Many people feel uncomfortable outside their home because they feel that others may make negative comments about them because of an awkward movement or a mistake they might make. That situation puts them in a tough spot and, as a result, they feel humiliated and ridiculed.
The fear of turning red or trembling and stuttering before others can lead one to avoid eye contact. As a result, shy people curtail their activities whenever possible. If, however, they have to talk in public or address individuals of the opposite sex, etc., they experience intense agony and distress, a sheer torture for the speaker. This emotional state is often manifested in physical symptoms like a fast heartbeat, breaking into a sweat, turning crimson, etc.
When such individuals remain untreated, they end up unmarried, unemployed, and/ or living with their parents. From an objective perspective, their main characteristic is their inability to love themselves and to realize the true value of their positive attributes. Those suffering from this disorder underestimate themselves without good reason. After all, we neither ask to be born nor do we choose our parents, but we all have the inalienable right to finding tenderness and the chances for a better quality of life. Too often, however, things take a very different course than what we had hoped for and this leads us to believe that we are not worthy of anything better.
Transforming our agony of being judged by others leads us to actual symptoms; thus, our life becomes a continuous state of being under examination.
All too often, those who suffer from this condition accept this as normal, i.e., this is the way they were made, but this is a great pity because under proper treatment, they can improve their state significantly. It is estimated that only half of those suffering from social phobia decide to seek help and they do so in order to resolve problems that are the result of stress, depression, or substance abuse.
It is a fact that social phobias coexist with other emotional disorders such as depression and other types of phobias. Adolescents, in an effort to keep their anxiety in check, often abuse alcohol, prescription medication, and cannabis.
Nowadays, the widespread use of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) has created a new type of sociability, ostensibly better fitting for those who don’t find it easy to maintain live human contact. This subterfuge, however, harbors the danger of making shy individuals even more reluctant to connect with others. But if we bear in mind how competitive society has become and how favorable it is towards confrontational situations, avoiding public exposure may in fact end up being useful for their survival. In this case, social phobia takes the form of self-defense.
It is well known that there are negative factors contributing to shyness that are related to the family. It is clear, however, if they owe their existence to a genetic predisposition or to acquired behaviors from the family environment.
Prevention: Developed countries have a systemic approach to the prevention of these psychopathological conditions starting as early as grade school. Their educational system cultivates the spirit of cooperation, i.e. the development of the team on the basis of equal rights and responsibilities among its members, all in an atmosphere of mutual respect and recognition. At no time are antagonism and conflict encouraged.
Treatment: Treatment must be particularly individualized, focusing on his or her specific needs, sensitivities, and family history. As far as prescription medication is concerned, the newest antidepressants have proved useful, but only complementing a parallel course of rigorous psychological counseling.
Spyros Metaxas, psychiatrist/psychotherapist www.anotropia.gr