Social Phobia is an excessive fear of ordinary social interactions such as meeting new people and talking with them. It is a very common problem, and causes much unhappiness because human beings are naturally social creatures, so we feel something essential is missing from our lives if we cannot relate easily to other people.
In my experience of helping people overcome this problem, it is mainly based on the person’s fantasies about what other people might be thinking about them. People with social phobia generally assume that other people dislike them, or would dislike them if they noticed them. The less they really know about another person, the more scope they have to fantasise about what the other person really thinks of them. Even in online conversations they worry excessively about peoples’ reactions to their comments, although they often don’t even know those peoples’ real names.
This belief that other people wouldn’t like them causes three common reactions, namely avoidance, aggression, and people-pleasing.
Most people with social phobia simply avoid any contact with other people, or at least with anyone whom they don’t already know. They don’t speak to them or make eye contact. They prefer interacting with machines or animals rather than people. They prefer supermarkets to small shops where the staff might engage them in conversation, but ideally they would shop online where they only need to interact with a machine.
Some other people are so sure that the other person will dislike them that they begin a conversation in an aggressive or offensive manner, so as to be “one up” on the other person from the beginning. Of course the other person will take this as an entirely unprovoked attack and will generally hit back, causing a vicious spiral of hostility.
Alternatively, they may make desperate efforts to be liked, by praising the other person, deferring to their wishes, and giving them their time, money, attention or sexual favours. This often has the opposite effect to what was intended, because other people find this behaviour sad or creepy or embarrassing. Alternatively they may “milk” the people-pleaser for all they’re worth.
I’ve discussed HERE about how phobias generally develop.
Generally social phobia begins with an unpleasant experience or series of experiences in early childhood, probably in school which is the child’s first experience of mixing outside of the family. Children can be bullied for anything at all that singles them out from other kids, often something extremely trivial. It doesn’t actually matter what the difference is, because once bullying begins it has a life of its own. It only takes one assertive child to start the bullying. Suppose Jimmy starts to bully Tommy. Billy is afraid of Jimmy and fears Jimmy will start on him next. So Billy joins in the bullying of Tommy so that Tommy will continue in the victim role instead. Boys’ bullying tends to be physical, whereas girls’ bullying is generally more psychological, through spiteful remarks, and is even more damaging.
People with long-standing social phobia never get much practice in handling disagreements, criticism, rudeness, or even normal conversation and joking, because they find all these interactions threatening and avoid them if at all possible. They may not even know whether someone is joking in a friendly way or whether they’re deliberately being rude.
Because they never speak up for themselves, other people get used to ignoring them or making them the target of jokes, not knowing how hurtful this is. If the person ever stands up for themselves their friends or work colleagues will still tend to discount what they’re saying. They will tell each other “he’s in a mood” or “she is having PMT.” This avoids them having to change their behaviour towards the other person.
There’s more information HERE about the methods which I used to help people overcome phobias. The main focus of treatment for people suffering from social phobia is to “defuse” their excessive fear of people thinking badly of them. We must also deal with that part of their subconscious mind which has tried to protect them by keeping them away from anybody who could possibly distress them. If the client can remember specific incidents in childhood which have caused the problem, then this can be addressed by going back to that time in hypnotic trance and seeing it from an adult viewpoint. (This is not the same as regression where the client experiences the past event as if they were back there as a child. Regression can be much more distressing for the client, which is why I don’t normally use it).
By the way, social phobia is not the same as being an “introvert.” An introvert is simply a person who is comfortable in their own company and who has less need for other peoples’ company than the outgoing type or “extrovert.” An introvert can handle other people perfectly well. She doesn’t have a desperate need to be around them all the time. Introvert and Extrovert are like two ends of a scale. Most of us are in the middle, and may be a bit extrovert or a bit more introvert depending on our mood and other factors.