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Making Sense Of The Difference Between Selective Mutism and Social Anxiety

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Last updated on June 7, 2019

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Do you wonder if you or someone in your life has Social Anxiety or if it’s perhaps Selective Mutism?

A fine line exists between selective mutism and social anxiety, no wonder you may feel confused.

In fact, the two usually coexist.

Although research on selective mutism is scarce, increasingly more clinicians believe selective mutism is an anxiety-related condition and a symptom of severe social anxiety.

So, treatment for one will often also help as a treatment for the other, that’s how interlinked they are.

As a cub, AnxietyPanda had Selective Mutism.
Advice and information around psychiatric conditions weren’t as accessible as these days.
It was also a time where these sorts of conditions confused those who were uninformed. As a result, they often ignored the symptoms.

They left AnxietyPanda’s Selective Mutism undiagnosed and untreated and it advanced to Social Anxiety during her teen-bear years.

As an adult bear, she has conquered her Selective Mutism to a degree where it now only shows itself on rare occasions, such as when meeting authoritative figures for the first time.

Luckily, she has found methods and means to cope with her social anxiety with the aid of resources online, self-help books and working with her PsychologyPanda.

What is Selective Mutism (SM)?

Selective Mutism is an Anxiety related condition, and it affects an extremely small portion of the population compared to Social Anxiety.
Those who are suffering from it cannot communicate with certain individuals or crowds, for example, strangers or distant relatives.
They can, however, hold regular conversations and maintain good eye contact with their close friends, family members or other individuals that make them feel comfortable.

People with Selective Mutism often WANT to communicate with you, the stranger, but are just incapable of doing so.
This is due to irrational fears of being humiliated or judged.
Sometimes they genuinely can not think of anything to say at all. These type of fears causes them to lose their speaking capabilities.

The person with Selective Mutism often avoids situations that will force them to interact with people that make them uncomfortable.
It is not surprising, considering the amount of trauma it can cause them.

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Are you searching for more information about Selective Mutism such as what is Selective Mutism in children or adults, respectively?
Please continue ahead and also read the supporting two articles by AnxietyPanda – the links will open in a new tab:

What is Selective Mutism in Children?

What is Selective Mutism in Adults?

What is Social Anxiety (SA)?

Social Anxiety is also a condition that causes you irrational fear of being judged or humiliated and will usually lead to feelings of inferiority or inadequacy.
Millions of people around the world suffer from it.

An individual suffering from Social Anxiety will not lose their ability to speak as with Selective Mutism.
They will, however, present other manifestations of anxiety such as blushing, trembling, sweating or muscle twitches to mention only a few.

The person suffering from Social Anxiety normally prefers to be alone and will avoid social engagements at any costs.
The isolation often leads to depressive states.

What is the difference between SM and SA?

Many similarities between Social Anxiety and Selective Mutism exist and the two conditions are often diagnosed simultaneously.
So, you can imagine that it is easy to get confused between the two.

Are you confused about what is the difference between Selective Mutism and Social Anxiety?
Don‘t worry!
AnxietyPanda will now highlight a few of the differences.
Hopefully, this will help you have a stronger understanding of these two conditions.

Selective Mutism and Social Anxiety Comparison

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As you can see from the above infographic, the differences are subtle and it’s best to get a proper diagnosis with the help of your physician.

Treatments that will help for both conditions

Because the two conditions present so many similarities, treatment for the one will likewise help to treat the other.

Typically, treatment for Selective Mutism will take longer, depending on when diagnosis takes place and when treatment starts.
When the two conditions coexist, doctors will invariably treat SM first.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is by far one of the most effective and helpful treatments available to improve your autonomous functioning.

A doctor may apply the following approaches, including but not limited to the ones below for both Selective Mutism and Social Anxiety treatment:

Did you know you can get CBT online at a fraction of the cost of face-to-face therapy? Click here to find out more!

Positive Reinforcement – Positive reinforcement is used to reward positive behavior.
Positive behavior may include milestones, such as the sufferer attending a social occasion or successfully being able to speak to someone not well-known to them, out of their own.
Rather than punishing or forcing them when they are not doing these actions, reward them when they do accomplish them on their own.

Extinction – They train you to ignore the undesirable behavior until the shortage of attention to the issue causes the behavior to stop.

Systematic Desensitization – This type of therapy is based on the principle of classical conditioning.

First, the patient will engage in a relaxation technique or breathing exercises.
Then the patient will think of a situation that causes them anxiety.
Starting with the least fearful and progressively working up to the most unpleasant experience thinkable, all the while practicing the relaxation techniques.

The patient can only proceed on to the next stage of anxiety if they have conquered the fear of the current anxiety.
If they can’t progress past a particular level, they will restart again from the beginning.

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In vitro or in vivo exposure – In vitro exposure is when the sufferer imagines exposure to a specific phobic stimulus, such as with systematic desensitization.

In vivo exposure is when the sufferer is exposed to a phobic stimulus.
This includes placing the patient in social situations starting from least threatening and gradually working up to most threatening.


Although AnxietyPanda recommends medication only in severe situations where the condition significantly affects your everyday life, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) has proven to be remarkably successful in the treatment of both selective mutism and social anxiety disorder.
It’s worth looking into.
Other drugs include Prozac and Zoloft.

If you are suffering from social anxiety or selective mutism, you may feel frustrated by the limitations placed on your everyday life.
You may feel resentful at the inability to express yourself.
You may even feel ashamed of your own self-perceived inadequacy.

