Fear of Being 
With Other People

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D.

To some degree, we all become uncomfortable in the presence of other people.  On one hand we want their attention approval an affection, and on the other, we are apprehensive of being judged, evaluated or criticized by them.  With the exception of the recluse and hermits, we all need other people around us in order to accept the social tension and make our individual adjustments to it.

Some remain moderately uncomfortable in the presence of other people, but they do mingle and interact with others as much as they need to.  Some drink or do drugs so they can muster the "Dutch courage" to come up to the level of the others" and relax enough to talk and cut up with them.  Some learn to ignore the "butterflies" while performing in presence of others.  We become natural socializes, plodders or leaders in our relationships with others.  Many "thrive" in the presence of others and perform at their best when all eyes are turned toward them.

A sizable number of people are severely uncomfortable in presence of others and many literally live in fear of coming in contact with others.  In the severe form of social phobia, a "sociophobe" spends every single day and sometimes nights fearing a social exposure and thinking about how to avoid even the remote presence of others.  We must recognize that what may be considered as "remote" presence by one may be "too close for comfort" for another, and suffocatingly close for a sociophobe.  Even remote presence can freeze a person up in sheer terror.

Social phobia is more than shyness or stage fright which are far more common.  Nine out of 10 people have stage fright and they fear it more than death itself.  However, in stage fright, an individual is in fact going to be on stage, and others, in fact, are going to watch the person performing.  In social phobia, everyday life and every social situation is a "stage" and the sociophobe is always the actor, never the "audience," even when he or she is sitting in the audience.  Social phobia is the fear of being or doing anything in the presence of other people.  They feel like they are being scrutinized all the time and fear that they will make a fool of themselves in public.

Imagine that one day you open your eyes and find yourself walking in the "mockeryland."  Under the wide blue sky and vast open ground, with the sole intention of mocking you, a thousand pairs of eyes are watching you, waiting for you to stumble, listening critically to catch you if you make the slightest slip.  There is no cover and no place to hide.  You are hungry and thirsty, but you can't eat or drink, lest you choke on food or can't swallow.  You want to ease the ever-building bowel or bladder pressure, but you can't.  Remember, everyone is gazing directly at you.  If you have pictured this, you have just witnessed one day in the life of a person with social phobia.

Social phobia consists of systematic and persistent avoidance of social events and gatherings.  Examples:  fear of eating or drinking in a restaurant, going to a movie, being in public places; "blushing bladder", the inability to urinate in public rest-rooms or anywhere one might be seen or heard.

Social phobia afflicts about 7.5 million Americans.  Up until a few years ago, we falsely believed that social phobia was a rare occurrence.  We now recognize social phobia as the third most common emotional disorder.  It is estimated that about one in seven people will have the problem of social phobia at least once in their lifetime.  Consequently, teen-agers drop out of school and adults don't go to work because they dread meeting other workers and performing tasks in their presence. Many avoid clubs and other social activities because they are afraid they might choke, stumble, stutter or guffaw in a way to embarrass themselves terribly.

Inherited temperament and certain experiences are associated with social phobias.  Even one- and  two-year old children can be shy and uncomfortable in the presence of others.  Their heart rate and breathing shows that they are going through significant stress caused by the presence of others.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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