Social Phobia Explained

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Social Phobia is best described as having an abnormal or excessive amount of anxiety about mixing with other people, usually to such a degree that such situations are avoided at all costs.

In every case of Social Anxiety there is a fear on the part of the sufferer that they will be thought badly of by others. In some cases this is brought about because the sufferer is afraid they may have a panic attack and embarrass themselves. In this respect this type of Social Phobia is more akin to Agoraphobia. 

I used to run courses for groups of patients. When first offered the chance to attend such a course the patient would invariably say that they can't do groups. When asked further about this, it generally transpired that they worry too much about what other people were thinking about them.

I then point out that everyone tends to tell me that. But if each person attending has anxiety and is worrying what others are thinking of them and focusing on themselves, who is left to be thinking about you!

How does Social Phobia develop in the first place?

Social Phobia develops for many reasons but it is usually either based upon a general lack of self confidence and low self esteem, or from a particular bad experience when the person concerned was severely embarrassed.

How can I overcome a Social Phobia?

If it has come about from a specific bad experience, even though the feelings may have generalized and linked themselves to other similar situations as well, the root cause is still one particular situation. If the person can become desensitized to that (by following the approach described for overcoming a specific phobia) then the anxiety can slowly be reduced.

The more difficult Social Phobia is based upon long childhood experience of being mistreated or belittled. Although the general techniques for overcoming anxiety described on the other pages here can help reduce the actual anxiety symptoms, the sufferer may need more specific help from their own therapist.

Piaget described a period of early child development as the 'Egocentrism'. During this period young children are incapable of understanding the feelings of anyone but themselves.

Furthermore they behave as if the world revolves around them alone. If there is a very young child in your family just observe them and notice this.

In many ways, people who have a degree of social phobia are generally showing this same self focus. People who experience untoward anxiety in social situations are locked into their own thoughts about themselves and their behaviour, albeit in a fearful way.

The key to coping with a social event is to forget about yourself and focus instead on the other people. People who perform on stage or speak in front of large groups are actually concerned about getting their message across to those listening. They are not wondering what the audience is thinking of them!

There is a website here about public speaking which may contain some helpful tips.

Really it doesn't matter at all what other people think!

And this is why...

When patients tell me they dislike social situations and I ask them why, I am often told that it's because they are worrying what other people think of them. When asked why they worry about that they often say that they want to be liked by everyone. I then describe a bit of the American psychologist, George Kelly's, Personal Construct Theory, devised in 1955.

Kelly's Personal Construct Theory

George Kelly said that we each view the world according to what's important to us.

For example, let's imagine you have always believed your nose to be the wrong shape. You want to have plastic surgery and are saving up for it. If you went to a party last night and today I ask you how it went and, "What were their noses like?" You'd be able to tell me because if you have a strong belief about your own nose, the first thing you will notice in others is their noses.

If, on the other hand, you do not have a hang-up about your nose and I posed the same question, you'd think I was barmy.

woman with a complex about her nose
Woman with nose complex at party

Other people will see you through their own eyes and not yours. You may be the nicest person who ever lived but somebody will hate you for some reason - maybe because they are jealous of your dress, because your parents aren't divorced, because you passed the exam, etc.

You could be the best person who ever lived - but somebody would hate you simply because they were jealous of you.

Therefore, it is really a total waste of time to try to make people like you because you don't have that power in the end. People who try to spend all their time being liked by everyone are actually shaping their own thoughts and behaviours to nothing in particular and as a result end up as a nothing in particular.

All you can do is be yourself, be true to your own ideals.

Then you will attract to you the sort of people who will relate well to you and you repel the others. After all, who wants to spend time with people who are not really on the same wavelength whatever that may be.

We are not robots. There will always be those who hold totally different views about all sorts of things and no one of us can ever hope to be liked by everyone else even some of the time, let alone all of it. 

You can get FREE pdf download of a booklet I wrote describing this reasoning in return for subscribing to occasional email updates from Anxaid.

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"How to be Liked"

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Other pages which may be of interest:

  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. Fears and Phobias
  3. Social Phobia