Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Shying Away From Life

Dov Finkelstein, LCSW

Some of us feel a little self-conscious at times. But for some people, it becomes a real stumbling block, causing them to retreat into loneliness. What’s really behind this anxiety — and how to overcome it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Avigail is curled up on her sofa late at night, staring at the wedding invitation in her hand. She’s been thinking about this event ever since she first received the invite three weeks ago.

I’m going to make a complete fool out of myself if I go this chasunah, Avigail thinks. I don’t know anyone there. I’m going to sit there like a dummy and have nothing to say. And if someone talks to me, I’ll probably say the wrong thing. Then my face will turn bright red and everyone will stare.

Most of us are a little nervous about meeting strangers or being in uncomfortable social situations. But for some people, that nervousness becomes a crippling fear, causing them to withdraw into loneliness. They worry constantly about being watched, judged, and criticized in social situations. When self-consciousness and shyness rise to this excessive, intense level, it’s called Social Anxiety Disorder, or “social phobia.” Of all the anxiety disorders, social phobia is the most common, affecting up to 13 percent of the population.

At the root of all worry is a reaction to some threat. With social interactions, however, there is no real danger or risk beyond the possibility that the other person might react negatively. So why is the mere chance of that happening enough to provoke long bouts of worry and, at times, a full-fledged panic attack?

The reason behind this seemingly irrational behavior is that social relationships are almost as essential (or perhaps even more essential in some ways) to a person’s sense of well-being as is physical safety. Social science surveys have shown that people say they’re happiest when in the company of friends and family. When asked to list pleasant, mood-boosting activities, people commonly respond, “Being with happy people,” “Having people show interest in what I say,” and “Being with friends.”

People even need others in order to fully enjoy their own good fortune. The Acharonim teach us that even if a person could go to the heavens and see the angels, he would not fully enjoy this great vision until he came back down to earth and shared it with his friends.

Social relationships also have a strong impact on one’s sense of self. A person who feels respected by society feels more confident; conversely, a lack of respect from others can send one’s self-esteem plummeting. The Alter of Slabodka said that it’s impossible for a person to live without any feelings of self-respect, and if there were a way to completely remove a person’s self-respect, that person would die. Chazal, understanding the human need for social acceptance, even likened the punishment of cherem (social exclusion) to a death sentence.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you