Jonathan Berent, L.C.S.W., author of “Beyond Shyness” (Simon & Schuster) and “Work Makes Me Nervous” (Wiley) has identified technology compulsion as the gateway to an alternate reality for individuals of all ages afflicted with social anxiety and avoidant personality.
Berent explains “the fact that texting has replaced talking as the most common form of communication characterizes a societal shutdown of the neural pathways required for verbal communication specifically, and social skills in general. Society’s massive and rapidly developing technology dependence is enabling a dramatic increase in selective mutism, which is a variation of obsessive compulsive disorder and a speaking phobia. Using technology to communicate rather than talking has become a way of life for many”.
Current statistics put selective mutism as occurring in 7 out of 1000 children. Berent adds “I have seen countless adolescents and adults with this disorder. In fact many of my patients with public speaking anxiety, which is the world’s number one phobia, identify selective mutism as the driving force of their performance anxiety. The most common phrase that I have heard from thousands of patients in forty years of practice is “I have nothing to say” or “I don’t know what to say”.”
Individuals with social anxiety are the most at risk for phone compulsion because of their tendency to avoid direct human interaction. The degree of interactive avoidance is an important diagnostic for measuring the degree of the overall anxiety problem. Over-dependence on technology sustains avoidance. Social anxiety is currently the most common anxiety disorder. It is driven by performance dynamics. Given society’s relentless pursuit for productivity and its technology dependence, social anxiety disorder has already reached epidemic proportions.
For insight into the connection between avoidance and technology consider the following case examples which are very common.
“Rob” age 26 lives at home with his parents. He left college after a few days because of social anxiety. While he has had a few jobs he has been unemployed most of the time. He stays up most of the night and sleeps most of the day. He has not had a “girlfriend” since junior high school. He does not have a social life. He spends over 70 hours per week gaming online. One of his biggest fears is having a conversation with someone outside of his family. He has no initiative for his mental health. He has no ambition. All he cares about is his online world or alternative universe!
“Janice” age 15 experienced a panic attack when her parents took away her I-Phone. Her FMO (fear of missing out) turned into a compulsion to always be on her phone at the expenses of her school work and other responsibilities. Not having her phone, on which most of her social life was based, caused her to be depressed.
Al, age 40, was human resources professional. For months he never verbally participated in his weekly staff meeting because he believed he had nothing to offer. He was eventually fired. In social situations his anxiety was so high that he often made believe he was talking on his phone to avoid conversion.
A free clinical library with rare interviews with individuals and families who have achieved life-changing results with The Berent Method is available.
Jonathan Berent, L.C.S.W., A.C.S.W., has pioneered psychotherapy for social anxiety and has worked with thousands of individuals since 1978. His website www.socialanxiety.com has had over three million visitors.
Rob went to college for a week until his social anxiety got the best of him and he retreated home. At age 26 he worked sporadic jobs with no continuity, socialized occasionally with one friend, and spent most of his awake time playing computer games.
Jadine, age 20, like Rob, dropped out of art school after a short stint and retreated to her room where for two years she rarely communicated with her mom because of her selective mutism. She spent her days with various pursuits online. She had an online “boyfriend”. She had no friends with whom she socialized in person. She stayed up all night and slept for most of the day.
Mike at age 20 was school phobic since elementary school. He had no friends since age 7. He did not work. The only activities that were meaningful for him were video games and college football.
So; if you are a parent of an individual with similar profiles do you say to yourself “my child will grow out of the problem” or I’ll take him or her to a therapist to fix the situation?
Let me help you here. I can assure you that when the child reaches their 20’s there is no way simply growing out of the problem will happen. In fact; believing it could is either a cognitive distortion or delusion. And if you think taking your dependent to any therapist (if they will go) is a viable answer please consider the following content.
After thirty eight years of clinical experience with thousands of social anxiety patients of all ages I can say, with the utmost of integrity, that one of the primary reasons the mental health community has remained helpless in its attempt to provide productive treatment for social anxiety is the confusion regarding avoidance and dependence. In clinical terms I am addressing DSM V 301.82 Avoidant Personality Disorder and DSMV 301.60 Dependent Personality Disorder.
