Cognitive variables in the development of social phobias

Essay by RexKentUniversity, Bachelor's April 2006

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Social phobias result from fear of inadequate performance or embarrassing behavior in social settings. These fears develop from basic irrational assumptions and specific upsetting thoughts.

Social phobias typically appear in 10-20 year-olds. Adolescence is an awkward time for most people as their bodies develop rapidly toward adulthood. The expectation that emotional maturity will also develop also places great strain on teenagers and those in their early twenties. The fear of judgment associated with social phobias can develop from an actual event in which the sufferer received an unfavorable critique, but often the fear's genesis is performance anxiety.

One basic irrational assumption is that others are constantly evaluating one and finding him or her wanting in some way. Whatever the initial stimulus, nervous responses such as perspiration and trembling extremities increase the patient's degree of self-consciousness and thus feed themselves as well as the social phobia. The more anxious a person is the more anxious behavior he or she manifests, which increases anxiety over the behavior, et cetera, ad infinitum.

Another irrational assumption is that avoidance of social situations is preferable to potential embarrassment that may result from nervous or fearful behavior. Cognitive therapy points out the other possible, though unintended, interpretations of avoidance. A person with social phobias is not intentionally aloof or cold, but trapped into those defensive behavioral patterns by his or her fear. A person who fears serving drinks because his or her hands shake incessantly may appear rude or inhospitable.

Specific upsetting thoughts and self-statements work to maintain the fear response to social situations. Those who fear speaking in public often convince themselves that their contributions are inadequate. The continuous assurance that one's input will be dismissed or ridiculed prevents him or her from participating fully in diverse situations. Family gatherings can be as traumatic...