Social phobia is more than shyness. It involves intense worry about being with people you don’t know, or fear of unfamiliar situations. People with social phobia worry about being judged or evaluated for their actions. And they predict that those judgments will be harsh, negative, and humiliating. They understand that their concerns are greater than warranted, but find themselves overwhelmed with strong feelings of fear. These fears lead to avoidance of people or situations that make them uncomfortable—not to mention terrified.
Children and teens with social phobia don’t answer questions in school even when they know the right answer. They don’t want to seek attention and can seem distant, unfriendly, and sometimes even arrogant to others. As adults, they may avoid speaking up at work, making presentations, being socially interactive, and being assertive. It’s understandable that those with social phobia are often underachievers—at school, at work, and in relationships.
People with social phobia usually don’t seek treatment for their condition. That makes sense, because they tend to avoid attention of any kind and rarely ask for help. They don’t want to make a call to a mental health professional or seek a referral from their medical provider. Those with social phobia may lead restricted, lonely lives because of their condition.
The suffering caused by social phobia is particularly sad because when recognized, social phobia can be treated by a mental health professional that has training in cognitive behavioral therapy. Therapy involves establishing a trusting relationship with a client and slowly expanding their exposure to the activities that the client fears.
Teachers, parents, and other adults should watch for signs of social phobia and make referrals. Adults with social phobia should make those difficult phone calls to find a professional who has CBT training (ABCT.org has a list of therapists as does Psychology Today).
Normally, I don’t like telling people what they “should” do. But I’m making an exception this time. Living with the pain of a social phobia simply isn’t something you have to put up with. This condition substantially lowers life satisfaction and it’s so treatable. So yes, you SHOULD call for help for yourself or your child now!
Photo by Timothy Tsui, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes