People with social phobia or social anxiety disorder are afraid of many social situations where they can be judged negatively by others.
Social phobia or social anxiety disorder persists for at least six months. This fear is often associated with physical symptoms such as flushing, tremors, sweating, or stuttering. It makes them even more anxious. They are afraid that others will see this and be ‘embarrassed. This fear leads people to avoid certain situations.
If you are dealing with social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder), you feel very anxious in social situations. You are afraid of criticism from others or of embarrassing yourself. This fear is so great that you avoid social problems by not going to school/work and skipping parties. But if you can’t avoid the social situation, you’ll end up sweating, shaking, and blushing a lot.
The annoying thing is that you can also develop a different fear for this (e.g., fear of sweat), as a result of which you can end up in a circle of fear that is difficult to break. The main difference between adults and children with this fear is that children often do not know that their anxiety is abnormal.
How can a social phobia be recognized?
Do you think you are dealing with a social anxiety disorder? Then you will recognize yourself in the following characteristics:
- Afraid of one or more social situations where you expose to possible critical reviews from others. You can think of social interactions (having a conversation, meeting unknown people), being observed (for example, while eating or drinking), and performing in the subordinate sense of others (for example, giving a speech).
- Fear that you will exhibit embarrassing behavior in the form of anxiety symptoms (sweating, shaking, blushing) and will judge by others.
- Social situations almost always evoke fear in you.
- You stay away from social situations as much as possible, but you suffer a lot from anxiety if that is not possible.
- The fear you feel is greater than the actual danger you expose.
- You have had a fear of social situations for a long time (min. 6 months).
- Different areas in your life suffer from the fear you experience in social situations, such as your work and private life.
Children with a social phobia can often recognize by the following:
- Don’t want to go to school;
- Have few friends and girlfriends;
- Are often bullied;
- Are shy and have a withdrawn attitude;
- Do not usually say what they think or feel;
- Trembling, flushing, and sweating quickly in front of others (in both peers and adults);
- Cry, stiffen, or throw a tantrum when they get into social situations.
Causes and consequences
Social phobia often develops at a young age. It is rare for you to create it later in life. The home situation at a young age often plays a role in the development of social phobia, but it is not yet clear how this divide between heredity and upbringing.
Quarrels between parents can trigger social anxiety disorder. As a child, you may feel personally attacked by the criticisms, even if they aim at the other parent and not you. Also, abuse at a young age may play a significant role: this will damage your self-esteem and make you feel inferior. Also, a parent may have a social anxiety disorder or tendencies to do so, also transfer this to a child. The school situation also has an influence.
Children with social phobia often feel unsafe at school. It can be a cause or a consequence of social anxiety disorder.
When you are a child, social contacts are significant. Your social-emotional development is in full swing at a young age. If you then avoid social situations through fear, this development inhibit. These also make you more sensitive as a child to other psychological disorders, such as (chronic) depression, panic disorder, or addiction behavior later in life.
Treatment of social anxiety disorder
The sooner you treat social anxiety disorder, the better. A social phobia can cause you to end up in a downward spiral as a child, adolescent, or adult. Fortunately, social phobia, like other anxiety disorders, is treatable. During the intake phase, we will work with you to determine which treatment can best help you. We choose which form of therapy depends, among other things, on the causes, duration, and severity of your social phobia and your request for help.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a commonly used treatment for social anxiety disorder. You learn to direct your attention (task concentration training), to redirect fear thoughts (cognitive therapy), and to deal with exciting situations (exposure in vivo).
Task concentration training
Social anxiety often makes you very aware of yourself in social situations (‘Am I behaving normally?’). We call this ‘self-directed attention.’ it makes it more challenging to focus on what you are doing, such as having a conversation.
Self-focused attention ultimately makes you feel even more anxious in social situations. The purpose of task concentration training is to reduce this self-centered attention. You learn to focus your attention more on the other and the environment. You will find that when your focus on yourself decreases, you will feel more relaxed in social situations;
Social anxiety often makes you think too negatively about yourself and others in social situations. These beliefs, in turn, create more social pressure. With this part, you critically examine which negative thoughts you have and whether they are correct. You learn to think more realistically about your social actions and the judgment of others. This way, you become less and less anxious in social situations;
Exposure in vivo
If you live with social anxiety, you prefer to avoid certain situations. With this part, you will practice social situations that you fear. Together with your practitioner, you decide for each session which exercise is the next step.
By testing whether your anxious expectations come true, you can address your fear. You will notice that usually, what you are afraid of does not happen. This way, your social anxiety is less, and you no longer have to avoid difficult situations.