May 15


​Erasing Embarrassment

People with social phobia fear embarrassment and negative evaluations by others. Among children, 10% to 15% are shy, and 8% to 11% of adults develop social phobia, which usually begins in mid- to late-adolescence.

Rating Social Phobia

Directions: For a quick check of whether or not you have social phobia, rate how often or intensely you experience any of the following fears on a scale of 0–10, with 10 the most intense fear.

Fear of

  • Shame
  • Ridicule
  • Rejection
  • Criticism
  • Disapproval

Fear of Being Seen

  • Choking on food
  • Using poor etiquette
  • Spilling something
  • Shaking, sweating, or blushing

Fear of

  • Appearing foolish
  • Voice sounding funny
  • Forgetting an answer
  • Not knowing an answer or knowing what to say

Fear of Being Seen

  • Inept
  • Inferior
  • Unappealing
  • Humiliated
  • Embarrassed


Shyness may be an inherited trait. Studies suggest that genetics account for 22% to 50% of social anxiety. People may have this problem due to worrisome thoughts about how they are being perceived or physical factors: extra blood vessels under the skin (causing blushing) or low levels of the calming or excitement-seeking neurotransmitters (GABA and dopamine). Early identification and treatment of social anxiety is important because it can eventually provoke alcohol abuse, depression, panic disorder, eating disorders, or avoidant personalities. There are several powerful ways to modify it, including taking medications that help reduce any physical causes:

  • Beta-blockers, used in the 1960s to reduce high blood pressure, are effective in reducing heart palpitations and shaky hands that can interfere with performance. They are less effective when taken regularly or in less intense social situations.
  • Antidepressants that increase the flow of serotonin improve social phobia in 50% to 75% of cases. It may take 8–12 weeks to achieve the full benefit, and gains may be lost if medication is discontinued. Mild side effects may occur initially.
  • Tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax can reduce social jitters for 78% of people. They work in 15 minutes to reduce anxiety, but they can cause drowsiness, forgetfulness, and dependency, and aggravate depression in some cases.

Choose helpful beliefs and dare to take action that changes false thinking

  • “Physical symptoms will . . . cause panic vs. decrease the longer I stay.” Dare to wait 15 minutes before leaving or try making symptoms worse.
  • “Everyone is . . . staring at me vs. paying little attention to me.” Dare to look around and make a survey of how many people notice you.
  • “If I make a mistake, people will think . . . I’m stupid vs. I’m human.” Dare to intentionally be foolish—ask where the lettuce is in a hardware store.
  • “If I shake, sweat, or blush, people will . . . think I’m pathetic vs. be compassionate.” Dare to tell people you shake when you’re nervous and watch their reaction.
  • “If I talk to someone . . . I won’t know what to say vs. questions and comments will naturally come to me.” Dare to ask “nosy” questions to start conversations.
  • Avoid avoidance to reduce or eliminate social phobia permanently:
  • Change body chemistry by exposing yourself to fearful situations. This gives the neurotransmitter that reduces fear reactions (GABA) a chance to build potency.
  • Expose yourself to situations you moderately avoid. Pick daily goals and wait for anxiety to lessen. Repeat tasks to neutralize fear and face other tough situations until you can tackle your worst problem. Use positive thoughts (above) during practice.
  • Develop hierarchies for difficult tasks. Prepare a speech on shyness. Practice it with a tape recorder, close friends, first-graders, and in your imagination, and then give it.

Rating Avoidance

Directions: Mark situations you avoid and rate the degree to which you dodge them with people you know and don’t know on a 0–10 scale: 0 (none) or 10 (complete) avoidance.

Occupational or educational activities

Working while being observed
Asking or answering questions at classes or meetings
Attending or speaking up at meetings
Taking a test or giving an oral report or speech
Talking to teacher, boss, or other authority figure

​Social situations

Small or large gatherings
Going out for drinks
Going to or giving a party
Asking someone for a date
Kissing or  making sexual contact


Asking for information or directions
Calling someone on the phone
Leaving messages on answering machines or e-mail
Meeting people and introducing myself
Talking to people of the same sex
Talking to people of the opposite sex
Making eye contact
Expressing disagreement or disapproval

​Public scrutiny

People noticing acne, cerebral palsy or other condition
Making telephone calls
Eating or writing with others around
Using a public restroom
Entering a room when others are already seated
Being the center of attention
Giving a performance


Statistics come from Social Phobia by David Katzelnick and James Jefferson (Dean Foundation, 1997) and The Hidden Face of Shyness by Franklin Schneier and Lawrence Welkowitz (Avon Books, 1996),

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