What Are Social Phobias?
I have a Social Phobia. It produces extreme reactions in me. It shouldn’t impact me. I can have others tell me that it will be okay, but it doesn’t lessen my reaction.
I have a type of social phobia. It is very specific. I am a stress and wellness speaker. I can stand up in front of hundreds of people and I do just fine. In fact, I think that I excel at it. However, put me into a situation where I am being graded, evaluated, or tested and I fold. I think that I have FNE or fear of negative evaluation.
How I knew…
This became obvious when I went to a karate grading. It wasn’t even really being graded, it was being pre-graded for my black belt. I wasn’t anxious on the Friday or Saturday, as they were just clinics. But, when Sunday came and it was the ‘big’ day, it overwhelmed me. Found myself in the dressing room, putting on my gi, when I felt the pressure in my upper chest, and then the emotion in my throat. As I stepped out on the floor, tears flowed. I felt so stupid, and I could do nothing to prevent it from happening. It got worse as we lined up and as we started the grading. My nervousness, led to mistakes. I became more critical. I became more emotional and I made more mistakes.
This wasn’t the first time I was hit with this. Every grading that I have had along the way has led me to be an emotional wreck. When I think back, I know that this happened at every skating competition and every piano recital.
Social Phobia Facts:
The fear of negative evaluation (FNE) was first defined by Watson and Friend in 1969 as “apprehension about other’s evaluations, distress over their negative evaluations, and the expectation that others would evaluate oneself negatively.” FNE is related to specific personality dimensions, such as anxiousness, submissiveness, and social avoidance. People who score high on the FNE scale are highly concerned with seeking social approval or avoiding disapproval by others, and may tend to avoid situations where they have to undergo evaluations.
Perfectionism was found to be associated with the fear of negative evaluation in a number of studies. One study found that perfectionism was associated with shame and that it could be understood that this is because perfectionists fear that they are letting others down if they are not perfect in their actions (Ashby, Rice, & Martin).
For me, this was an eye-opener. I certainly could see myself in those descriptions. I hated and hate being evaluated, and I especially hate letting others down.
Professionals recommend that rather than looking at your anxiety as a problem look at it as an opportunity to improve yourself. Click to tweet
Dealing with a Social Phobia
Also useful in dealing with a Social Phobia is exposure therapy, which allows the person to implement various stress management tools while being exposed to various degrees of their phobia. Having these insights is helpful and I think that is why I persevere through these gradings, so that I learn how to better cope with my anxiety and practice using a variety of stress management tools to see what works and doesn’t work.
Many employees hate the performance appraisal to the point where they make them physically ill. Often in these situations, they miss any positive comments that were made about their performance and hear only the areas that were cited as needing to improve. There can be a huge amount of guilt and shame associated with these evaluations to the point where performance spirals further down.
As employers, flexibility is needed. Not all performance appraisals need to be delivered in person. Allow people to choose how they want to proceed. Maybe the anxiety will be lessened if they can read all of the comments first and then get together to respond and problem solve. In some cases, your company EAP may be helpful in finding strategies to facilitate these conversations or to help the employee through their anxiety.
Beverly’s Hot Tips For Building Resiliency and Celebrating Stress Awareness Month:
To overcome a fear of negative evaluation takes work. You need to slowly learn how to challenge some of the unhelpful thoughts that the fear generates.
- It’s important to remind yourself that just as you don’t like everyone, everyone will not like you.
- To reduce the chance of your children having a fear of negative evaluation, make sure you drum it into them that while it’s important that they treat others well, they still won’t be liked by absolutely everyone.
- Avoid your social phobia if you can and as long as it doesn’t interfere with your everyday living and happiness.
- Tackle what you can. Expose yourself to your social phobia in a safe way. Plan and practice your stress strategies ahead of time so that they are like second nature during your exposure.
- Ask for help. Others can support you during those stressful times and they may be able to find strategies to lessen the stress that you feel. Professionals can help get to the root of the social phobia if other methods are not successful.
- Avoid using must statements. I must do well, they must like me, I must not make a mistake.
Things to Remember
No matter how many mistakes you make, or how slow you progress, You are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying. (Tony Robbins)
What screws us up the most, is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.
Sometimes the best thing that you can do, is to not think. Not obsess. Just breathe and have faith that everything will work out for the best.
If you have some strategies to share – comment on this posting!