Shyness and Social Phobia ...by Stan Hyman, PhD, LCSW
What is shyness?
Shy people are generally preoccupied with their thoughts, feelings and physical reactions. They are typically self-conscious and think of themselves in rather negative terms, often to the point of preoccupation. They will avoid social situations or engage in them for very short periods of time, having a very low tolerance for the discomfort these cause them. They will sometimes appear detached or even snobby to others who may not realize they are simply too shy to interact with them.
There are many shy people who put on a good show in public, outwardly not appearing to be shy but in their minds struggling with many self-defeating and negative thoughts. They may not always behave as though they are shy but are often experiencing a racing heartbeat, jitteriness, stomach upset and self conscious thoughts that they have learned to mask behind otherwise normal behavior.
In the extreme, shyness becomes Social Phobia. Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder is an intense, irrational, exaggerated and often desperate fear of being judged or embarrassed in almost any social or performance setting, particularly unfamiliar ones.
People who suffer with Social Phobia experience a deep dread of situations they believe will cause them to be humiliated. Even though that belief may seem irrational or nonsensical to others, socially phobic people are overwhelmed by it.
The socially phobic person might be comfortable with close friends or family, thereby not outwardly revealing the problem. However, the mere thought or mention by another of changing from a comfortable setting to one perceived as uncomfortable can provoke a severe spike in the person’s anxiety, sometimes even a panic attack.
Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder are differentiated by the intensity of feeling and reactivity to a situation or thought. Whereas the shy person may avoid certain types of settings to keep anxiety at bay, the socially phobic person will often worry about them all the time and stressing about them in advance. He will also experience higher degrees of anxiety and even panic when he is forced to function in certain situations.
Unfortunately both shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder have negative impact on almost every aspect of a person’s life. A person can become hypersensitive to criticism, seeing it as humiliating and rejecting. A simple interaction between himself and a friend or coworker can result in obsessive thoughts about how he is being judged or viewed. This type of thinking can lead to sleepless nights and an increasing sense of wariness about being with others in the future. This attitude will often negatively impact friendships and love relationships as well as an ability to advance at work.
Sometimes, in order to cope with these intense and uncontrollable feelings a person turns to drugs or alcohol as a form of medication. The use of these substances can have a calming effect at first but may ultimately lead to abuse or addiction. Food might also be used to soothe these powerful emotions. Compulsive overeating and even bulimia may follow.
Depression can result if this condition is left untreated. A person with Social Anxiety Disorder often feels trapped in his own mind, insecure, fearful and unable to break free from this all consuming problem.
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder can include Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Relaxation Therapy and medication (see my Newsletter regarding treatment). Successful treatment can change a person’s life. If you have any questions about treatment for Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder contact us today, we’re here to help.