Social Phobia - Social Phobia Has Its Reasons

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The DSM-IV, which is the bible of diagnostic descriptions for psychological ailments describes Social Phobia (which is also known as Social Anxiety Disorder ). It uses the following criteria:

  • A strongly repeated fear of at least one social or performance situation that involves facing strangers or being watched
  • There is often a particular fear of showing signs of anxiety such as blushing, trembling or sweating
  • The phobic situation almost always causes intense anxiety ...sometimes leading to a panic attack.
  • The Socially Phobic person realizes that the fear is excessive
  • The person either avoids the situation or endures it with distress.

While these points provide a clear description of the characteristic patterns of Social Phobia as a disorder, they do not offer any explanation for why a person should react in this way.

Social Phobia has it's reasons...
Social Phobia is not a medical condition or a disease that afflicts some unfortunate individuals by accident. It may surprise you to consider it in this way since social phobics tend more to worry about it in terms of what they cannot do, but Social Phobia is actually a purposeful interpersonal behavior.

Social Phobia is a form of self-overprotection from perceived social threats. In layman's terms.... Social phobics are afraid of other people.

Social Phobia is an interpersonal pattern of behavior which is most likely to appear and cause distress when a person feels that their social goals of asserting their wishes or gaining approval from others are dangerously unattainable or likely to fail. These beliefs cause great distress and prevent normal social functioning. It becomes difficult to be a full participant in the social life of the group or community.

Social Phobia hides inside other behaviors
The "typical" Social Phobic....
"A", who was much criticized as a child, avoids speaking in groups for fear of being corrected or sounding foolish. He avoids groups containing confident looking or sounding people who are especially intimidating to him.

But these are also Social Phobic behaviors...

"B" chooses to "Do as she is told" rather than risk criticism ... and when occasionally she does not comply with another's wishes she justifies herself with elaborate excuses why she could not.

"C" hides her social fears from her husband but in order to avoid social obligations related to his job she "forget" them or has "scheduling conflicts" . This creates tension in the marriage because her husband finds her hard to pin down and "irresponsible."

"D"" always tries to be perfect. He sets great store by propriety in appearance and manners. Imperfections and inadequacies of any kind need to be carefully hidden from others.

Social phobia is a set of interpersonal fears and behaviors which goes far deeper than simply not daring to speak up in public

Social phobics seek security in being liked .
Social phobics are very concerned with making a good impression

  • Usually try to make themselves agreeable, smile and nod
  • They are conciliatory and willing to take the blame to defuse conflicts
  • They propitiate and appease others
  • They carefully hide any sign of resentment or disappointment

They prefer to be passive participants in social life

  • They do not challenge others
  • They do not take charge
  • They stay out of power struggles
  • Fall in with the initiatives of others
  • Give in too easily to pressure or intimidation

Perfectionistic concerns

  • They try to stay out of trouble by being blameless
  • To this end they may adopt stringent standards of manners and morals

They avoid novelty

  • They experience change as menacing
  • Avoiding mistakes is more important than having experiences or learning new things

Positive qualities of social phobics
Social phobics often do very well in intimate relationships where affection, respect and dependency are mutual.
Socially phobic individuals can often be very caring, sensitive and subtle friends, partners or colleagues since the same sensitivity that drives their fearful behavior makes them sensitive observers to other people's needs.

Social phobia is not every where or all the time
Social phobia is not always evident. Phobic responses are not "monolithic" ... they can be very finely differentiated and can be very different from situation to situation depending on the perceived level of danger.

Social phobia is "Fearing People"
Some social phobia stems from obviously hurtful previous experiences or damaging relationships and some individuals are simply innately more sensitive to being bruised by the natural roughness of human interaction.

Working to heal Social Phobia
Cognitive and behavioural treatments are proven and highly effective tools to change behaviors in the specific and clearly defined situations that trigger anxiety, especially performance anxiety around presentation and social interactions.
Cognitive treatments include:

  • Learning ways to reduce or control the feared and embarrassing physical responses and to lower anxiety.
  • Social skills are often taught and practiced to permit more assurance in social interactions.

It may also be helpful to consider longer term psychodynamic or other "talk therapy" in order to address deeper emotional causes of social anxiety...the beliefs and attitudes and earlier experiences which have created the "fear of people"... since addressing the deeper fears permits more flexibility in independently dealing with new future situations as they arise.

Over-all Social phobia is a comprehensive pattern of behaviors that is intended to protect the sufferer against the threat of being hurt by others.

Seen in this light who among us can say that they have never been Socially Phobic...afraid of people?

Stravynski, A. (2007) Fearing Others: the Nature and treatment of Social Phobia. NewYork, Cambridge University Press.

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Susan Meindl has 1 articles online

Susan Meindl, MA, is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Montreal Canada. She has a special interest in Jungian ideas and practices a Jungian approach to psychodynamic psychotherapy

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Social Phobia - Social Phobia Has Its Reasons

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This article was published on 2010/04/02