The origins of Social Anxiety, shyness and fear have often been the subject of debate. Where does it really come from? A person’s genetic make-up, bad parenting, a chemical imbalance or learning and experiencing.

If you have done any research on the subject you will find that among experts there is a general consensus that the cause is multi factorial and most if not all of these elements play a part at some stage.

Being from an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and change psychology background it’s my opinion that the vast majority of the problem comes from learning and experience.

As humans we are learning machines…It’s what we do best, even when we aren’t consciously making an effort. This trait is obviously vital to the survival of our species but it is also a bit of a curse. Because we learn so fast and so efficiently we learn stuff that’s not useful and just doesn’t work for us…

If we had to consciously make sense out of the billions of pieces of information that is continually presented to us we wouldn’t be able to function so our brain makes generalisations, deletes information and distorts some of it to suit our environment, beliefs and what we value from moment to moment.

Given that our brain works in this way and is so skilled at doing it, it makes sense to conclude that over the years we make a lot of ill informed opinions, decisions and conclusions about ourselves and the world around us. Ones that stay with us and prevent us from living as happy, free and successful a life as is possible.

In my opinion this is at the heart of the most of our social fears…ill informed opinions, decisions and conclusions we have made (usually early on in our lives but not always) about our relationship with people.

Yes there is evidence to suggest that genetics play a part but when you really get down to it, this evidence only suggests that genetics make a person more pre-disposed to feel anxious and phobic around people, it doesn’t mean it has to happen. The person still has to have experiences and draw meaning from those experiences for the problem to occur.

Then there is the chemical imbalance argument. Let’s dispel this right now shall we. If you started thinking about a time when you were deeply relaxed, like a holiday or when you were in a bath, you would start to release serotonin into your blood stream. If you think about being mugged down a dark alleyway your brain would signal the release of cortisol into your blood stream…The point is…all problems are chemical imbalances and this mostly results from the way we think and how we use our bodies.

So if you have bought into the misconception that you are how you are because of your genetic make-up or some weird chemical imbalance that you have no control over, do yourself a big favour and stop it right now…and become open to the idea that the unnecessary social fears you are experiencing are largely down to the experiences you have had and the meaning you have drawn from them which has resulted in you creating ill-informed opinions, conclusions and decisions about your relationship with people.

How these ill-informed opinions were created...

In the 1970’s sociologist Morris Massey presented a model that displayed the three major stages of a person’s development. This model goes a long way to explaining why certain experiences we have in early childhood can have an effect on us into adult life.

The Imprint Period
Up to the age of seven, we are like sponges, absorbing everything around us and accepting much of it as true, especially when it comes from our parents. The confusion and blind belief of this period can also lead to the early formation of trauma and other deep problems.
The critical thing here is to learn a sense of right and wrong, good and bad. This is a human construction which we nevertheless often assume would exist even if we were not here (which is an indication of how deeply imprinted it has become).

The Modelling Period
Between the ages of eight and thirteen, we copy people, often our parents, but also other people. Rather than blind acceptance, we are trying on things like suit of clothes, to see how they feel.
We may be much impressed with religion or our teachers. You may remember being particularly influenced by junior school teachers who seemed so knowledgeable--maybe even more so than your parents.

The Socialization Period
Between the ages 13 and 21, we are very largely influenced by our peers. As we develop as individuals and look for ways to get away from the earlier programming, we naturally turn to people who seem more like us.
Other influences at these ages include the media, especially those parts which seem to resonate with our the values of our peer groups.

The vast majority of social fears are created in one or more of these stages. We are at our most impressionable during these stages and a lot of un-useful stuff slides in without much resistance that may serve a purpose back then but now, in adulthood no longer does.

To begin to un cover where your own social fears originated a useful question to ask is:

“When did I decide that people were a threat?” or “When was the first experience of feeling anxious/fearful around people?” or “When was this not a problem and what experience or experiences led me to believe this had changed?”

When you ask these questions you’ll get a gut feeling where at what age it started, you may even remember what the experience was.

Now here’s the key part…when you get a sense of where it started ask yourself this question, “What meaning did I draw from this experience or experiences that led me to the conclusion that people were a threat?”

This is a very important question because it’s never an experience that makes us who we are, it’s the meaning we draw from that experience…

Once you have a sense of what the answer is write it down…You have just uncovered one of if not the origin and main cause of your social anxiety.

If you have struggled with this then that’s okay, sometimes it needs a bit more probing and I’d recommend you do that with a trained NLP therapist or skilled coach.

If you got some breakthroughs that’s fantastic, resolve this issue and it will make the largest difference in overcoming social anxiety.

Again, I’d recommend you seek out a trained and skilled NLP Therapist to help you with this. Or you can check out our Social Confidence Boot Camp. One vital part of this is exploring and letting go these ill informed opinions and conclusions you have developed in relation to people.

To get you started though, begin to wonder what else that initial experience could have meant…Now that you look back on it from older, more experienced eyes in what ways were you mistaken back them? And, if you were to let go of this decision and the feelings that come with it, how would that change everything else that happened after it?

To conclude, i'd like to re-iterate that, while many people will experience insights and shifts from reading this article, i'd recommend that you explore these issues with a professional therapist.

Author's Bio: 

Steven Burns is known as 'The People's Coach' and is an NLP Trainer, Coach & Hypnotherapist. Following the end of his 9 and 1/2 relationship he decided to specialize in helping people let go of social anxiety disorder and become more confident and skilled in all aspects of socializing. You can find Steven's latest work at The Guide to Social Confidence