By: Fahad Khan
Also known as Social Anxiety Disorder, it is characterized by strong feelings of being judged by others and being embarrassed.
Wait… I have these feelings all the time. Do I have this disorder?
Having feelings of being judged or being embarrassed is normal to everyone, especially Muslims. Every time we go out in public, or in specific areas (airports), we feel as if we are constantly being judged and we feel embarrassed. However, it is considered a disorder when these feelings become disruptive to our daily functioning and are caused by uncommon issues. For example, if you are afraid of wiping your nose in public, and you let it run after sneezing, that’s not normal. Being a Muslim and having anxiety over going in an airport or an airplane is normal and understandable due to societal stigmas. If you are at a point where you avoid going to these places and it disrupts your other areas of life, then you may be suffering with the disorder.
What are some symptoms of Social Phobia?
Some of the more common symptoms of Social Phobia include:
- Anxiety over being with others and having a hard time talking to them
- Being very self-conscious in front of others
- Feelings of embarrassment
- Afraid of being judged by others
- Excessive worry about events with other people
- Staying away from public places
- Difficulty making and keeping friends
- Experiencing physical and/or physiological symptoms around others (blushing, sweating, nausea, and raised heart rate etc.)
What causes Social Phobia?
Although the exact source of this problem has not been discovered, it may occur due to several factors. Social Anxiety Disorder can run in families giving it a genetic cause. It can also be prevalent in certain types of personalities. Lastly, it can occur due to past or current events. For Muslims, 9/11 can be attributed to Social Phobia.
Can it be treated?
Yes. The symptoms of Social Phobia can be managed with medications. Furthermore, psychotherapy can be most helpful in finding the origin of the problem and dealing with symptoms caused through the usage of exposure. Exposure is gradual in the context of uncovering the underlying origins and helping affirm positive opposite behaviors. In any case, contact a professional if you believe that you have this problem.
What is the Islamic perspective on this issue?
Since I’m not an Islamic scholar, I can only present my professional opinion as Muslim therapist accustomed to utilizing Islamic concepts in therapeutic settings (Khalil Center). Social Phobia develops due to personal beliefs and practices formed over time. Working on it at a personal level can cure it. For instance, if you are suffering with Social Phobia, YOU have feelings of being judged by others, YOU are embarrassed of others, and YOU keep away from others etc. Increased self-awareness and mindfulness can EMPOWER YOU to become more aware of yourself and deal better with these symptoms. Increased self-awareness can also allow you to understand the origin of some of your thought patterns and how they MAY or MAY NOT be conducive to your current level of functioning. Awareness is the first pathway toward relief and change.
As Muslims, our belief is that Allah (SWT) is the one who will judge us. Muslims are encouraged not to judge others in any way, shape, or form. On the other hand, Islam is a collectivistic tradition and does emphasize the development of communal social norms. As human beings, we are social animals and this element of being social, allows us to follow rules, establish order and avoid anarchy. If people never worried about others appraisals of them, this would create chaos for humanity. Some may say, ‘well others shouldn’t judge’, but the reality is: as human beings it can be hard to be mindful of Allah’s presence at all times, therefore, social norms/company and the fear of their evaluation of you can be reinforcer for change. It might not be a bad thing to change DUE to other’s evaluations, IF, you also subscribe to that belief/value yourself as a Muslim. For example, some Muslims are afraid of drinking alcohol in public due to fears of being judged. Well, this Muslim may think twice before indulging in an impulsive desire in the moment if they live in a community where that is not socially acceptable.
HOWEVER: you may do something, which is lawful in Islam but may still feel the anxiety in public. This is a case where the public norm has been corrupted and is against the fitrah (natural human norms). This is where the FEAR of others, although a healthy concept in its appropriate context can become maladaptive OR disorderly.
In that case, you have no other recourse but to firmly put your trust in only being judged by Allah (SWT) and no one else. This can help tip the balance back toward a healthy degree. Certainly, social support in the form of good Muslim company who can reinforce and strengthen your resolve can help. For example, if a Muslim is afraid of expressing necessary religious symbols in public where it may not be ‘popular’ to do so, she/he should affirm her/his belief that she/he is doing so to follow the commandment of Allah (SWT) and that only He alone will judge her/him or reward her/him for their commitment. It is harder said than done but as existential psychologists say, ‘lean into the anxiety’ and face it head on! This may be the pathway to your wilayah (friendship status with Allah).
**Please be advised that presentation of suggested personal interventions are just used as an example and there are more comprehensive approaches that can offered in the therapeutic context.
**Minor additions were made by Hooman Keshavarzi