More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Fear of Social Contact
by James P. Krehbiel

Many people suffer from social anxiety. They are afraid of making emotional and social contact with others. They maintain excuses for avoiding a connection with others, fearing the option of reaching out. In my counseling practice, I frequently hear, ?I?ve been rejected too much; they?re not my kind; those kids think they are too cool,? and so it goes. Excuse-making creates an artificial barrier that keeps the avoider on the perimeter of social experience.

Because of their maladaptive perceptions, socially anxious people give off negative energy and accomplish their goal of hiding from others. They might ask me, ?What would I say to befriend others?? This is a barometer of the level of their anxiety and can give me an indication of the sense of aloneness that they feel about the prospects of connecting with others. Most have never had a role model for what psychotherapist Fritz Perls called ?contactfuness.?

Those who are socially anxious are experts at self-monitoring. They tend to be overly sensitive to their perception of what others think about them. Their underlying assumption about life is, ?I don?t deserve to be loved, because I am not good enough for you.? Once an individual can step outside of the self-monitoring (self-centeredness) and explore the external world, then the excitement begins. Slowly, the socially anxious person may wade into the water, checking for sharks and other critters, and begin asking simple questions that will help him relate to others more effectively. At first it feels awkward as he grapples with what to say. I always tell anxious patients that people love it when you act interested in their life experiences. How many times have people really shown an interest in whom you are or what you like to do?

When I was about to meet my father-in-law, my wife reminded me that he could have been a professional interrogator. ?I warn you, he will ask you every question imaginable,? she said. What she failed to realize, however, is that I welcomed his involvement in my life because I was not used to anyone with that level of care and concern. How wonderful it is to be able to talk about yourself! If the social phobic can learn to follow the advice of Fritz Perls and ?get out of his head and into his senses,? then things will begin to change. Confidence builds, personal energy becomes more positive, and a pattern of acceptance and willingness to make contact with others will emerge.

People who lack social confidence have a difficult time trusting their instincts. If they feel a feeling, or think a thought, they immediately discard it as not credible. All of us have a tendency to refuse to act on feelings, thoughts, or sensations because we mistrust ourselves. Those with social phobia have a habit of mistrusting their experience. They have learned that many of their inner thoughts and feelings are not acceptable. Sometimes family-of-origin conflict has perpetuated a pattern, by teaching socially anxious people to thwart their thoughts and feelings.

Many parents have unknowingly taught their youngsters to discount their emotional experience. Often, social anxious individuals have felt intimidated and controlled by over-bearing parents. They learned to become hypersensitive to sharing their thoughts and feelings because they were not given an opportunity to promote understanding through open dialogue. Families may operate in a void when it comes to expressing feelings. The underlying assumption in many families is that the expression of deep feeling is to be avoided at all costs. Asserting one?s feelings may create conflict and is not permissible. People may develop a pattern of internalizing their feelings rather than expressing them openly and appropriately.

Counseling socially anxious people involves teaching assertiveness skills, building confidence, helping people set appropriate limits, and coaching them in successful ways of communicating with others. It also involves helping people learn risk-taking behaviors in making emotional contact with others rather than calculating or measuring their words. In order to be an effective communicator, people must learn to be appropriately vulnerable by taking the risk to be emotionally expressive without worrying about the approval or disapproval of others.

Freedom From Fear recommends Stepping Out of the Bubble: Reflections on the Pilgrimage of Counseling Therapy by James P. Krehbiel.


This article hits the nail right on the head... for me, anyway. Pretty much since my teens I have had a tendency to push people away when they get too close for comfort. For many years, I rationalized it by moving from place to place, deciding that I didn't really need that person as a friend, there was something weird about them anyway, or other cheap excuses. It's a lonely life!

When it comes to romance, all of these factors come into play even more strongly. The poor men who have been attracted to me have had a rough ride of it. I have always been most comfortable obsessing over someone who isn't interested in me - if the man I'm obsessing over shows any signs of affection then he gets the cold shoulder or some cutting remark.

This behaviour (in romance or otherwise) is not intentional by any stretch of the imagination. I usually regret my words or actions a microsecond after they're out but I lack the courage to admit my mistake and apologize.

The article mentions parental influence, which gybes exactly with my own experience. My brother was the favoured child in the family, so he's doing just fine. My sister and I are the ones with the issues. This is not meant to accuse; my parents - well, my mom - dad didn't participate in raising us - my mom had her own issues, still does.

So now that the problem has been identified, what steps can I take to solve it? It's all very well to talk about developing self-confidence and appropriate vulnerability - what's the first step in that direction?
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