In my work with Veterans who have had a PTSD diagnosis, I’ve found that it is not uncommon for them to go to great lengths to avoid social interactions. This is often the result of not feeling safe, or of feelings of panic at the thought of leaving the house. In some cases, these vets do not have any significant contact with others at all in the course of their day, and it can go on for years.
This avoidance behavior is identified by mental health professionals as a social anxiety disorder, or a social phobia. While social anxiety disorder may be caused by differing reasons in the general public, with PTSD, it is caused by an inability to feel safe anywhere but inside the home. I have had it explained to me as a fear that “no one has your back.” Social isolation can be a very difficult symptom to treat.
Panic attacks often accompany social anxiety disorder. This may include feelings of shortness of breath, or feeling overwhelmed and crowded by others. In order to prevent the anxiety from escalating, the veteran simply isolates him- or herself.
Overcoming social anxiety disorder can be difficult, but one of the primary points in healing is that you must be willing to move out of your comfort zone. I’ve had veterans tell me they desperately wanted to get over the disorder, but they absolutely refused to leave the house at all. That makes it very difficult to change the situation.
Despite being difficult to treat, social anxiety disorder can be cured! By expanding your borders a little at a time and being willing to begin interacting with others socially a little at a time will facilitate the process.