Social Activity and Fear of Failure

Reader’s Question

Hello: I’m 19 and just moved to California from Iowa, where I lived most of my life. During my high school years, I was never in a rush to drive or go out to parties. Whenever I heard of a party I tried to stay away from it. I also never had a job because of the fear of failing and not knowing what to do if something goes wrong. The thing is, deep down inside I want to do all of those things, but there is this block in my mind. I just don’t know what my problem is…have any ideas?

Psychologist’s Reply

The most likely problem here is Social Phobia, a persistent fear of performance or social situations. Social Phobia creates a person who is fearful if not terrified of social situations that might create embarrassment, failure, or anxiety. Folks with this phobia always feel they are being judged, evaluated, or criticized by others. Social Phobia greatly exaggerates situations most people take for granted. For example, everyone on a new job worries about making mistakes and sure enough — everyone on a new job makes mistakes. The employer knows this and accepts that fact (within reason). On my first college job as a grocery truck unloader I sent 160 gallons of milk off the loading dock. It seemed like a wet and white explosion when they landed. While the employer was not happy (cats in the neighborhood loved it!), I remained on the job for another two years.

Social Phobia is very treatable. I’d recommend consulting a mental health professional in your area. Also research Social Phobia for more information.

Keep in mind that stress increases any normal personality traits we may have, something important in your case. Moving to California from Iowa, from dependence to more independence, would be very stressful. You’re in a new environment, new people, new traffic for sure, etc. Check your stress level and use stress-reducing strategies. You can also enroll in social activities that have minimal to mild social contact such as visiting the library, taking an adult class at college, etc.

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