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Arlin Cuncic

Does Social Anxiety Make You Selfish?

By October 21, 2012

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I was recently reading through some forum postings on the topic of social anxiety and selfishness. The posters were debating whether having social anxiety makes you selfish.

It seemed that depending on the definition of selfishness, some people agreed that their anxiety caused them to be selfish, while others argued that they were the opposite: They cared too much about other peoples' feelings to the exclusion of their own.

Another theme that kept coming up is whether people with social anxiety are self-centered and self-absorbed, rather than selfish.

Some of the definitions of being selfish included:

  • Only caring about your own well-being
  • Putting your needs ahead of those of others
  • Only help others for personal gain
  • No empathy for others

Using these definitions it becomes pretty clear that selfishness and social anxiety do not naturally go hand-in-hand. Most people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) do feel empathy, put the feelings of others ahead of their own, and do want to help others.

On the other hand, people with social anxiety might be considered selfish because they:

  • Don't try to get to know others
  • Don't keep in touch with family/friends
  • Are focused on their own problems
  • Are less likely to outwardly express empathy

In reality, these behaviors are not motivated by selfishness, but rather fear and anxiety. It isn't that you feel you are better than others or don't care about others; your fear just holds you back. Unfortunately, to the outside observer, your behavior can make you look selfish and self-absorbed. People don't know why you are behaving a certain way; they ust see the behavior.

The truth is that it is hard to be thoughtful, giving and caring with others when you are mental overloaded yourself. It is similar to the pain analogy that is sometimes used.People in pain start every day with a full cup. The demands of the day start to overflow that already full cup. You start your day with a full cup and anything more is overwhelming.

Your ability to really extend yourself and be less self-focused requires that you overcome the anxiety that holds you back. If you don't have another reason to seek treatment, that is a good one.

So.... people with social anxiety are not selfish in the sense of being narcissistic or wanting things their own way. But they do often behave in ways that can appear selfish, and they have trouble thinking of the needs of others because so much energy is expended dealing with fear and anxiety.

Since the selfishness of those with social anxiety is fear-related, the usual advice to overcome selfishness will not work. It isn't enough to start thinking more about others; you need to get help for your anxiety and the "selfish" behavior will likely disappear.

What do you think? Does social anxiety make you selfish? Vote in this week's poll:

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October 23, 2012 at 6:32 am
(1) Daniela says:

I can completely understand how people with SA can be perceived as being selfish and agree with what was stated above – “The truth is that it is hard to be thoughtful, giving and caring with others when you are mental overloaded yourself.”
I often worried if I was being perceived that way and it really bothered me. I cared a lot about other people. In fact, I would go out of my way to please them in order to feel accepted and wanted (which usually led to being taken advantage of). But the truth was, I was so fool of anxiety, worry and how bad I was feeling inside, it was hard to think of anything else. I became very choosy as to which social events I would attend, when I would answer or return a phone call, or do a favor for a friend like watching their kids when asked. Of course it would appear I only did what I wanted when I wanted.

November 18, 2012 at 11:35 am
(2) Elijah says:

There is a correlation due to the tendency of the sufferer to constantly be totally preoccupied with how they’re perceived by others. And this is over long stretches of ones life, including the formative years. Add all that intense thinking of themselves and not of others ( although not stemming from a bad place) and the result may well be, that when therapy is successful and over with, the patient can rightfully find himself (albiet through no fault of his own) somewhat self-centered.

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