Perception is the Starting Point

Social Anxiety Help

Larry Cohen, LICSW

Perception is the Starting Point

This brings us to perhaps the most important point: anxiety is how we respond when we perceive ourselves to be in some form of danger. (Sometimes physiological factors trigger or contribute to anxiety, such as caffeine, certain medications, and some health problems.) We experience the anxiety response when we think we’re in danger…even if we are not. We do not generally experience anxiety when we think there is no danger around…even when there is! And to make matters more complex, we experience an intense anxiety response when we think we are in grave and immanent danger, even if the actual danger is minor, unlikely and we can cope well with it.

For example, someone with a rodent phobia might become terrified when seeing a mouse…even though a mouse would have a very difficult time of actually harming that person. On the other hand, a child who has come to grow up with a friendly dog and stuffed animals might feel excited and approach a pit bull…not knowing that there is a grave potential danger.

A socially anxious person, while correctly perceiving the potential “danger” of negative judgment, rejection or embarrassment, greatly overestimates how likely any of this danger is to occur, and how damaging it would be if it indeed were to come to pass. At the same time, a socially anxious person greatly underestimates his or her ability to effectively cope with the judgment, rejection or embarrassment if it were to occur.

By contrast, a socially confident person is not someone who believes s/he’ll never be judged, rejected or embarrassed. Rather, a socially confident person simply believes that there is a good chance s/he’ll be judged well and liked, and doesn’t think that it would be so awful if things didn’t turn out that way. In addition, a socially confident person believes s/he can cope well with any judgment, rejection or embarrassment (eg. by asserting oneself, or by accepting the situation and moving on.)

The Purpose of Anxiety

Perception is the Starting Point

Fight, Flight or Freeze

When Dangers are Social

Social Anxiety Does Not Equal Introversion

Social Anxiety Triggers

Biology, Social Anxiety and Medication

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety


If you have any questions or comments, please email Larry Cohen, LICSW, with offices in Washington, DC.

Social Anxiety Help is a founding regional clinic of the National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC):