Social anxiety disorder is a form of medically serious anxiety that triggers a number of disruptive or dysfunctional symptoms in social situations that most people find manageable, harmless, or even pleasurable. Mental health experts also sometimes refer to the condition by the alternate name social phobia. Numerous sources indicate that people who experience bullying during childhood or adolescence have increased risks for developing social anxiety disorder. In addition, according to the results of a study published in 2010 in the journal Psychological Science, some people bully others in response to emotional pressures caused by the presence of social anxiety.
Social Anxiety Disorder Basics
Some people only develop medically serious social anxiety during specific types of social situations, such as public speaking or meeting unfamiliar people, the National Institute of Mental Health explains. However, some people develop a more widespread form of anxiety that appears in a range of common or everyday social situations. Whether the trigger comes from a single situation or multiple situations, people affected by the condition develop symptoms that frequently include an inability to speak clearly, unusually high sweat production, facial flushing, nausea, and uncontrolled muscle tremors. Generally speaking, teenagers and adults with social anxiety disorder know that their responses to stressful situations don’t make logical sense; however, despite this knowledge, they feel unable to control their behaviors. As a result of this lack of control, affected individuals often live in extreme fear of embarrassment, humiliation, or ridicule.
Bullying is a general term for a group of behaviors designed to intimidate others and establish physical or psychological dominance. Specific forms of bullying behavior include physical intimidation or assault (punching, kicking, pushing, etc.), verbal intimidation or assault (teasing, threatening, making hateful statements, etc.) and social intimidation (purposeful exclusion of others, making others the target of rumors, etc.). Some bullying takes place in person in physical settings such as lunchrooms or other school locations, neighborhoods or public recreation facilities. However, bullying can also take place in virtual form through means such as text messages or videos sent between cell phones, messages or videos posted on Facebook or other online media sites, or private emails. Most people associate bullying with teenagers and younger children; however, workplace bullying is also a fairly common phenomenon.
Bullying as a Cause of Social Anxiety Disorder
In a study published in 2003 in the journal Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a team of Canadian researchers examined the effects of exposure to bullying on a person’s long-term chances of develop an anxiety-related condition such as social anxiety disorder, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The authors of the study concluded that more than 90 percent of the study participants diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (social phobia was the term used by the authors) self-reported a personal history that included extreme exposure to teasing from others. By contrast, only half of the participants with OCD reported an extreme teasing history, while only one-third of the participants with panic disorder reported such a history. Findings from numerous studies indicate that certain types of bullying are more likely than others to produce social anxiety disorder or some other form of anxiety-related condition. For instance, the authors of a study published in 2003 in the Child Study Journal concluded that teenagers exposed to physical bullying of themselves or their peer groups have unusual high risks for developing social anxiety. In addition, teenage males bullied because of their sexual orientation also have increased chances of developing anxiety-related symptoms at some point in the near of far future.
Social Anxiety Disorder as a Cause of Bullying
In the study published in Psychological Science, a team of researchers from George Mason University examined the ways in which various people respond to the emotional stresses caused by the presence of social anxiety disorder. These researchers concluded that, unlike most people affected by the disorder, certain individuals offset their feelings of anxiety by acting aggressively and impulsively toward others. One of the potential manifestations of this aggressive, impulsive behavior is bullying. The authors of the study noted the fact that, in terms of their anxiety-related symptoms, people with social anxiety who become aggressive and start bullying others do not appear to differ in any notable way from people with social anxiety who don’t act aggressively. Instead, they have similar numbers of symptoms, types of symptoms, symptom severity, and co-existing mental health problems (typically mood disorders or other anxiety disorders).