Social phobia is a common condition affecting many individuals. It describes a feeling of extreme fear of being scrutinized, leading to humiliation and embarrassment, in either social or evaluative situations. It is an incapacitating fear of being negatively judged. Evaluative situations include public speaking and job interviews, although eating, drinking, or writing in public also fall into this category. The individual’s extreme discomfort in these situations may provoke a panic attack. It’s important to note that social phobia goes well beyond shyness, although shyness is a component of social phobia.
Research on social phobias has identified several common characteristics, including:
- There is a prevalence of frequent, confidence-draining thoughts, such as, ''Everyone is going to see what an idiot I am,” or, “I'm going to completely blow it.'' These self-defeating thoughts reinforce the fear and anxiety of social situations.
- Individuals with social phobia give themselves a poor evaluation of their social performance, but others rate them as sufficiently competent in social interactions.
- Those with social phobias selectively remember, and focus upon, embarrassing events rather than positive interactions.
- Individuals blame themselves for social failures, while paradoxically seeing social competency as originating from some outside factor not within their control.
Because many individuals experience extreme discomfort in several or all social and evaluative situations, it’s difficult to calculate a precise ranking, although in general, the top five social phobias are:
1. Public Speaking
By far, public speaking is the number one social phobia people have, although avoidance or dislike of public speaking by itself does not constitute a phobia. Many people dread speaking before a group but are able to successfully, although nervously, accomplish the task when required. A person's aversion to public speaking might reach the criteria for phobia when it prohibits the individual from meeting the requirements of his employment. Similarly, a person may decline a promotion if the new position requires public speaking. In both instances, the inability to speak in public has negative and far reaching consequences. People with fear of public speaking reinforce their fears with negative thoughts such as, ''I'm going to make a fool of myself.''
2. Making Small Talk or Mingling at Parties
People with this phobia cannot function in the social environment of small group gatherings, even if the group is friendly. They will avoid these gatherings at all costs, while simultaneously wishing they were freed of the fear that prevents them from participating. Individuals with this phobia may say to themselves, ''I can't think of anything to say.''
Dating combines the fears of both social and evaluative situations and can be particularly painful. Individuals with social phobias are extremely self-consciousness and sensitive to rejection. They can be preoccupied with how they appear in others' eyes. Individuals may break off promising new relationships because they fear being negatively judged. Some will refrain from dating all together.
4. Test Taking
Extreme anxiety at test-taking time can have a disastrous impact on performance. Individuals may know the answers to the test, but their anxiety, apprehension, and terror leaves them without the ability to think clearly. Physical symptoms such as a racing heart and shortness of breath may prevent them from focusing and lead individuals to flee the testing room.
5. Meeting People in Authority
Individuals with this phobia fear they will shame themselves with awkward or inappropriate behavior. On the mild end of this spectrum, individuals may be unable to make eye contact with the authority figure. Sweaty hands may lead them to decline a handshake. On the more severe end, they may not be able to speak due to a frozen sense of terror. Most commonly, they will make all efforts to avoid the authority figure.