Thomas Rodebaugh and his colleagues asked people with social anxiety disorder to rate a friendship in terms of intimacy, liking, support and satisfaction, then they asked that friend to also rate the relationship on the same terms. The reassuring finding is that friends' ratings tended to be more positive.
The research is based on a survey of 77 men and women with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder and 63 healthy controls without a diagnosis. Each of these primary participants named a friend, and these friends were also surveyed. Most of the friendships were same sex.
Past research has found that people with social anxiety tend to say that their friendships are of lower quality in general, as compared with control participants. This observation was replicated here: the participants with a social anxiety diagnosis tended to rate the quality of their friendships in general more negatively, and the specific named friendship too, as compared with control participants. The participants with social anxiety especially rated their named friendship more negatively if they were younger and if the friendship was newer.
However, the good news is that while there was no difference in the way that control participants and their named friends rated their mutual relationships, there was a difference between the ratings given by the socially anxious participants and their friends. That is, the friends' ratings of the relationship were more positive than the ratings given by the participants with social anxiety. That's not to say that these friends were oblivious. They saw the socially anxious participants as less dominant and less well-adjusted in the friendship, as compared with the ratings of the control participants given by their friends.
The research has some limitations - for example, it's possible that any group differences in the reported friendships are a cause, not a consequence of social anxiety. Perhaps more importantly, the sample was largely restricted to those people with social anxiety disorder who were able to name a friend who could also take part. Nonetheless, the study carries an upbeat message for anyone with extreme social anxiety - your friends may well have a more positive view your relationship with them, than you do.
Rodebaugh TL, Lim MH, Fernandez KC, Langer JK, Weisman JS, Tonge N, Levinson CA, & Shumaker EA (2014). Self and friend's differing views of social anxiety disorder's effects on friendships. Journal of abnormal psychology, 123 (4), 715-24 PMID: 25314261
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.