT involves the identification and correction of ‘cognitive distortions’ or negative thinking towards more realistic and rational thinking. Mindfulness therapies involve the conscious attempt to focus on one’s surrounding environment and thus to reduce focus on self-thoughts.
However, as with some medical definitions of social anxiety, this moral interpretation largely treats anxiety as a personal aberration rather than a response to particular vulnerability. If a sufferer has a particular sense of vulnerability, her anxiety response cannot be viewed merely as selfishness or weakness but an attempted act of self-protection.
There is a risk that the ‘aberrant thinking’ understanding of social anxiety, be it moral or medical, focuses overly on faulty thoughts of the sufferer when a more individual, contextual and holistic approach might be needed to examine the cause of the sense of vulnerability, which may require assessment of concurrent illnesses or symptoms, subconscious beliefs and social contexts.
To read the full blog-post, Thanking God for Anxiety, by Julia Ann Gilbert and her more recent posts, click below.
This past weekend something happened that forced me to reflect on the main truths I am learning through my current struggle with anxiety. Before I share this story, however, I would like to provide the following disclaimer: By writing about my own personal struggles I am by no means trying to make light of anyone else’s experiences with anxiety. The topics I write about come from my own personal experience and I write them for the purpose of sharing what God is teaching me in this time.
This weekend, I attended a required Society Induction to welcome freshmen and transfer students to my society. Though the evening was filled with exciting activities and I was surrounded by friends I was still plagued with an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety. I remember stepping away from everyone to take time to pray and go over Bible verses I memorized to help…
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