What exactly is a social phobic afraid of? It may sound like he or she fears other people, but that is not quite the case.
Basically, a social phobic is afraid of being negatively evaluated by other people, and this eventually turns into a fear of any situation in which they could face negative judgment from others. Most people are somewhat concerned with how others see them, but social phobics are excessively worried about it. This can lead them to dread social interaction and even to avoid it.
One thing that makes social phobics interesting to psychologists is their ability to endure social situations that cause them severe distress, often without appearing to be affected.
People who have other kinds of phobias are usually visibly upset by being near the object or situation they fear. People with social phobia, however, can be exposed to stressful social situations repeatedly, and those around them are likely to overlook their extreme anxiety.
Unfortunately, being in these highly stressful settings on a regular basis has not been shown to alleviate the excessive fear a social phobic feels. Because of this, a person with social phobia who does not seek professional treatment for his or her condition may continue to suffer in silence for a longer period of time.
Repeated exposure to a highly stressful object or situation with no alleviation of the anxious thoughts is not healthy for a social phobic, which is why it is important that he or she receive treatment.
In a previous article, we considered the effects of focusing on one’s own internal state while in a social situation (i.e., thinking “I feel uncomfortable” or “I think everyone is looking at me” or “I shouldn’t have worn this, now everyone thinks I look fat”).
An interesting paper titled “Information Processing in Social Phobia” examines the typical thought patterns and mindset of a person with social phobia.
The authors of the study propose that even before a social phobic enters a social setting, he or she begins to have overly negative thoughts about the situation (e.g., “This will be a disaster,” “I hate these gatherings, they’re so uncomfortable”).
This perspective, in turn, causes the social phobic to behave in a way that will contribute to his or her negative experience. He or she is already prepared to be seen in a negative light and to feel uncomfortable in the social situation. According to the paper, people take note of the social phobic’s behavior, without recognizing it to be due to anxiety, and they usually react by being less friendly or polite than they normally would. Essentially, the social phobic’s thoughts lead to certain behaviors which cause his or her fears to be realized (rather like a self-fulfilling prophecy).
Because avoidance and frequent discomfort in social situations can harm a social phobic’s quality of life, treatment from a licensed mental health professional is recommended.