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Social Phobias

Many people worry about interacting with others or talking or performing in front of others. The opera singer Marie Callas, for example, often shook with fear while waiting in the wings to perform. Such normal social fears are inconvenient, but the people who have them manage to carry on adequately, some at a very high level.

By contrast, people with a social phobia have severe, persistent, and unreasonable fears of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur. A social phobia may be specific, such as a fear of talking or performing in public, eating in public, using a public bathroom, or writing in front of others, or it may be a broader fear of social situations, such as a general fear of functioning inadequately when others are watching. In both forms, people repeatedly judge themselves as performing more poorly than they actually do.

A social phobia can interfere greatly with one’s life. A person who is unable to interact with others or speak in public may fail to perform important responsibilities. One who cannot eat in public may reject dinner invitations and other social opportunities. Since most people with this phobia keep their fears secret, their social reluctance is often misinterpreted as snobbery, disinterest, or stubbornness.

Social phobias are apparently more common than agoraphobia

As much as 8 percent of the population (around three women for every two men) experiences this problem in any given year. The disorder often begins in late childhood or adolescence and may persist for many years, although its intensity may fluctuate over the years.