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FEAR OF PEOPLE

Are you afraid of other people? Many people are afraid of meeting anybody new, and especially of having to speak in a group of people. This fear of people is called “social phobia.” It often begins from bullying in childhood, or from some embarrassing experience in early life.

Fear of people is a bigger problem nowadays than it used to be. In the past most people lived all their life in one village where they knew everyone already. Nowadays we mostly live in cities with thousands or even millions of other people, most of whom are complete strangers. Meetings are now a common feature of the workplace and in college.

Human beings are naturally sociable. For instance we have a whole set of muscles to create facial expressions, by which we can show our feelings to each other and get more comfortable in other peoples’ presence. Even though it’s now possible to shop online and work from home, we still need other people’s company.

Of course some people (called extroverts) need much more of other peoples’ company and others (called introverts) need less. But we all need some contact with other human beings, and we feel confined or deprived if we don’t have this contact.

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And now you can read on for a more in depth discussion about social phobia.

How fear of people affects behaviour

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 they fantasise about what the other person really thinks of them. Even in online conversations with strangers they worry excessively about reactions to their comments.

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. Some will prefer interacting with machines or animals rather than people. Most 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.

People with social phobia can appear rude but they’re actually vulnerable

Some other people are so sure that the other person will dislike them that they begin a conversation in an aggressive manner, so as to be superior to 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 goes against them, 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.

How fear of people arises

Generally social phobia begins with an unpleasant experience or series of experiences in early childhood. This is generally 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. 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. 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.

Overcoming social phobia

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 hurtful people. If the client can remember specific incidents in childhood which have caused the problem, then this can be addressed by a special method. (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).

DISCLAIMER Individual results may vary and unless specified, outcomes are not guaranteed.
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