How do Maladaptive Behaviors Worsen Social Anxiety Disorder?

Common Maladaptive Behaviors Keep You From Treating Social Anxiety

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Maladaptive behaviors are types of behavior that keep you from adjusting to certain situations. Often seen in those with social anxiety disorder, maladaptive behaviors are adopted in an attempt to lessen anxiety and fear but actually can worsen your condition because they are often damaging actions. Many people with social anxiety inadvertently develop maladaptive behaviors in order to handle social situations and manage the condition.

 Maladaptive behaviors can be dysfunctional and can even reinforce the problem. 

Common Maladaptive Behaviors

Maladaptive behaviors can range from passive communication to substance abuse. Many people with social anxiety may try these common maladaptive behaviors:

  • Passive Communication: Because many people with anxiety avoid confrontation, they may minimize their feelings or opt to not discuss things that bother them. This can worsen social anxiety because without making their feelings known, their needs can go ignored. By not being assertive, passive communicators reinforce social anxiety by enabling thoughts and feelings to be ignored. 
  • Avoidance: If you have social anxiety, you may try to lessen your nervousness by avoiding triggering situations, such as refusing to give a speech in public or turning down event invitations. While avoiding these situations may prevent you from having anxiety at that moment, avoiding these regular events can worsen social anxiety through limiting your social circle and making you feel more lonely. 
  • Anger: Many people with social anxiety become very angry. They may be frustrated with themselves or upset at others for forcing them to engage in social situations or for ignoring their needs. These feelings can become pent up and finally be expressed very angrily. Some people vent their angry in unhealthy ways or by lashing out at loved ones, making them feel guilty afterward and actually making social anxiety worse. 
  • Substance Abuse: If you suffer from social anxiety but still need to do something that scares you, such as needing to give a speech in order to succeed at your job, you may be tempted to treat your anxiety with alcohol or drugs to calm your nerves. People with anxiety disorders are three times more likely to abuse alcohol or medications than other people. While using these substances may provide you with some relief, it is short-lived and can be very harmful. It can become a crutch you have to rely on, raising the potential to become addicted. 

Eliminating Maladaptive Behaviors

Rather than maladaptive behaviors, healthcare providers stress the importance of developing adaptive behaviors. Adaptive behaviors are actions that allow you to change your response to make the situation more positive. These behaviors are essential to successfully integrate into daily life and engage with others. They can include conversational skills, personal responsibility and the ability to make new friends, 

Many with social anxiety lack appropriate adaptive behaviors, but that does not mean it's impossible to stop maladaptive actions. Working with a therapist who specializes in social anxiety disorder can help you identify your maladaptive behaviors and triggers and can then develop a strategy for addressing these issues. Through practicing social skills to reinforcing positive thoughts, therapy can make a significant difference in overcoming maladaptive behaviors. 


Boden, M., John, O., Goldin, P., et al. "The Role of Maladaptive Beliefs in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Evidence from Social Anxiety Disorder". Behavior Research and Therapy. 287-291, 2012. 

Brady, K., and Tolliver, M. “Alcohol Use and Anxiety: Diagnostic and Management Issues” American Journal of Psychiatry,217-221, 2007. 

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