By Mason Weaver | 2021/11/01.
If I tell my friends that I have a social phobia, they will call me a liar by pointing at my nose.
Whether it's a presentation to 100 people, business collaboration, organizational management, or team training, there is no point in any of these activities that will convince them that I have a social phobia.
In fact, I wouldn't say I liked going out on the street very much in high school. I was uncomfortable when there were too many people.
Do not like to touch strangers, be nervous to talk, and accelerate the heartbeat.
I was always spontaneously anxious in any social situation and instinctively avoided it.
At that time, in the elders' opinion, it was a fault, or in their words, a character flaw.
Until today, I turned it to my advantage.
In this post, I will try to analyze the nature of social phobia and talk about how I cope with it personally.
I am not a psychologist, and this post is only a personal opinion, analysis, and experience for reference.
A world designed for extroverts
The various groups, organizations, and institutions of human society seem to be designed for extroverts.
Growing up, I was taught by my family, school, and even society to be a bright and cheerful child, not a quiet one.
Be a person who is good at being part of a group, not a lone wolf who goes his own way.
To be an extrovert, not an introvert.
I was brought up with such an idea that I defaulted to the idea that it was right and the opposite was wrong.
When one makes a mistake, it is natural for the person to feel anxious and afraid of being found out.
So I forced myself to socialize, to fit in with the group, to become bright and cheerful, for the sake of this so-called right.
However, the anxiety that haunted me in social situations and accumulated over time caused me to develop a more serious resistance.
I began to suspect I had a social phobia.
Factors that produce a social phobia
I looked up the diagnostic criteria for social phobia in the current U.S. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" DSM-IV-TR :
- When a person is in a group of strangers or in a social or expressive situation where others are watching, they feel a significant fear
- Exposure to fearful social situations will almost always cause anxiety or fear.
- The person realizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.
- Avoid social or performance problems that scare them; otherwise, they will have to endure great stress and anxiety
- Significantly interferes with the individual's daily work, occupation, or social functioning.
If it were a few years ago, I would have gotten almost all of them!
The label mental illness sounds very bad. If you go by that standard, there are quite a few people with mental illness.
Most people say they have a social phobia, but the degree is not deep, at best, social anxiety or even just shyness.
The terms anxiety, fear, and phobia are also only artificially defined so that they can be categorized and managed according to their degree, facilitating research and treatment.
So, there is no need to dwell on whether you are living with the illness or not, and these words are just labels that we use to describe the thing.
There are psychological and physical factors that lead to social phobia, and there is a lot of literature, so here is a brief list of psychological factors.
Social Phobia as an Acquired Behavior
Social fear often originates from simple events that act directly or in place of classical conditioning, such as experiencing or witnessing a social attack, or humiliating, experiencing, or seeing angry criticism taken out on someone. (Harveyet al., 2005; Mineka & Zinbarg, 1995, 2006; Tillfors, 2004)
Social Phobia in an Evolutionary Context
Social phobia is a byproduct of the evolutionary evolution of dominance hierarchies, standard in animals such as primates. Evolutionary tendencies can make humans fearful of social stimuli that signal dominance and aggression. (Dimberg & Ohman, 1996; Ohman et al., 1985)
Uncontrollable and unpredictable perception
Exposure to uncontrollable and unpredictable stressful events (e.g., parental separation or divorce, family conflict, or sexual abuse) can significantly impact the development of a social phobia. (Mathew et al., 2001; Mineka & Zinbarg, 1995, 2006; Rapee & Spence, 2004)
People who live with social phobia have a decreased sense of control over their life events. (Leung & Heimberg, 1996)
Social phobics tend to believe that others will abandon or underestimate them. Scientists believe this causes social phobics to be more sensitive when they are around threatening people. (Emery, 1985)
Negative expectations lead them to be dominated in social situations by their organism's reactions and inherently negative self-schema, as well as to overestimate the ability of others to detect their anxiety and misunderstand the impression they make on others. (Hirsch, Meynen & Clark, 2004)
You can find all of the above in the literature. However, I want to talk about it because that is not the point.
To dig into the essence of something, you need to split its shell layer by layer, splitting it until it is no longer separable dimensions. Such a way of thinking is the first nature principle in physics.
Social phobia is one of those things that can still break down. After breaking it down, I found that to understand the nature of social fear is not to talk about either social or mental illness but to dig into this thing: fear.
