Social anxiety and childhood

fractal by Sven Geier,
So how did I end up with social anxiety?

I have met a number of people who feel their upbringing and experiences had nothing to do with their developing this particular anxiety. Instead, they feel it’s something to do with the way their particular brains are wired or mis-wired.

In my case, although depression / anxiety does run in one side of my family, I strongly believe that the way I was brought up led to my developing this particular anxiety. It is kind of uncomfortable to ‘blame mom and dad’, and I don’t totally. I believe that families kind of pass down these problems through the generations. Their families damaged them, etc, back through time. I feel it is fair to look back and say – yup, damage done. It’s my job to undo it though.

That’s one reason I think the medical model and using medications is so very popular today. There’s no one to blame, no one to be made uncomfortable, no repercussions. If it’s all chemical, take a pill and be happy!

Well, I’m not the happy kind, what can I say.

In the interests of overcoming then, and not in the interests of blame, I’ll give a quick glimpse of my family. Both parents were from a working class background and propelled themselves upwards through education. My mother ended up being a housewife despite the degree. My father became a university professor. My father especially had to fight all the way. His family was desperately poor, his father died when he was very young, his mother did factory work. For him to succeed the way he did was in a way phenomenal.

However, that success came to some extent at the expense of his family. He was a perfectionist, if something went wrong there had to be someone to blame immediately, he was impatient, he was narcissistic. The world revolved around him, he felt, and my mother enabled that illusion to continue.

I have a very strong will in a certain kind of way. And this father brooked no opposition. He corrected me constantly, he adjusted my table manners at every meal, he told me I looked bad, he criticized what I did.

Once I got oder and started arguing, as teenagers must, he had to win every argument. And he did have superior intellectual skills when I was 13 and he was 40, no question. He absolutely crushed me.

Where was my mother? My mother denies all conflict, and quietly disappears. No help there.

The other thing about my family – they lived the academic life, and this was all they knew. Because they both struggled to achieve it, they love it and hold it high over everything. As part of that, they judge the world very harshly. Well, my father does. Those who have not achieved with advanced degrees, or at least one of the ‘big’ professions, are looked down on. I imbibed this with my mother’s milk, so to speak. So to start with, that is how I saw the world too.

So I had this great mixture of extremely critical and demanding parents combined with a kind of (so stupid) intellectual snobbishness about ‘ordinary’ people who perhaps hadn’t read all the classics or graduated top of their graduate program in physics. An impossible combination.

Plus I didn’t achieve professionally, so when that was my standard as well, I felt an absolute failure.

I no longer share that world view of my parents. But I guess I absorbed so much criticism and judgment that I think the world is now judging me. These things go deep and are difficult to reverse.

Anyhow, my intent is not to cast blame. I feel I need to understand where I came from in order to heal. Maybe it would be easier to pop a pill, as my former psychiatrist was recommending. He really had no interest in my past whatsoever. But you know what? I have an interest. So I will explore my past in order to let go of it.

  1. Ellen, Wow. I understand where your sensitivity to my post comes from…Let me say, I was raised much the same. Though I would just come out and say both my parents had personality disorders, were mean, cruel, and violent.And yep, they loved to talk about how anyone not like them was stupid, etc.So, when I look at people who actually ARE suffering, who actually do NOT have the skills that, say, you and I are blessed with, I DO NOT EVER want to see them like my father would. So I try to figure it out. And one of the basics is intellectual capacity. This does not make them worth less — just different.My father would say it is their own fault that they are poor or whatever, and I would defend them — that not everyone has the ability to CREATE a life that looks like his.It turns out you and I share MUCH in common.Have you read Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child? All about sensitive children.Also, Trapped in the Mirror by Ellen Golomb, about children of Narcissists.Have a peaceful, lovely, calm day, Ellen.Oh, and I responded to your second comment — just that I would never assume someone reading blisschick was being anything but kind. 🙂

  2. Ellen said:

    Thanks Blisschick for responding to my post. Its so interesting that we have similar backgrounds. I got a little weepy actually when I read your comment, as it’s lovely to be understood. I’m somewhat unaccustomed still to being out here on the internet – it feels kind of exposed but also it’s a chance to communicate. Yes, this interaction with your father is like mine with mine…And yeah, not everyone has the capacity to be a high-flying trial lawyer, and that is not a moral judgment.I have read Alice Miller and it was a fascinating book. I’ll have a look out for Trapped in the Mirror. Cheers!

  3. Hi EllenThis is a brilliant post. I didnt read it as in any way apportioning ‘blame’.. it’s an untangling of ‘why’ I have spent a long time wondering about how I got so fearful and I would agree with you that our childhood experiences shape us.I was lucky .. I grew up in a loving but dysfunctional kind of family. We didn’t really ‘do’ displays of affection but I was in no doubt that I was safe and loved. I did however grow up in a very violent society. I think that the fears that my mum and other adults in the family had, were projected onto us. They were afraid when we went out that they would never see us alive again. They were afraid that we would get ‘involved’.They were afraid that we would be physically and mentally scarred by the experience of living in the world that we lived in. They were afraid that the people we associated with would harm us.We always seemed to be ‘being careful’ and people around us always were praying for our safety. We grew up knowing the world was not a safe place.Alongside that, and in the political and social sense, we came from the ‘victim’ community – we were constantly told that we didn’t get opportunities, we were discriminated against, that we were never going to be good enough. If you are told all these things often enough they become a self fulfilling prophecy. You can do nothing without the ‘be careful’ and ‘you’re not good enough’ narrative running in your head, it becomes part of you.I think I absorbed the fear and the ‘victimness’. I learned to be afraid and to believe that I could never be ‘good enough’.This manifests itself in many ways. In my job, though I have been doing well, I expect the tap on the shoulder and someone to say ‘who do you think you are?’. In my life I trust noone unless I know them extremely well. In a strange situation, I can be crucified and paralysed with the fear of other people and the fear of being ‘found out’. I am worried almost all day every day.For me it is like a bad habit. I have a daily .. secondly.. struggle to tell the nagging voices to shut up and to let the logical voice have a bit of expression. But it is very hard.Sorry this was so long! Your post was like a light switching on. I only meant to say ‘brilliant post’ but I couldn’t stop once i got started.

  4. Ellen said:

    Happy, thank you for the long and heartfelt comment. It is so interesting to hear your experience. I’m lucky in that I haven’t experienced personally a violent society – I can see how that would scar you, and instill nagging doubts about self-worth. That sense of not being safe must run deep.I also struggle with the inner negative voices. Interesting how different kinds of childhood stress can lead to very similar symptoms. Wow, I publish something I’m scared to be open about and get these great comments. Interesting…Cheers, E.

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