October 16, 2012
By Cortney Casey, C & G Staff Writer
The approximately 250 strangers conversing amongst themselves fell silent and turned their attention to Patty Kukes as she stepped to the podium on Sept. 27.
It was the kind of setting that would have constituted her son Andy’s worst nightmare. But that was precisely the point of “Misunderstood No More,” a presentation put on by the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety and hosted by Macomb County Community Mental Health Services.
“I’m very nervous today. I’m not a public speaker, but I’m up here in front of all of you,” said Patty Kukes, flanked by her ex-husband, Jeff. “Our son, Andy, couldn’t have even walked into this room. He had social anxiety — and it literally killed him.”
Andy, she said, “had every chance at a wonderful life.” He was an athlete, valedictorian of his high school class and a Princeton graduate. But even after seeking help from a series of therapists, he became virtually homebound “because he was so afraid of being judged, how his performance would be perceived,” she said.
Andy Kukes fatally shot himself July 14, 2009. He was 30 years old.
His suicide prompted the family — originally from Bloomfield Hills, now living in Florida — to launch a nonprofit organization in his memory in hopes of preventing future tragedies.
Social anxiety is particularly daunting to treat because it doesn’t manifest itself as obviously or outwardly as a severe physical injury or disease, yet its consequences can be equally grave, said Patty Kukes.
“If someone is blushing when they’re talking to you and sweating and very distressed and can’t look you in the eye, they’re sick on the inside,” she said. “Is it best to ignore that? Can we help them? Is it best to walk away?”
Social worker Jonathan Berent, who’s worked with social-anxiety patients since the mid-1970s, addressed those questions and more during the presentation, before a crowd of health-care professionals and laypeople at the Best Western Plus Sterling Inn Banquet & Conference Center Sept. 27.
As social anxiety is a disease of detachment, the key is getting patients to attach — which means they need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, said Berent, author of “Beyond Shyness: How to Conquer Social Anxieties” and “Work Makes Me Nervous: Overcome Anxiety and Build the Confidence to Succeed.”
Social anxiety sufferers often develop a sense of hyper-vigilance in childhood, “a defensive radar that can cause burnout” as the nervous system works overtime, said Berent.
They start believing a never-ending internal script that tells them they’re inferior. Anxiety typically leads to avoidance, and sufferers often put off seeking treatment or turn to the Internet for “magic” remedies, he said.
Addressing adrenaline control is among treatment techniques, said Berent. Patients are encouraged to have realistic expectations: Instead of hoping an uncomfortable situation won’t spark an adrenaline rush, “accept the adrenaline-driven visceral response as a source of power and your friend,” he said.
Take one or two diaphragmatic breaths, then “surf” the wave of adrenaline instead of resisting it, he said.
“The surfer goes with the adrenaline; he or she is in control,” he said. “You do not go with it, you get smashed around. That’s a panic attack.”
According to Berent, working with enablers in the patient’s life also is crucial. If parents are contacting a therapist on their child’s behalf, they need to come in to get on board with the system of treatment, he said.
Besides events like the Sept. 27 community presentation, the Andrew Kukes Foundation offers two versions of a 10-hour intensive course helmed by Berent: one on DVD for professionals pursuing educational credits and one online for families, who can watch it for a donation, said Lori Blumenstein-Bott, the organization’s executive director.
Through its website, the foundation also is offering webinars with subject-matter experts, live-stream discussions with Patty and Jeff Kukes, questionnaires assessing social anxiety symptoms, aggregated relevant articles, links and other resources.
“Through awareness and education, the conversation begins,” said Blumenstein-Bott. “That’s how we want to build that message on a national level. The more lives you touch with this, the more people start talking about it.”
For more information on the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety, visit www.akfsa.org or call (561) 921-5151.
You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (586)498-1046.