There are social situations in which almost everyone experiences fear to a greater or lesser extent, such as when speaking to a full house of people. So experiencing social anxiety under certain circumstances is very common. With a social phobia, however, someone experiences anxiety in many social situations, including situations where most people feel fairly relaxed.
Incidentally, it is not the case that people with a social phobia are ‘afraid’ of people or cannot stand a crowd. They are more afraid of being judged negatively by other people, in situations where what is expected of them from a social point of view.
People with a social phobia are often very aware of themselves in social situations. In doing so, they pay close attention to themselves and judge themselves through the eyes of others. They think others disapprove or view them as inferior. People with a social phobia fill in the thoughts of others, as it were.
Social phobia symptoms
The main characteristic of social phobia is the persistent fear of being negatively judged by other people in social situations.
The fear can relate to different areas, such as behavior (appearing clumsy or ‘stupid’), physical reactions (flushing, trembling) and appearance (‘they will find me ugly’) or self-image (‘they will not like me ‘). Social phobia is not exactly the same for everyone.
Simple social phobia
Some people find one specific situation especially scary, we speak of a ‘simple social phobia’. A common example of this is the fear of urinating in public. Even if they still have to go to the toilet if necessary, urinating when others are around will not work.
Generalized social phobia
When the social phobia occurs in many different situations, we speak of a ‘generalized social phobia’.
Differences in social functioning
Furthermore, there are differences in their social functioning between people. Some people are especially scared to perform in front of a group, while others are especially scared to connect with others. The latter phenomenon sometimes occurs in stutterers; when they perform in a play in front of a full house and are in their ‘role’, they can suddenly speak fluently. After the play, however, when they start a chat informally, the stuttering starts again.
How does social phobia develop?
Not much is known about the exact cause of the social phobia. Below you can read about the possible factors that play a role in the development of this phobia.
Negative social experience
From stories of people with a social phobia, it is concluded that a negative social experience is sometimes the starting point of the social phobia. This could be, for example, a rejection, being embarrassed in a group, or making a big blunder. Conversely, however, not everyone who makes a fool of themselves develops a social phobia.
Construction could also play a role in the development of this. Shy people are more likely to develop social phobia than non-shy people.
A lot is known from research about factors that ensure that a social phobia that has arisen once does not disappear so easily and keeps itself going. These factors are described below.
Nowadays it is assumed that people with social phobia are very aware of themselves and therefore pay too much attention to their own body signals. In social situations, thoughts such as ‘they will probably find me stupid’ or ‘if the attention is not focused on me because then I will blush’.
The result of this is that these people are suddenly very aware of themselves. This makes them tense and insecure so that they are indeed less ‘handy’ or ‘spontaneous’ and may also show physical reactions, such as shaking, trembling, or stuttering. With this, they confirm the negative view of themselves with regard to their social behavior, and the circle is closed.
Underestimation of their own social functioning
Research has also shown that people with social phobia underestimate their social functioning and overestimate the ‘dangers’ of their social performance. For example, they overestimate the reaction of others.
A common fear is that ‘everyone’ will see them blush when this is rarely the case. Research also shows that people with social phobia underestimate their social skills: they can function much better socially than they themselves think.
Social phobia, Is it serious and what can you expect?
People with social phobia suffer a lot from their fear. The phobia often has major consequences for their daily life. The lives of people with this become more complicated because they are constantly living in conflict with the stresses caused by their social functioning. Sometimes they have to come up with excuses to avoid being confronted with the dreaded social situation.
However, giving in to fear is not a solution either; it often feels unsatisfactory. People with social phobia often say that they prefer to just be spontaneous and easy to interact with others. They want this, but they dare not.
Some people know how to overcome this through a stimulating partner or new experiences. However, social phobia does not usually go away on its own. It turns out that because of a social phobia many people leave their talents and opportunities unused. These people turn down a promotion or a fun adventure: not because they would not want to or cannot, but because they do not dare.
Depression and stress
symptoms Problems that often accompany social phobia are depression and physical stress symptoms. People with this can end up in social isolation, resulting in depressive symptoms.
Depression and social phobia can reinforce each other. Social phobia reinforces feelings of inferiority, causing depressive symptoms. Many people then withdraw in response to their depression.
Some people with social anxiety disorder try to reduce their tension by using excessive amounts of alcohol beforehand or during certain social activities. This can lead to alcohol dependence.
See also, Depression after delivery
When to see the doctor?
If you recognize the characteristics in yourself and are also troubled by it, it is advisable to contact your general practice. Your doctor will likely refer you for professional psychological help.
In some cases, medications are prescribed to reduce anxiety symptoms. In the short term, these can help, but in the long term, this is rarely a solution.
Another important disadvantage of anti-anxiety drugs is that habituation and dependence can develop. It is better to work on the causes of social phobia, on the tendency to underestimate oneself in social situations.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Research has shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective in tackling social phobia. Considerable progress can often be made in ten to fifteen sessions. Such treatment often involves exercises to help you overcome your fear.
Most psychologists and psychotherapists and mental health facilities can help you with this. Some institutions also specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder.
The best thing to do is to find a therapist you really trust and feel comfortable with. People with social phobia sometimes find it difficult to express their wishes and expectations. However, if this does not happen, the treatment sometimes ends in disappointment. It is important that you are aware of this.
What can you do about it yourself?
In general, it is good for people with social anxiety disorder to seek professional help. Yet there are situations in which you would like to do something about your complaints yourself.
You can get started with the advice below. You can also use them in addition to the treatment you are following. In this case, it may be useful to discuss these advice with your therapist.
- Understand the nature of your social anxiety disorder. You can use this information folder for this. Determine which social situations and/or circumstances make you anxious and avoid them in response.
- As difficult as this is, try to direct your attention outward as much as possible. If you are giving a speech and you feel certain physical reactions arise, try to focus your attention on something outside yourself, such as on the chairs or a painting. This shift in attention helps to escape the vicious circle of inward attention and fear. You can train yourself in this by also ‘playing’ with shifting your attention in situations that do not evoke fear.
- Notice if you also ‘fill in’ the thoughts of others. Do you often think along the lines of ‘they will think that…’? If so, try to convince yourself that you cannot read minds.
- Ask others what they think of you. Then compare this with your suspicions of what others think about you. You will find that others often feel less negatively about you than you think.
- Don’t try to ‘fight’ against physical reactions, such as flushing and shaking or being ‘nervous’. It is better to elicit such reactions on purpose. Try to accept yourself with these ‘phenomena’. Try to think like ‘they should just take me as I am’. Difficult as this may be, try to see your physical response as your own, not your enemy.
- Try to think in terms of risk. Suppose others see you blush, what’s the worst that could happen? You will find that such phenomena do not have to be a threat at all. Overcoming social phobia often involves trial and error. After small successes, it seems as if nothing has changed at all. Overcoming social anxiety takes small steps at a time and a lot of practice. Don’t let this discourage you.
General advice and precautions
As mentioned, social phobia can have major consequences and seriously disrupt the enjoyment of your daily life. Convince yourself that you are more than just your social anxiety disorder. Your social anxiety disorder is an aspect of you, but you are much more than that. Also, pay due attention to those aspects of your life that give you pleasure and satisfaction.
When the social anxiety disorder leads to other problems, such as excessive alcohol consumption, depression or dependence on anti-anxiety drugs, it is highly advisable to do something about it. It is best to get the help of your doctor.
People with social phobia often experience physical tension complaints and have doubts about their appearance. Physical activity and sports can help reduce physical tension and often make you feel better about your own body. Sports and physical activity also often improve your mood.
Share Social phobia with others. Add your valuable comments bellow.