Social anxiety disorder, also known as “SAD”, is a common psychological diagnosis centered on a fear of negative evaluation by others. Social anxiety is not about shyness or introversion, or even a dislike of people of social situations; rather, social anxiety occurs when a person is afraid of being judged by others, because of embarrassing behaviors that person believes he/she will display.
Viewed through a lens of Buddhism and Buddhist psychology, social anxiety isn’t a pathological state requiring a clinical diagnosis, but rather, a result of the mind or ego. In Buddhist terms, suffering stems from the mind: from distorted thinking and also from overidentifying with ego, or taking ourselves to be our minds.
What would Buddhism say about social anxiety? This type of suffering could be explained on two levels:
- Beliefs about ourselves: Social anxiety occurs when I believe that I act in ways that are embarrassing or shameful. The mind – also known as our “negative inner critic” in Western psychological terms – is what tells me that my behavior is bad or wrong.
- Beliefs about others: The mind also tells me that I’m a separate entity from everyone and everything else. The mind believes that I’m the social construct known as “Rachel”, with all of my stories about who I am, my preferences and dislikes, and my capabilities and limitations.
So what’s the antidote to all this? Self-compassion, self-love, and techniques – such as mindfulness and meditation – that help us detach from our thoughts and realize that we are not the voice inside our heads: we are the Light and Love and that hears it.