If you’ve ever been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, you might have found yourself avoiding social situations and feeling a lot of anxiety when you’re forced to go out into the world. And if you consider yourself an empath, this could be magnified by your ability to sort of “feel” everyone around you. I know that’s been the case for me in the past. Whether you could be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD) or you just struggle with social situations, it could be a result of your toxic relationship.
This can be an ongoing issue for many people, even after narcissistic abuse recovery. For example, while I have recovered from my own narcissistic abuse, I sometimes still struggle with a little social anxiety. But there are things you can do to deal with it, and I’ll be covering some of those here at QueenBeeing over the next few weeks.
What is social anxiety disorder (SAD)?
Also called “social phobia,” social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that causes you to have an extreme, unrelenting fear of being watched and especially judged by people, including not only strangers but also people you know. This crippling fear can affect your ability to function in the world – whether at work, school, or any of your other daily activities. Many sufferers of SAD report that it is difficult for them to make and keep friends.
What does SAD have to do with narcissistic abuse recovery?
Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships can cause you to feel overwhelmed and isolated on their own, but they also cause what psychologists call a “toxic internal environment” that can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and a wide variety of other physical health problems. Social anxiety can be a side-effect of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) as well – and many survivors of narcissistic abuse suffer from C-PTSD.
Don’t underestimate the effect of a toxic relationship on your health.
Consider this: a 12.2-year study that launched in 1985 and followed more than 10,000 people found that people who reported being in unhealthy or negative relationships were far more likely to develop heart problems, including a fatal heart attack or cardiac event, than study participants who had healthier, less negative relationships.
And on a more practical level, since narcissists are so likely to isolate and control us in these relationships, we become hypervigilant of their moods and behaviors and this can leave us not only exhausted emotionally but also unwilling or unable to deal with other people during the relationship. This could be because we are too overwhelmed by the narcissist’s need for attention and supply or because we grow tired of trying to behave “correctly” in public (so that the narcissist doesn’t further abuse us when we get home). It could also be for a number of other reasons (or a combination of reasons).
What are the symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD)?
According to NIMH, the symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- Blush, sweat, tremble, feel a rapid heart rate, or feel their “mind going blank”
- Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach
- Show a rigid body posture, make little eye contact, or speak with an overly soft voice
- Find it scary and difficult to be with other people, especially those they don’t already know, and have a hard time talking to them even though they wish they could
- Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed and awkward
- Be very afraid that other people will judge them
- Stay away from places where there are other people
What does social anxiety disorder (SAD) feel like?
One of the worst aspects of suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder is the feeling that you are entirely isolated and alone in the world – even (and sometimes especially) if you’re in a room full of people. It can feel as if you are cut off from the world and your inner self. Worse, it feels like you have no control over the bad feelings and that you’re trapped forever in feeling anxious and alone.
It may be helpful to hear that even if you’re feeling alone, there are some symptoms that therapists have noted are the hallmarks of SAD and just about everyone suffers from them.
- The feeling that no one understands you.
When you’re in the grip of social anxiety, it feels like you are cut off from everyone and that no one can understand what it feels like inside your head, not even your therapist or your best friend.
- You’re trapped forever in anxiety
SAD transcends time and space. It feels as though you’re stuck in a cycle of perpetual anxiety, even though part of you knows that SAD doesn’t define you and that no matter how severe your current flare-up is, it will pass. Anxiety tells you that you are stuck and can’t move out of the trap you’re in, even if your rational mind understands it’s not like that.
- You feel like a fish out of water.
Chronic anxiety feeds on negative messages that tell you over and over that you don’t belong, you don’t fit in, that there’s something wrong with you. The deeper you get into this negative mindset, the more isolated and alienated you feel, and you withdraw from friends and family. A vicious cycle sets in to keep you apart and deepen the feeling of alienation.
- A negative mindset takes over
When you’re suffering from anxiety, you tend to look at the world through very gray-colored glasses. Your brain’s default setting becomes irrational and negative. You can misinterpret things people say or do, even kindly-meant advice from your therapist or counselor.
That can spill over into feeling like a failure. You can fall into a spiral of self-criticism and self-loathing, raking over perceived mistakes and failures from the past.
- Overwhelming self-consciousness
Social anxiety can make you feel as though you have a layer of psychological skin missing. You feel self-conscious like everyone is looking at you and judging you. You worry over every little detail of your behavior, your clothes, what you say and what you do.
The self-loathing and stress that comes with chronic social anxiety can make it virtually impossible to live in the moment and get on with enjoying life.
Note: Because this issue is so prevalent for narcissistic abuse survivors, I’m working on a new course on the subject over at Life Makeover Academy. I’m currently searching for people to beta-test the course. While it’s normally a $99 course, I’m offering it to people who are willing to beta-test it for half-price. If you are interested in testing the course and sharing your thoughts with me, you can click here to get lifetime access to the course (and all future updates/additional material) for just $49. Please note: the beta testing period will close at the end of July, when the course will be ready to roll out at full price, so get in there now if you are interested.
You might also enjoy this video I made on the topic.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.