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Shyness is not social phobia, social phobia is shyness

A recent report from Reuters bore the heading ‘Social phobia’ not shyness, researchers say.

The biggest non-story around is this study done in order to make social phobia out to be something other and more insidious than shyness. Guess what? The researchers got the results they wanted, and they declared social phobia more distressing than mere shyness. Big surprise, huh? Oh, and get this, social phobia is a legitimate psychiatric condition whereas shyness is not a legitimate psychiatric condition. As they are not going to conduct a study to prove the non-serious nature of shyness, I’d call that conclusion more bullshit in the bullshit department.

“I think their article is a welcome reminder that psychiatric diagnoses aren’t some kind of conspiracy on the part of the pharmaceutical industry,” said Ian Dowbiggin, a historian and the author of The Quest for Mental Health: A Tale of Science, Medicine, Scandal, Sorrow, and Mass Society.

Well, excuse me, Mr. Dowbiggin! Do you think these poor poor pathetic subhuman little student types should be institutionalized for their oh-so-monumental phobias? It must be remembered here that phobia is doctor-speak for fear, and fear the cough cough “disease” is more common than the common cold. Fear, in fact, remains an emotion quite common to the human experience. The pathologizing of that common emotion is the matter that concerns me here.

Around half of the more than 10,000 U.S. teens interviewed in the survey said they were shy to some degree, whereas only about nine percent met the criteria for social phobia.

One in eight of the self-described shy children were estimated to have had social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, at some point. That compared to one in 20 of those who weren’t shy.

The growing up experience might be described as the process of overcoming, and learning to deal with, one’s fears, anxieties, and phobias. Pathologising human emotions has become a way of insuring that the follies of youth and naivety don’t give way to the wisdom of age and experience. In other words, turning emotion into pathology is a way of avoiding the maturation process.

Adolescents can be shy, and adolescents can have anxiety. Neither shyness nor fears nor anxieties are diseases until psychiatrists get a hold of them, pronounce them such, and catalogue them in their bible, the DSM.

I’ve read where some shrinks would characterize diagnosis as closer to an art than a science. Okay, I can buy that. Whether we call it shyness, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, or social anxiety disorder I kind of think the boundaries have become blurred between this, that, and the other. What’s more, I think drug companies out to expand their markets, and increase their sales, have had a heck of a lot more to do with this blurring of the lines than somebody would like to let on.

Look incredulous.