Social phobia, simply the manifestation of fear in the social life dimension, is a subset of fear. So to truly understand social fear, it is necessary to talk about what anxiety is all about
Why should there be fear?
In terms of Darwin's theory of evolution, any trait or behavior can perpetuate in a species because it facilitates the survival and reproduction of the species.
More deeply, it is because the selfish gene needs it to ensure the host's survival and thus its survival.
The fact that emotion like fear can be preserved over a long period of evolution must be consistent with such a principle.
Those individuals who do not have the emotion of fear have been eliminated in the race to the bottom.
So, what does fear do for us?
We are afraid of heights, large predators, darkness, blood, strangers, deep water, alone, etc. These are some of the situations or things that put our ancestors in danger.
Individuals who have fearful emotions are more likely to be concerned about the dangers they may face than individuals who do not have fearful emotions.
Fear stimulates the secretion of adrenaline, and in the dark or the wilderness, this provides ample bursts of power for you to run at any time you need.
Fear of potentially dangerous things is a discovery-avoidance effect that increases the survival rate of individuals.
Psychiatrist Isaac Marks states:
People present different ways of reacting to frightening things, and each reaction is appropriate for the danger.
You walk up to the edge of a cliff and instinctively stiffen up and don't move, a reaction designed to prevent you from falling.
You faint at the sight of blood because witnessing blood causes your organism to reduce blood flow and your blood pressure to drop instinctively. This is a reaction to prevent blood loss.
One explanation for trypophobia is that many poisonous animals, such as blue-ringed octopuses, black widow spiders, and rattlesnakes have dense stripes on their skin. The dense graphics are written into our genes with evolution as a marker to identify venomous animals, so many people are born with Trypophobia.
So, fear is a survival adaptation strategy. It benefits the individual, it is not a defect, and it is not a disease.
What about social phobia ?
A better way to understand social phobia is to think about the needs in evolution.
Most people's social phobia, which is acquired, is also based on the need to survive and avoid harm (of course, there is also a physiological factor, which will not be developed here)
An important cognitive transformation involves social phobia in response to a particular threat as a survival adaptation strategy.
According to further evolutionary theory, social phobia is about avoiding you from socializing, forcing you to shift your focus from the external world to the internal world.
Why such a response mechanism arises is not discussed for now, but it can emerge at least shows that it can satisfy the evolutionary or survival needs.
The above conclusion will help you get rid of social fear stereotypes and complete a perspective transformation.
At the same time, it also supports the central point of this article - making friends with social phobia and turning it into an advantage.
I'm going to break this point down into two parts of the argument.
If you want to eliminate the distress caused by social phobia, you can learn how to make friends with social phobia.
If you are not satisfied with that and want to go further, I will talk about turning it into your strengths.
How to make friends with social phobia?
01. Identify yourself and become an introvert
The first step of cognitive transformation, i.e., viewing social phobia as a survival strategy rather than a disease or defect, has been described above.
The second step is to become an introvert firmly.
Let's add a perspective first. In the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, author Susan Cain proposes a division using the X-axis for introvert-extrovert and the Y-axis for calm-impulsive, which would result in four quadrants of personality types: calm introvert, impulsive introvert, calm extrovert, and impulsive extrovert.
In real life, an extrovert can also be very calm and not talkative in certain situations, which may be related to his rational thinking mode, but he is an extrovert at heart.
Some introverts are also crazy and emotional, but they like to stay home alone and read.
Whether a person is introverted or extroverted is not evident from his apparent calmness or impulsiveness.
This division breaks down the simple introvert-extrovert dichotomy and helps us to reposition ourselves.
Susan Cain states.
Introverts are not necessarily shy. In contrast, shyness is a perceived fear of opposing speech or humiliation in society, introversion preference quiet and calm environments.
Introverts tend to focus their attention on the meaning of what is around them, while extroverts throw themselves into events.
Introverts tend to be drawn to the thoughts and feelings of the inner world, while extroverts tend to focus on people's external lives and activities.
As mentioned above, the purpose of social fear is to avoid you from socializing and force you to shift your focus from the external world to the internal world.
In other words, social fear is to make you an introvert and avoid you from becoming an extrovert.
Susan's point of view, portraying an introvert, can be used as a reference system.
02. Control social distance
People with social phobia usually turn into complete chatterboxes in front of their acquaintances.
Here we have to mention a concept called social distance. It refers to the distance between two people in a social network rather than the physical distance between two people in reality.
