Lately I’ve been writing about social phobia. I’ve considered the differences between social anxiety and social phobia and in a previous post I asked the question what maintains social phobia? One of the issues I pointed to was self-consciousness and it’s this I’m about to explore further.
Self-consciousness is key to understanding how the mind of someone with social phobia works. They can become so preoccupied with how they look, how they are dressed, the way they are standing, sounding and so on that they can’t focus properly on what’s happening around them. Everything they are trying to avoid seems to conspire against them. The last thing the person with a social phobia wants is attention being drawn to him or herself themselves, yet this is actually more likely. They may shake and their voice may tremble. They may look uncomfortable and sweaty. They may become clumsy and knock into things. It’s a vicious cycle that may result in attention from other people.
Hyper-awareness keeps the problem simmering for three reasons. First, as I’ve mentioned, it creates a vicious cycle. It makes the social situation appear dangerous and so the need to escape or seek safety increases. Secondly it hinders normal social interaction because the person with a social phobia tends to transmit ‘keep away’ messages with their body language. Being so self-conscious and self-absorbed can come across as disinterest or aloofness. Thirdly, awareness of other people’s needs diminishes. Self-consciousness leaves little space for picking up the cues of say a disappointed expression when someone tries to communicate. Even positive expressions from others can be completely overlooked.
So the question is, what is going on in the mind of this self-consciousness individual? Invariably they will be clustered around negative predictions and assumptions. They will be feeling they don’t belong, they aren’t liked, they’ll do something stupid and show themselves up, or if they do get involved in a conversation they’ll run out of things to say. All these are reflective of some very fundamental beliefs the person holds. The problem, which becomes embedded within the vicious cycle, is that the more any of us think we are different to other people the more this is influences our thoughts and behaviors.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.