There is no one answer to this question, largely because like any mental health problem there can be many factors that contribute to complex problems like social anxiety and social phobia.
There is evidence that genetics and temperament play a part in many mental health problems, including social anxiety disorder. Some people seem to be born with a more sensitive or anxious temperament and this can pre-dispose them to anxiety.
Do childhood experiences contribute to social anxiety?
There is a lot of evidence that early childhood experiences may increase the chance of developing social anxiety. Such things as how well the initial “attachment experience “ with parents went, if your mother or parents were anxious, or more seriously if there were early traumas or disruptions.
Traumatic experiences throughout childhood or later in life can also contribute to a person developing social anxiety or social phobia. This can include school bullying, serious illness, parental divorce, sexual or physical abuse or severe emotional neglect.
Sometimes people find that one big disruptive life event (divorce, death of someone close etc.) can trigger social anxiety. While this can be the “straw that broke the camels back” often when we consider the whole of a persons life it is usually true that some of the above factors were present and set them up to respond to distress in this way.
Can social anxiety be treated?
My clinical experience has taught me that while there are often many common factors, each persons experience and story of their social anxiety is as unique as them. And while it may seem like the causes of social anxiety isn’t a very exact science, we know quite a bit about how to treat it successfully, regardless of the causes.