Social phobia (also referred to as social anxiety or marked shyness) is an excessive fear of embarrassing oneself in front of other people and is characterized by intense self-consciousness.
If you suffer from social phobia, you tend to think that other people are competent in public and that you are not. Small mistakes you make loom huge in your mind. You may feel all eyes are focused on you. You may fear that others will see that you’re anxious or think you’re weird.
Often this phobia involves a fear of general social situations, such as parties. It may even be difficult to be with people other than those closest to you. Or, your fear may be more specific, such as feeling highly anxious about giving a speech, talking to a boss, or dating. Less commonly, you may fear using public bathrooms, eating out, talking on the phone, or writing in the presence of other people, as for example, when you are asked to sign a credit card receipt.
The dread of a social event can begin weeks in advance and symptoms can be quite debilitating. Consequently, people with social phobia often wind up avoiding social situations and circumstances. If they commit to attending, they usually feel very anxious beforehand and are intensely uncomfortable throughout. Afterward, the unpleasant feelings may linger, as they worry about how they may have been judged or what others may have thought about them.
The anxiety often disrupts normal life. For example, a worker might turn down a job promotion because he can’t give public presentations. A new college student may be unable to make new friends and decide to drop out of school. Social phobia often leads to feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem.
The disorder usually begins in childhood or early adolescence. About 15 million American adults, equally divided between men and women are afflicted. Fortunately the vast majority can be helped. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “cognitive behavior therapy is especially useful.”
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