For example, you and your lover are still very close even though they live apart. Your apartment moves in with a roommate, and even though you see each other every day, you are still socially distant.
The closer social distance, each other know the character traits, personality traits, such people and your inner world have a lot of intersection, so you will not be affected by social phobia.
On the contrary, contact with people at a greater social distance will make you socially fearful.
Controlling the social distance can help reduce the negative effects of social phobia.
03.Select asynchronous communication mode
Even if you can control the social distance, you still can't avoid communicating with strangers in your life. How can you do this?
Face-to-face communication, telephone communication, video chat, and other communication methods that require you to respond on time are collectively called synchronous communication. SMS, e-mail, written, and other communication methods do not require you to respond on time, called asynchronous communication.
People with social phobia should use more asynchronous communication modes to avoid the anxiety and tension caused by synchronous communication.
Can I use asynchronous communication during face-to-face communication? Yes, whenever I find myself unable to catch up with the other person's topic or question, I say, "Let me think about this, let me know more about this. Use this phrase to put the issue on hold, put the subject into an asynchronous mode, and then find a case where you can easily communicate in sync.
04. On-demand extroversion
I use the words on-demand extroversion to describe this skill that helps me handle social tasks.
Yes, it's a skill that can unlock with practice.
▼ 1、Content reserve
You need to reserve a lot of communication material.
One is a wide variety of questions and ideas. This content material should ideally relate to your area of expertise, as much as possible, and homely questions that apply to anyone.
The second is a variety of polite words, such as "much guidance", "it's a pleasure", "nice to meet you". Don't dismiss them, just as we learned "it's okay" and "you're welcome" from our kindergarten teachers when we were kids, these are everyday phrases, but the former is more often found in the business world.
▼ 2. Training paths
When training this skill, you should start with people close to social distance and gradually work your way out. Just like when you learn to dance, you need to press your legs a little more each time until you can finally do a split.
Never rush to reach people who are socially distant. You will have a hard time adjusting. It's like asking you to do the splits immediately without a base of flexibility.
Using these two simple steps and taking every opportunity to train yourself, on-demand extroversion is a skill that builds gradually, just like playing a musical instrument.
How to turn social fear into an advantage ?
Becoming friends with social phobia blocks out the negative impact on our lives; at least, that makes you an introvert. And what I want to do is not just eliminate the negative effects but turn them into advantages.
People living with social phobia prefer to be alone, and there is a great connection between solitude and creativity. Solitude exercises the ability to be refined, especially when creating in an undisturbed environment, and it is easy to enter into a state of mind-flow.
Mindflow is an immersive experience, a feeling of forgetting time and space when creating. Craftspeople, writers, artists, musicians, and engineers are no strangers to this feeling, and many great works have been born in mind flow.
Creating quality work requires long periods of solitude and reflection, an immersion in the flow of the mind, a process that seeks stimulation in the inner world. For extroverts who seek inspiration in the external world, this isn't easy to do.
Social fear drives you to the inner world in developing creative power, which becomes an advantage over extroverts instead.
Turn solitude into quality social interaction
Not a good talker, not a social person, so how to make up for the social shortcomings?
My view is to look at books as a kind of asynchronous one-way socialization.
It is a new perspective to socialize across time and space with outstanding people by reading their books. Such as I can't ask Feynman in person, much less Einstein, but I can read their books and receive their education across time and space.
When I read their books, I think of myself as a listener, listening to their arguments with questions and writing down my questions and rebuttals.
After reading a book, I spent a long time alone with the man, not only knowing his views, but more importantly, I grasped the framework of thinking behind his views.
Low-quality socialization is worse than high-quality solitude.
Compared to extroverts, social fear allows you to have more time alone, then how about turning solitude into high-quality social interaction.
Control the absolute social advantage at the proper social distance
Control the social distance and train the skills of extroversion on-demand at the right social distance.
At the same time, the social phobia of introverts disappears at a comfortable social distance, and if you " develop creativity" and " turn solitude into quality social interaction", this will increase your value, and you will have a great social advantage at this social distance.
This small social advantage, combined with on-demand extroverted skills, will expand your social distance a little. There is no need to rush; take one step at a time, trusting that the power of accumulation will gradually build your confidence and courage, and then patiently waiting for the rewards of time.
The core principle of this two-part discussion above is to follow the trend of social phobia. It is like, extroversion is the down escalator, social phobia is the up escalator, you want to go upstairs, of course, it is easier to go up the escalator.
In this way, you can turn social fear into an advantage.