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  • Writer's pictureSherri M. Herman

Social Anxiety and Loneliness: Why Getting Into Community Isn't Always The Answer For Reducing Loneliness

Have you ever had that experience of feeling alone in a crowded room? Have you ever been in a group but felt like an outsider struggling to connect? I’ve been there many times, in fact, I spent most of my life feeling that way. 

If you’ve ever felt like you're on the outskirts of your own life, yearning for connection but unable to find it, stick with me. I’m going to share with you how the generally recommended advice failed me, I'll dive into the link between social anxiety and loneliness, and I'll leave you with some recommendations if you think you might struggle with social anxiety.

woman enjoying smoothie happy alone

Several years ago when I was newly divorced and feeling exceptionally lonely, I began regularly attending a very large Church in my community. Intellectually I knew that being in community and developing new relationships was an important factor in overcoming loneliness. 

I chose this particular Church because the values of the Church were in alignment with my own and it seemed to have a great Sunday School program for my son. I was excited to be a part of a large community with shared values, I loved the sermons, and my son really enjoyed his Sunday School experiences. 

However, week after week, I felt more and more lonely when I attended. While I got so much out of the sermon itself, the coffee hour left me feeling deeply sad and lonely. I looked around and saw many families, couples, grandparents, and so many people who already seemed to be good friends. 

As a single, divorced mom, I didn’t feel like I fit in. Everyone seemed to be engaged with each other and I felt entirely invisible. Even if someone spoke to me, I just assumed they were “being nice” because they felt sorry for me. I ended up feeling more alone and lonely than if I hadn’t gone at all. Have you ever had an experience like that?

I eventually stopped going to that thriving Church. Not because there was anything wrong with that community but because I couldn’t make a connection. I wasn’t willing to reach out to someone new and start a conversation. I felt too much anxiety at continuing a conversation that someone had started with me; I didn’t know what to say and I feared anything I said sounded stupid.

I felt too intimidated to join a small group. I stayed on the sidelines because I felt small, insignificant, invisible, and deeply unworthy on the inside. My mind bombarded me with so many thoughts of doubt and negative self-judgment and they won. 

My friend, if you’re anything like me I want you to know that you’re not alone. I see you. 

The vast majority of experts on loneliness recommend that if you’re feeling lonely, you should surround yourself with a supportive community. “Get into community” is what they always say. That solution truly does work for so many people, which is why it’s so popular. However, it doesn’t work for everyone for a variety of reasons. I’m here for the people that the message, “Get into community,” doesn’t work for. 

It’s simply not always that easy to just “get into community.” In fact, I feel frustrated every time I see that recommendation.

The recommendation to increase community connection lacks insight into the complexities of one’s relationship with one’s self (internal connection) and how this directly impacts social relationships (external connections). 

There is a tremendous body of research linking social-anxiety and loneliness. If you experience social-anxiety, you’re more likely to experience loneliness. However, loneliness does not typically precede social-anxiety.

If you don’t feel worthy enough to connect with other people, or experience a lot of self-doubt, negative self-judgment, or deeply fear negative judgment from others, simply joining a community is not likely to be helpful. In fact, if you struggle with negative self-judgment, joining a community can make you feel worse. It can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, fear, and shame, leading to a downward spiral. I’ve seen it time and time again in myself and so many of my clients. 

Overcoming any level of social anxiety requires:

1) A change in relationship with your thoughts
2) A change in relationship with your feelings
3) A change in behavior. 

Together, these three critical changes comprise a change in relationship with yourself. One needs to shift from a relationship dominated by fear and judgment to a relationship that is driven by acceptance and love. 

Your external relationships are a mirror of your internal relationship with yourself. How you imagine others will think of you is a reflection of how you think of yourself. If you struggle with negative self-judgment, you are more likely to fear negative judgements from others. When you practice loving self-acceptance, you are more likely to feel accepted and belonging in general. 

When you experience social-anxiety and want to experience more satisfying, connected, and meaningful relationships with others, developing a more accepting, compassionate, and loving relationship with yourself is critical.

When I look back now at my earlier experiences of trying to join that Church community, I can see so clearly that, until my relationship with myself changed, I wasn’t going to make much headway on developing new connections. I was too blocked by my own negative self-judgment and unworthiness to even think that other people could be accepting of me. 

I still struggle with some of these issues but not nearly as much as I used to. I currently work for a very large Church while I'm also personally a member of a more intimate faith community. The past version of me, before I re-worked my relationship with myself, would have been far too scared to touch either of these communities with a ten-foot pole.

You can get started on cultivating a more accepting and loving relationship with yourself by subscribing to my free give-day email series: From Loneliness to Love. I take you on a brief journey to help ignite feelings of self-love through a series of prayers and affirmations that help you connect with your idea of a Higher Power/Guidance and inner source of love. Click the button below to sign up: 

If you’re curious about your own level of possible social-anxiety, you can learn more here and even access a freely available screening tool online. Please be aware that this tool is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental health disorder. It is simply a screening tool that may be able to help you determine if you need additional support from a qualified professional.

It’s important for me to note that social-anxiety, like many other conditions, exists on a spectrum and not all levels of social-anxiety warrant a clinical diagnosis or clinical treatment. It all depends on the intensity and duration of your fear and avoidance, and how it does or does not impact your ability to function in your daily life and relationships. Only a qualified mental health professional can effectively diagnose Social-Anxiety Disorder. If you think you need the support of a therapist, you can contact your primary care doctor or your health insurance provider for a referral. You can also check out web-based resources like or to find a therapist in your area (I don't receive any kickbacks for these recommendations).

Most importantly, I want you to know that if you struggle with cultivating connections with others, you’re not alone and it’s not your fault. I’m with you and I’m here for you. Stick with me and keep following me. 

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And remember,

you are always loved no matter what.


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