What is it?
Social anxiety is something most of us will experience from time to time, be it at a party where we don’t know many people or when having to give a presentation to a room full of people. But for people with social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, it can be debilitating. People with social phobia can have trouble meeting new people, talking to people, and going to social functions. They fear that people won’t like them, that they will embarrass themselves or that they will be judged, and as a consequence they often avoid going into social situations wherever they can. The result is that someone with social anxiety can have ongoing low self-esteem, shame and insecurity.
What does it look like?
Symptoms of social phobia can include a range of physical sensations such as blushing, sweating, trembling, dizziness, trouble forming sentences and rapid heart rate. Psychologically, people can intensely worry about upcoming social situations (sometimes for days or weeks before the event), fearing embarrassing themselves in public, worrying that others can see their social anxiety and fear of being seen as boring. They can also feel distracted when in social situations, their mind preoccupied with worrying about what others think or what to say next. Sometimes people with social phobia only present symptoms in one or two types of scenarios such as eating in public or when talking on the phone. Those with severe social phobia can get symptoms in all types of social situations.
Where does it come from?
From a relational therapy approach, social phobia can be attributed to issues and attachment problems during childhood. Some theories on the origins of social phobia include harsh parenting leading to an expectation of shame or an internal conflict between the desire for independence but also fear of being rejected by peers. The experiences we face as a child affect how we grow and develop into adults. People who have suffered trauma in their childhood can develop problems such as anxiety later on in life. Social phobia can therefore be an adaptation to a stressful or hurtful social environment as a child.
How can it be managed?
The goal of therapy is to discover any underlying conflicts that could be contributing to a patient’s social anxiety and then working through these issues. Once these issues and internal conflicts have been identified, patients can work towards overcoming the social anxiety to certain situations through understanding the roots. Psychodynamic therapy can help treat social phobia by addressing a conflict in the present and the past and helping patients to overcome their symptoms through an understanding of what is causing them.