It’s a sad sight indeed – an apparently bustling metro station, rush hour and four young people waiting on a bench. Each with their head down, closeted in their world of digital drama, far away from real people sitting close to them.
We remain strangers to the same set of people with whom we travel on the same route day after day; face book and the internet have most certainly created a much smaller world but have in some confused and contorted kind of way increased the distances between us all.
Social anxiety disorder or social phobia while maybe somewhat clinically understood as resulting from hormonal imbalances and genetic features, but it also stems from a deviant socialization pattern.
The Tell Tale Signs
A recent study has shown that some of the most ‘progressive’ and ‘modern’ societies in the world , America, has the largest numbers of social phobia cases as well. A’ nation dependent on tranquilizers’ is how a BBC report talked about the growing numbers of Americans almost, 3.7% of their population, having some or the other form of anxiety disorder. The question we need to ask is whether the tell tale signs of social phobia has been long misinterpreted or do we need to devise some better methods of perceiving this damaging trend.
Reaction to Fear
Social phobia mainly shows in symptoms that commonly verge around mild shyness to acute form of fear of meeting or ‘confronting’ people – the fear is that one would be judged, challenged and cast aside as being inept and an embarrassment. Those suffering, usually withdraw from all forms of public appearances and social interactions and lead reclusive lives that causes loneliness and depression.
The physical symptoms include profuse sweating, nausea, pain in the stomach, palpitations to the verge of sinking and fainting. The physical manifestations make the individual refrain from social contact, as they fear that they will be ridiculed and observed for their flaws. They perceive any social situation as a test of their individual character, habits, abilities and a time for performance.
How has modern times with its better knowledge of the world and its communities made it all the more worse?
Pinning the Blame
While societies across the globe believe we all live not in different culture or time zones but in a global village. The fact of the matter however is that while we all live in this gigantic village, alright but it seems to have no friendly neighborhood! We are isolated in this huge crowd that seems to be achieving higher business goals, better scholarships, greater laurels and a better life than us. The fear of underperformance from a very young age results in the beginnings of social anxiety. As studies have shown that the preliminary symptoms are today shifted from age 22 and above to a younger age group of 15-17 years.
Right from schools to college entrances, today the premium on higher education and achievement bound social assessments of people is making it harder for youth to find a stable ground for themselves. Social media may be the next best thing to getting family support in a time when the basic unit of any society – the family itself has undergone such dismemberment.
Social networking has given the youth the feeling of an alternate world where they are empowered and feel definitely less challenged or compelled to behave a certain way. When society hikes its expectations from individuals, it can lead to its members either seeking shelter in an alternate reality so as to escape its extreme demands.
Terms to describe people such as “too boring”, I’m not that clever, will I be able to get through, what if I’m unable to, what will they think about me and how will they look at me after this interaction is through – a tell tale symptoms that this alternate world will soon take over the real world and the individual will not like to interact with real people anymore. Latest trends in crimes have also shown the contorted manner in which this control of the alternate reality has resulted in crimes such as mass killings and hate campaigns – all result from a perceived world where imagination rules and reality is very far away.
Hiding The ‘True Self’
Social phobia is also a result of social pressure of adherence – the stark reality of that this fits and that does not. The stigma which mildly is referred to as a ‘tag’ causes acute psychological impairment where even in its most dormant state leaves the individual incapable of performing normal functions in a social situation – like speaking, answering a question, or even eating.
Constant criticism and setting of yardsticks of accomplishment on physical appearance, achievement, and the ultimate fear that you will not be liked when people see your ‘true self’ aggravates the situation further. Quivering chin, knocking knees, stammering and nail biting can be symptoms of early life anxiety disorders, but with age, the solidification of ideas about the self-results in some serious results.
Reaching out to someone who is always reticent and shy of social interaction may be a simple enough solution, but in the more extreme cases, interactive groups to build assertiveness and confidence, watching out for self-talk that de-motivates and seeking the right kind of help after a careful diagnosis of the problem is quite critical.
Group therapy has been known to work wonders. The de-stigmatization of the so called ‘misfits’ or ‘oddballs‘ may never quite happen and drug dependence is today under the scanner for overuse – the only light at the end of the tunnel for cases of acute nature lies in empathy, acceptance, and gentle social support.
Therapy & Training
Social skills training and breaking down the levels of interaction to build up to a full throttled exposure may denude the fear slowly, but what needs to be addressed is the identification of such behavior and the need for healthier social initiatives to develop better social skills right from school. The role of parenting in this is indispensable. Parents need to be on the same page when such cognitive behavior therapy is being conducted.
It’s time that society as a whole truly liberates itself allowing individuals their private space yet be as symbiotically connected through regular interaction so that no one has to face social anxieties in a society that is slowly becoming indifferent to its self created malaise.