Maybe its silly, but sometimes I need to remind myself that social phobia (such as social anxiety disorders) are an “official” disorder. That is, they are recognized as actual (and treatable) disorders by the medical profession.
Social phobia were officially recognized as a mental illness in the late 20th century (however, there have been medical discussions of the phobia for centuries).
In the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) social phobia (also listed as social anxiety disorder) is defined as a “marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny by others”. The central feature of social phobia is an excessive fear of being observed or scrutinized by unfamiliar persons. In particular, an individual who suffers from social phobia finds agonizing the potential risk of performing inadequately or showing overt signs of nervousness with resultant embarrassment or humiliation. Sound familiar?
It should — there are millions of people who suffer from social phobia each day.
The social fears may be limited to specific settings such as formal public appearances, or extend to a wider range of situations like social gatherings and casual conversations. When exposed to phobic situations, or in anticipation thereof, the individual typically reacts with anxiety symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, blushing, and catastrophic thinking. Symptoms arise even though the person realizes that the reactions are exaggerated and unreasonable. Consequently, the distressing situations are avoided or endured under intense anxiety. In social phobia, symptoms interfere considerably with the person’s daily routines, social activities, relationships, occupational/academic functioning, or alternatively there is apparent distress about having the phobia.
The DSM says that if the person suffering from social phobia is under 18 years old, that the symptoms must persist for more than 6 months to qualify as social phobia.
The DSM-IV also specifies a generalized subtype of social phobia, which is the appropriate diagnosis when the fears extend to “most social situations”.
What type do you think you have? Generalized (where you are anxious in “most social situations”) or specific?