Have you ever been nervous before speaking to others, or before meeting an important person? This is normal. However, there is another side to this called Social Phobia; this is not the same as a general nervousness over speaking to new people or performance anxiety.
What is it?
Social Phobia is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people; this means everyone. Imagine being so afraid of others that you lock yourself in your house. People with social anxiety are many times seen by others as being shy, quiet, backward, withdrawn, inhibited, unfriendly, nervous, aloof, and disinterested and affects about 7% of the population. This phobia doesn’t go away on its own. Counseling and medication are needed. However, those with social phobia often do not go to their appointments out of fear of sitting in the waiting rooms with strangers. They also must talk to a counselor which is difficult, even for a person without the phobia.
What does it look like?
Friends come over and want to go out, and the social phobic person will turn down going out. Socially phobic people hide away from everyone. When forced to go out, they think everyone is staring at them, talking about them in a harsh way, or plotting against them. The anxiety is excruciating. Talking on the phone is also considered contact and when the phone rings socially phobic people will let it ring. They are scared of talking to others, even on the phone. They miss out on many opportunities because they’d rather stay home and hide where it’s safe. It can get to the point where friends and family may stop calling or coming by due to the silence and awkwardness that they experience. However, support is the one thing that social phobic person needs most.
Sometimes supporting the social phobic person can be tough but it necessary. Desensitizing them to home visits or phone calls is the best way to start. Close friends and family can start coming over several times a week and calling just to check in. This way the bond will grow strong enough that visits and calls become easier as the socially phobic person will feel safe to open up.
Take it slow; take small steps to get the person ready for bigger challenges. Shopping for groceries, clothes, or other items may be difficult for the social phobic individual. If a friend or family member accompanies them, they will feel safer. Then, as confidence grows, the socially phobic person may venture out on his or her own. This is when friends and family can suggest counseling. It will help tremendously while others continue to help the socially phobic friend make little steps to be freer to go out to restaurants, malls, and movies.
Remember, the socially phobic person is the way they are from a deep-seated fear of others. Make them feel safe; this can be taking a seat at a restaurant that faces away from the crowd or by a window, and don’t make a big deal out of it.
If the socially phobic person suddenly has a panic attack and wants to leave, provide assistance and allow them to go to the bathroom with you or outside in the car until they calm down. Patience is key. Remember it’s not their fault, and they are trying. Sometimes, they will break down in tears or tremble in fear. This can be overcome with strong support and love.
Make sure to let them know how much they are loved. Tell him or her how much they mean to you and that you are proud of their progress and remind them of how far they have come. Be positive. You could be that one person that helps a socially phobic person blossom into a fearless friend. The reward is a lifetime of deep connection and love with this person because you helped them when they were at their lowest point, and were part of helping them open up to the world.