What is social phobia or social anxiety?
Social phobia: one of the most common psychological disorders!
Social phobia differs from agoraphobia and specific phobias because it is related to having to act in public. In this sense, we can call social phobia a social phobia.
When panic replaces anxiety
Most of us have experienced insecurity, stress, tension when we were not sure if we were up to something and it is normal to remember this afterwards. This is not a problem in itself. However, in social phobia, it is the panic states that take the place of anxiety. Mostly it is a strong apprehension of speaking in public, eating with others, being afraid of blushing, urinating in public toilets, feeling uncomfortable, etc. It is the fear of situations where individuals become the centre of attention of others. This can be generalized to all forms of social situations. Thus, social phobia is a kind of pathological and extreme shyness that will have a significant impact on the different spheres of life, professional and personal.
Imagine yourself in the following situation:
You have a big company meeting today and your boss has asked you to speak. Negative thoughts begin to plague you and become more and more excessive as this dreaded event draws nearer. You think: “I’ll probably blush, how should I look comfortable? I’ll never be able to look normal. You have this tendency to magnify the risks of the upcoming situation and to think strictly in terms of the negative nature of experiences that have gone wrong. When the meeting starts, you need to commit to speaking up. You are obsessed with the idea of what other people will think of your speech. You are more focused on your discomfort than on the situation at hand, and you are also blocking out all the aspects that can be positive and reassuring: “Did I look stupid by answering that question? What do they have to say to each other? When the meeting finally ends, you are not relieved. You brood, and think of every little detail as a big deal: “They must have thought I was terrible, I can never improve. I’m sure I didn’t realise all my mistakes…! This new experience will once again be stored in the list of other failures. In short, you are constantly in a negative thought pattern. Representations of social events cannot be conceived in a positive way.
Distinguishing between simple anxiety and social phobia
According to Christophe André (psychiatrist at the university hospital department of Saint Anne’s Hospital in Paris), “Social anxiety is a universal phenomenon that refers to the feeling of discomfort and apprehension that any human being can feel when he or she feels subjected to the gaze of others and/or the judgement of others.
The intensity of the emotional suffering, the importance of the avoidance strategies and the repercussions on the quality of life are the criteria which make it possible to distinguish a simple anxiety from a social phobia.
In Europe, 2 to 4% of the population suffers from social phobia and it is said to be more common in women than in men. Prior to the appearance of this disorder in psychology textbooks, little research had been conducted to understand social phobia. Today, studies are still based on numerous questionnaires used to collect data, but they do not allow for a thorough understanding. It is also complicated to conduct studies with social phobics because they do not bother anyone for fear of being judged. Their disorder usually goes unnoticed because they constantly develop avoidance strategies. All their energy is spent trying to hide these avoidances because they are ashamed to tell their friends, family and even their doctor.
“No need for a grill, hell is other people.”
Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit
The role of the therapist in helping you with your social phobia
The aim of the therapists is to help you manage your anxiety so that you can gradually reduce your avoidance behaviour. You are encouraged to interact with people you don’t know well in order to develop new habits. This allows you to reduce your anxiety by seeing it as a natural human component and to generate new positive emotions through these new interactions. You will also learn other emotion management tools that you can use in any anxiety-provoking situation. In the long run, the aim is to induce habituation, no matter what means the therapist uses.