Social Phobia – A Case Study

Jeff is a quiet sort of a guy. He is reasonably well-liked, mainly because he doesn’t step on anyone’s toes and is always willing to go along with other people’s suggestions. His acquaintances sometimes laugh about how shy he is, and how odd it is that a grown man can blush for no apparent reason. “What color’s red, Jeff?”is always guaranteed to get a few laughs. For everyone except Jeff, of course.

He’s also popular with the boss at work, as he gets on with the job without too much fuss and doesn’t waste time standing around telling jokes and getting mixed up in office politics. His boss can’t quite understand why Jeff turns down opportunities for advancement, but he figures that he must be happy to stay just where he is.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jeff is categorically not happy to be where he is—not in his career, not in his relationships with people, and not in his life in general. So, why doesn’t he do something about it? Why doesn’t he join in and contribute to the world around him? Why doesn’t he take more responsibility at work to get that career moving?

The reason is that all of those things cause Jeff to feel intensely anxious. So anxious that he can’t think straight. Often he can’t even talk properly because his heart is pounding so hard he can’t hear his own voice. Jeff suffers from social phobia.

People like Jeff will live their lives avoiding the situations that cause them the most anxiety and thus they are able to hide their affliction from the people around them. Very few people will ever be let in on the secret; the majority will just think Jeff is shy and sometimes acts a little bit oddly. Underneath the facade, however, Jeff is often churning with anxiety, or depressed and angry with his inability to join in and enjoy life. A task as simple as telling a joke to a few work colleagues can seem like an impossibility, with the level of fear similar to what a normal person may feel if they were asked to address the United Nations General Assembly.

In a future article we’ll look at ways to make life more bearable for sufferers of this potentially serious condition.

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