But, never give up hope and don’t let these type of thoughts and emotions consume you.

By educating yourself and those around you about your condition, you will pave the way to a better understanding, acceptance, and love – not only from those around you but also from yourself.

Never be afraid to be yourself.
This is easier said than done, but with the appropriate reinforcement and encouragement, it DOES become easier.

Your life has a meaning and a purpose, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.

Go for it – be the finest you can be. Get that treatment if you need to. Go to that support group meeting you’ve wanted to attend for a while now. Read that self-help book that’s been peering at you from the bookcase for quite some time now.

Whatever it is that you need. Just do it.

Do you have Social Anxiety or Selective Mutism? Both?

Let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear from you!

Also, feel free to share this article in order to raise awareness for both of these debilitating conditions.

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    I am suffering from severe anxiety, and I have been searching online and review many site to find lasting solution to my problem , stumbled to your site has given me relieve to find solution to my chronic anxiety. This information is a comprehensive solution to severe anxiety. I have bookmarked this blog for the next post to enjoy more of your intellectual capability. Thank for offer such value

  2. Jim Jim

    What a great post. Thank you Anxiety Panda. Although I personally don’t have an issue with anxiety, my wife does. Your article has made it very clear to me that she is suffering from ‘Selective Mutism’ . Over the years I have noticed more and more her reluctance to go out and meet new people. I was a business man , and that meant lots of meetings both professionally and socially , but my wife would always find an excuse not to come. It’s gotten so bad that she doesn’t like to attend weddings or funerals. Why I think its selective mutism is because she is fine with our own small band of relatives and friends. She hates crowds and if she is stuck in one she can actually become disorientated. You make some great on ‘Cognitive behavioral therapy’, I think this is the road we need to take. I just have to convince her. Do you know how I can calm her down enough to take the first steps?  Jim

    • AnxietyPanda AnxietyPanda

      Hey there Jim, AnxietyPanda is glad that you now have a better understanding of your wife’s condition. 

      Your understanding will go a long way in helping her cope.

      Why not introduce her to online therapy? We suggest but there are many others available. This will enable her to attend therapy in a safe and comfortable environment at a time most convenient to her. 

      We have an article on the advantages of online therapy available for you to read HERE. Hope you will find this useful.


  3. Mary Mary

    This is a very informative post. It helped me to learn the difference between Social Mutism and Social Anxiety. I have a relative that behaves awkwardly in social situations, so I think he probably suffers from one of these conditions.

    Do you have a recommendation for his family members? Should they just let him to be alone as much as he wants or encourage to participate in family events?

    Is there a good book they can read that will help them to manage the relationships with a person with Social Anxiety?

    • AnxietyPanda AnxietyPanda

      Hi Mary, thank you for commenting!

      AnxietyPanda would recommend not pushing the relative to do anything they do not want to do. This might just make the problem worse. Best is to offer as much support, love and understanding. Educating them about their conditions could bring them to a point where they recognize their own symptoms and want to get help out of their own. 

      If you’re looking for a book to work with them, AnxietyPanda suggests the book “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” – read our review article here. You will also find other anxiety related books in this review 🙂

      The website, Goodreads, also offer an excellent list of books specifically related to Social Anxiety – click here 🙂

  4. This is a very educational post. It helped me to understand the difference between Social Mutism and Social Anxiety. I have a relative that behaves awkwardly in social situations and I suspect he has one of these conditions. What approach do you recommend for the family members of such a person? Should they let him be alone as much as he wants or encourage him to get more socially exposed?
    Is there any useful guide to read about it?

  5. Pet Pet

    Thanks for spreading the great work! I did not know about selective mutism until I read your article. That is so interesting how the difference is you make a choice. I don’t know if I have any of the two diagnoses but I do know I enjoy my alone a little too much sometimes. I like being alone but can be around people as long as it is on my terms and I get to choose if I want to interact with them or not. Would you call that anxiety?



    • AnxietyPanda AnxietyPanda

      Hi Pet 🙂

      If there is no fear involved, AnxietyPanda would call that being an Introvert 😉 

  6. rogerf20 rogerf20


    As someone who suffers from Social Anxiety, this was a very helpful article, for a long time I struggled to understand my condition.I never understood why I used to start shaking in front of people and not get my words out properly or why my hands shook in public, it was very frustrating but after I was diagnosed, I could finally start to understand my problem. I think self affirmation is very important because I used to be so critical of myself and thought that people were thinking the same. That kind of thought process is very damaging. 

  7. Norman Norman

    Thanks a lot for sharing. While I had been aware of social anxiety disorder, this is the first time I have heard of selective mutism. While I’ve never suffered from either, I have known people who demonstrated some of the symptoms of selective mutism, and now I ask myself, could I have come face to face with the condition without having realized it? 

    With regards to treatment, my gut feeling would be to try other options such as cognitive behavioral therapy, before trying medication, although I do not doubt the effectiveness of this treatment option as well. I thin that is a matter of going case by case, and seeing which solutions could be most effective in given circumstances. 

    Thanks, and all the best!

  8. Dale Dale

    My wife suffers from sever anxiety so I am always looking at these types of websites and reviews to see how I should be handling the situation from my side.  It seems that even reading articles about different forms of anxiety I still learn something.  There is so much help and info on this website that it is great.  I keep it in my favorites and always watch for something new.

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