Social Anxiety and Gay Men

Social anxiety is one of the most frequent concerns I encounter among gay men in my practice. It makes sense if you think about it. Prior to coming out, most of us feared others would reject us if they knew the truth about who we are. Unfortunately, for those whose families did reject them or whose peers bullied them because of their sexual identity, this fear proved to be accurate.

Coming out does not necessarily eradicate the fear of rejection. Sensitivity to rejection may persist into the present day while socializing with other gay men. Though the focus of concern may shift away from the fact of being gay to some other area of insecurity–for example, body image–the fear itself is similar in experience and resultant isolation.

Because social anxiety can feel so overpowering, some gay men try to mitigate this feeling by avoiding social situations. This may seem like the most comfortable solution, but avoidance ultimately compounds loneliness, chips away at self esteem, and only serves to reinforce social anxiety.

Psychotherapy can help on a several levels

On a practical level, you and I may strategize together what kinds of changes to make in your behavior, that is, to begin to take some calculated risks to socialize despite the anxiety. Then as you attempt to make these changes, we can discuss how it went, and together work on incrementally refining the way you approach social interactions.

But this pragmatic approach is only one facet of the work. Because the roots of social anxiety can go quite deep, it’s often necessary to examine and work through their historical origins. Within the safety of a trusting, therapeutic relationship, recalling the experiences that contributed to social anxiety can gradually diminish its power.

There’s yet another level to how therapy helps. The relationship between therapist and client itself can be a powerful medium of growth and change. Experiencing and confronting anxiety that comes up for you within the process of our meetings can be transformative, healing, and confidence building in ways that are hard to understand until you’ve been through it yourself.

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