Why Am I Afraid of People?

Feeling afraid of people can sometimes reflect social anxiety.
Your fear of people may indicate social anxiety disorder. Getty / Cultura RM Exclusive/Twinpix

If you are excessively afraid of people to the point that it interferes with your daily functioning, you might be living with social anxiety disorder (SAD). Below are a series of questions and answers about SAD that may help you understand your fear of people—if it is indeed rooted in social anxiety.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

People with SAD are intensely afraid of social and performance situations for fear of being embarrassed, humiliated or judged negatively.

Whether you are fearful of just one type of situation, such as public speaking, or most social situations, social anxiety can have a severely limiting effect on your life. This disorder is more than just shyness and requires diagnosis and treatment by a mental health professional.

What Causes a Fear of People?

We don't know the precise reasons why some people develop this problem and others do not; however, research suggests it is probably a combination of genetic factors and your environment. Scientists have found specific gene variations potentially related to social anxiety; as this area of research unfolds we will learn more about the exact causes of the disorder.

Suffice it to say, you likely won't be able to pin your fear of people down to one single cause—however, you might remember a triggering event such as being embarrassed in front of a group or being reprimanded in public by a harsh or critical parent.

Why Do I Fear Some Situations and Not Others?

The situations in which you are afraid of people might vary if you live with social anxiety disorder. Some people have very narrow worries, such as only being afraid of speaking in public. This type of social anxiety is usually less chronic and severe than if you fear most social and performance situations.

In general, people with social anxiety disorder usually feel the worst in situations where they are the center of attention or feel as though they are being judged in some way.

What Symptoms Go Along With a Fear of People?

If you are afraid of people, your fear might manifest itself in a variety of symptoms, such as the following:

In addition to being afraid of people, if you have social anxiety you will also be afraid that others will notice your anxiety. This "fear of fear" or cycle of panic that develops can be hard to break free from on your own. Fortunately there are effective treatments for this problem.

What Are the Treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is best treated using a combination of medication and therapy. Selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the first choice in terms of medication treatment for social anxiety disorder. When combined with talk therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), treatment success rates are very good.

Evaluate Yourself

At this point, you should be in a good position to evaluate your fear of people and whether it might be reflective of an underlying mental health disorder.

Consider the following points when deciding if your fear of people may in fact indicate the need for a diagnosis and treatment.

1. How long has your fear of people been going on? Does it change or remain constant across situations and people?

2. How much does your fear of people interfere with your daily life? Have you dropped classes or lost jobs because of this fear? Does the fear follow you through your daily life?

3. Do you consider yourself introverted or extroverted? While both introverts (those who gather energy by being alone) and extroverts (those who gain energy from being with other people) can have social anxiety, introverts may sometimes be mistaken as being socially anxious.

If you find that social or performance situations leave you feeling drained, but they don't cause you particular anxiety, it could be that you are simply wired to prefer having more time alone.

A Word From Verywell

If you find that your fear of people is overwhelming, it is important to seek help from your doctor or a mental health professional to receive a diagnosis and/or treatment. Most people with SAD live a long time with the disorder before they seek help. While it may feel uncomfortable talking about how you feel, the benefits will far outweigh that initial discomfort.

Sources:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Social Anxiety Disorder

National Institutes of Mental Health. Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)

Social Anxiety Institute. What is Social Anxiety Disorder? 

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