Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • March 2014
Written by  Lisa Klarner

What causes social anxiety disorder?

Did you know that mental illnesses like social anxiety disorder (SAD) can start at any age? In case you missed the article in January’s edition, SAD is fear of embarrassment. A person with SAD is very sensitive to criticism and spends most of the time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Perhaps you struggle with SAD or have a family member who is impacted with this debilitating disorder and you wonder what caused it to develop. There are many possible causes of SAD. The most common causes included in this article are:


When we look at our family we may see some patterns, good and bad. Maybe we have a great metabolism and can eat whatever we want (Wouldn’t that be nice!) or maybe we have a history of anxiety. This means that we are genetically prone to anxiety. This doesn’t mean we will develop issues with anxiety, but we might because it is in our biological makeup.

It’s good to know our genetic history, but we shouldn’t automatically assume that we will develop the same issues. We can break our genetic cycle by changing our lifestyle and mindset!

Learned behavior

The area of learned behavior can be one of the triggers that flips on the genetic switch. In looking specifically at children, they soak up adults’ behaviors like a sponge, especially if the children are more sensitive by nature.

Let’s say for example if a parent verbalizes anxious thoughts related to social situations in the presence of their child: “I can’t go to the store. I’m afraid I will see someone I know and I won’t know what to say.” When children hear messages like this often enough, they could eventually begin to feel the same way.

As adults, it’s important to be cautious about vocalizing our fears out loud when influential children are within earshot.

Health issues

When someone experiences a traumatic injury such as a car accident or moves through a significant health issue like cancer, the person could come out of that experience with SAD symptoms. This can happen at any time in a person’s life and may be caused by a decline in self-esteem or the onset of negative thought patterns that developed during or soon after the health crisis.

It could be greatly beneficial for a person going through a health crisis to see a professional counselor if he or she experiences issues related to emotional stability. If left unaddressed, what starts out as a minor issue could develop into full-blown SAD or another mental illness.


Abuse can cover a broad range of situations. Bullying has gotten a lot of press in recent years and continues to be a huge issue. Victims of bullying are continually beaten down verbally and physically. Many victims develop a very low opinion of themselves as a result of the abuse. Over time, victims will usually forgive the bullies. However, the damage is already done and it takes many years to resolve. This is especially true with anxiety-prone individuals.

Another area of focus here is domestic abuse. People who are in an abusive relationship, man or woman, can often develop SAD symptoms. As with bullying, this is caused by low self-esteem and negative thoughts about themselves. Ask anyone at a domestic abuse shelter and they will attest to the fact that many victims are dealing with a multitude of issues when they arrive, one of which is often SAD.

As with the health issues mentioned above, seeking the support of a professional counselor when dealing with bullying or domestic abuse can have a very positive result.

Love who you are!

Everyone is unique and we all respond to our lives in different ways. It’s so important for us to love everything about ourselves. We should see our challenges as opportunities to grow and become stronger. It may take a few months or a few years to get past difficulties, but you will persevere and your life will turn around!

This article is part of a continuing series. Read more about SAD in the May issue of Nature’s Pathways. 


Lisa Klarner is a speaker, consultant and the author of “Releasing the Secret Pain: Moving Beyond Social Anxiety Disorder.” Lisa is the owner of Peaceful Horizons, which is dedicated to helping people understand and move beyond social anxiety disorder (SAD). She uses her own experiences with SAD and her passion for educating people on the disorder to deliver powerful presentations and workshops. Check out Lisa’s website, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 920-475-5252.

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