What is Sociophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Sociophobia.
An intense fear of society/people is called Sociophobia. This is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from this phobia will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to people in a social setting.
A sufferer will not only experience anxiety when physically exposed to their fear stimuli,but just the thought of encountering people/society can instigate anxiety and other physiological symptoms associated with specific phobias.
One can also have full-blown panic attacks if the anxiety worsens.
Society is a group of people, living in a community where they interact with each other.
In general, society consists of a large number of people with almost the same ideologies and/backgrounds.
Phobias are irrational fears. But, claiming Sociophobia to be wholly irrational would be incorrect.
This is because though, society is very important in one’s life, at times the social pressures it produces can affect one’s mental health.
The norms and values one needs to follow being a part of their society can really burden an individual who is unable to do so.
These individuals are then criticised and accused by the people of their own society because they don’t follow the ‘norm’, even if the norms allocated are unfair.
This causes societal pressure to one which can later turn into Sociophobia.
To get rid of these social pressures or people who degrade or demotivate one, someone suffering from Sociophobia will take all possible measures to avoid getting exposed to the society or it’s people.
The act of avoidance is repeated because of the pleasant feelings it produces by eliminating anxiety.
These recurrent acts can change into compulsions, allowing one to develop OCD.
According to the DSM-V, anxiety and acts of avoidance one undergoes in Sociophobia, affect one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, a sufferer will avoid going to gatherings/parties, where they might come across people.
They will be hesitant in visiting their relatives/people who belong to their society in order to avoid them and the anxiety they lead to.
One avoids meeting or interacting with those who belong to their society.
Meeting new people will be easier for them as compared to the ones they already know because of the fear that these people will cause anxiety.
They might shift places more often and will prefer studying in a new school every year.
They may be more comfortable in places where people don’t know who they are.
Sociophobia is quite similar to other phobias. Such as Anthropopobia (fear of people), Agoraphobia, fear of being judged and or social anxiety.
Sciophobia is an irrational fear of society/people.
Someone suffering from this type of specific phobia will experience extreme anxiety when in gatherings/around people they know.
Symptoms of Sociophobia
Similar to all other specific phobias, Sociophobia’s main symptom is extreme anxiety.
Sufferers experience high levels of anxiety when around people/society. This anxiety can also lead to full-blown panic attacks.
An individual with Sociophobia will make tireless efforts to avoid their source of fear.
They will avoid situations which they fear will need them to interact with people or be surrounded by them.
Though they end up living a caged life, they’re still unable to fight their fear and overcome it without professional help.
As the DSM-V suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months to be diagnosed with Sociophobia.
Other than anxiety, one also experiences a number of other physiological symptoms.
The severity of these symptoms depends upon the intensity of one’s fear, depending on how they perceive a certain situation or person, based on their personal experiences (or the cause of the phobia).
The symptoms that one endures in Sociophobia are:
- Extreme anxiety when around people/society
- Extreme anxiety by just thinking about people/society
- Avoiding people/society
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Inability to handle anxiety
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Inability to breathe properly/increased breathing rate
- Feeling dizzy
- Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus).
- Butterflies in the stomach
Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms (including anxiety) to be diagnosed with Sociophobia.
Additionally, this fear of people can also be a part of other mental disorders such as PTSD, delusional disorder or social anxiety disorder.
Causes of Sociophobia
Like every other specific phobia, Sociophobia is a result of either genetics or a past traumatic experience.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing Sociophobia than someone who doesn’t.
This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Sociophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of people.
A person suffering from the autism spectrum, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are also at a higher risk of developing Sociophobia, if not treated properly.
This type of phobia is more common amongst children who are between the ages of 13-18 years.
Any incident they might’ve gone through or heard about can lead to the formation of Sociophobia.
The trigger event that one requires to experience Sociophobia can be a past-traumatic event.
For example, someone might have experienced sexual or physical abuse by a person in their childhood.
Since then, they either developed a fear for that particular individual or they generalized this fear to all. or , they might have been bullied or criticised by people/society.
Someone can also develop this fear of people if they have seen any of their loved ones being afraid of or harmed by a person or disturbed by societal norms.
Additionally, movies or news on TV often portray people/society as evil, this can be another cause for Sociophobia.
Treatment of Sociophobia
Sociophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Sociophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or NLP that lowers the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Sociophobia is defined as the irrational fear of people/society. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about going to a gathering for example.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
· A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
· B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
· C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
· D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
· Neuro-Linguistic programming (NLP)
It is a psychological approach that includes ways of trying to reach a personal goal.
It links language, thoughts and patterns of behavior learned through experience.
The key elements of NLP are action, modeling and effective communication. It suggests that everyone has different ways of how they see the world.
By understanding a number of perspectives of others, patients who use NLP see the world through a combination of their personal views and that of others.
NLP therapists treat patients with Sociophobia by making them understand their thoughts, behaviors and emotional state.
By having an insight of the patient’s own ‘personal’ view of reality, they assist them in forming new, positive thoughts.
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders. It is used with patients who know the cause of their phobia.
First, the therapist collects the patients’ history of different fears. They then identify the real cause of the particular fear/phobia the patient has.
They then discuss any new/latest event that triggered their anxiety and fear in the past few weeks.
People coming with specific phobias are told to imagine their distress causing stimuli.
The therapist then works with the individual in order for them to overcome their fear.
In the case of Sociophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of society/people. They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Sociophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Sociophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like.
Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about their fear stimuli.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions, lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions, 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Sociophobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Valium are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Sociophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
by Dr. Aziz Gazipura PsyD, Dr. Aziz Gazipura, et al.
by Ellen Hendriksen
by Barry McDonagh
by Debra A. Hope , Richard G. Heimberg, et al.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) Is social phobia a mental illness?
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia is a mental disorder.
One is fearful of being judged or watched by people.
Q2) What causes Anthropophobia?
Anthropophobia is an irrational fear of people. It is caused either by a genetic predisposition or environmental factors.
Q3) Does social anxiety go away with age?
It is more common in teenagres and, if not treated on time, can worsen.
However, as one grows old and takes proper treatment for it, they can overcome social anxiety.
Q4) At what age does anxiety peak?
During childhood, which is between the age of 5-7years and or adolescents.
Examples of other interesting phobias