All articles in NSAC’s social anxiety blog are written by actual human beings, not artificial intelligence. Our authors are all mental health clinicians who have expertise in evidence-based treatment for social anxiety disorder, and who are affiliated with NSAC Regional Clinics and Associates.


When most people think about social anxiety, they often are worried about being judged negatively by others. Some of the common fears are being seen as boring, weird, incompetent or anxious. These fears make a lot of sense, right? We are social beings and want to be included and liked – we want to belong! If others don’t like us for some reason, then we are at risk of being alone and feeling rejected. That can be a painful experience, and one that most of us want to avoid.  

However, as a therapist, I often hear from my clients that they also feel uncomfortable when they are complimented, given positive feedback, or asked to spend time with a new friend. These seem to be indications that they are liked, so what’s the problem?  

Fear of positive evaluation

Newer research has identified that people with social anxiety also have a fear of positive evaluation. Imagine being complimented on something you did well, like a work project, for example. Well now it might follow that you would worry about these raised expectations and needing to make sure everything you do for work is perfect from now on. Or maybe it was a compliment given during a meeting, causing 20 other co-workers to look at you. Being in the spotlight can be anxiety inducing! It is possible then that being positively evaluated becomes associated with blushing or appearing anxious.

There is an even more deeply rooted reason why people might be hardwired to fear positive evaluation. Let’s recall that negative evaluation can be associated with being alone and rejected. People with social anxiety tend to think of social networks in hierarchies; there are few people at the “top” and more at the bottom. Imagine a pyramid structure. If someone is receiving regular positive feedback, then that might mean they are valued highly in this social network, thereby moving up the hierarchy. This upward movement might spark conflict among the people that were already “on top.” Conflict is often something that people with social anxiety want to avoid and of which they feel fearful.  

So what can be done?

While this seems like people are stuck in between a rock and hard place (negative evaluation leaves you lonely and positive evaluation results in conflict), there is hope yet! Many people are aware of a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) known as exposure therapy for social anxiety disorder. Typically those exposures are aimed at getting people more comfortable with the concept of being negatively judged. However, exposures can also be done to target fears of positive evaluation. They can be more passive (ie. saying “thank you!” when receiving a compliment rather than blocking it) or more intentional. An example of the latter might be talking about things that you are proud of and your accomplishments with others. 

You can even start small and start with a therapist where it might feel a bit safer. For example, give a short speech or play an instrument in session and sit with receiving positive feedback. There are so many creative ways to practice both formally and informally. 

Fear of positive evaluation is a portion of clinical assessment and treatment that is often overlooked. So it is important to increase awareness of this additional type of fear in order to make the most progress in treatment as possible!