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Social Phobia: What is it exactly? 

Social Phobia Overview: 

social phobiaSocial phobia can be an excruciatingly painful experience for performers and individuals alike.  Many people have difficulty when talking or performing in front of others although they are not usually considered to have social phobia.  The opera singer Maria Callas was said to shake with fear before going onstage, and the former British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan would frequently feel nauseous prior to being questioned by Parliament.  While these uncomfortable feelings may be very inconvenient, these somewhat normal social fears are usually relatively well managed, allowing people to function adequately at a very high level without developing into a social phobia. 

People who experience social phobia by contrast have very severe, persistent, and irrational fears of social or performance situations in which they anticipate that embarrassment may occur.  The DSM- IV (diagnostic manual for mental health clinicians) defines social phobia as consisting of the following: 

Social Phobia

  1. Marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations involving exposure to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny by others, lasting for at least six months.  Concern about humiliating or embarrassing oneself.
  2. Anxiety usually produced by exposure to the social situation.
  3. Recognition that the fears are excessive or unreasonable.
  4. Avoidance of feared situations.
  5. Significant distress or impairment.

 

A social phobia may be somewhat limited, such as a fear of talking or performing in public, eating in public, using public restrooms, or writing in front of others, or may involve a much broader array of social situations such as a general fear of functioning inadequately while interacting with or in front of others.  In both of these forms of social phobia, people repeatedly judge themselves as performing less adequately than they actually do. 

A social phobia may interfere significantly with one's life. If an individual is unable to interact with others or speak in public, or is unable to perform important responsibilities it may have a huge impact upon their life.  An individual who cannot eat in public may reject invitations for dinner or other social engagements.  Since most people with the social phobias keep their fears secret, their social reluctance is often misinterpreted as lack of interest, snobbery or even hostility. 

Social phobias are believed to be experienced by approximately 8% of the population, with around three women for every two men experiencing social phobia in a given year.  This disorder often begins in late childhood or adolescence and may persist for many years, sometimes with fluctuating intensity. 

Information from Ronald J. Comerís Abnormal Psychology 

Additional information and web page by Paul Susic M.A. Licensed Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate 

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