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Self-Concept and Self-Actualization: Nucleus of Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder

In the dynamics of the self-concept and in the tendency to self-actualization are found the primary causes of Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder / Social Phobia. It seems that these conditions result from the introduction, in the self-concept, of the elements which obstruct self-actualization. This obstruction is damaging and experienced as discomfort inasmuch as it precludes that a given force, self-actualization, expands. We will detail each part.


What the self-concept is - the set of values and beliefs, conscious or accessible to one's consciousness, as well as attitudes and opinions the individual has of himself, of himself as regards others, the world and all that one's mind can reach.

In the case of Shyness or Social Anxiety, the concepts must be examined:

  • as regards himself;
  • as regards himself vis vis the other person.

Concepts as regards oneself - are predominantly depreciative. Examples: "I've got nothing to talk to other people about", "I am not able to face life", "I am ugly", "I am not knowledgeable", "I am not intelligent", "I feel unprotected, like a child", "It is awful when someone belittles me", "I cannot stand being rejected", "I am not nice to be with", "I have no presence of mind", "I cannot tell jokes or interesting tales", "Indeed I do have 'that' problem", "I am ashamed by 'that' problem of my parents". Many of these concepts - or similar concepts - fit neatly into what is known as low self-esteem or beliefs.

Concepts of oneself vis vis the other person - this "other" being perceived as stronger, more capable and intrinsically hostile. Examples: "People are ready to jump on me and criticize me", "Everybody has a boy/girlfriend, except me", "Nobody gives a hoot about what I say", "People may not actually come right out and say it, but they do not think well of me", "Everyone sees me as a child and will try to take advantage of me", "If I react, he / she will catch me from behind", "Other folks are always judging me", "They will make fun of me, depending on what I say", "If they do not laugh at me in my face, they will surely do it behind my back", "What if they discover 'that' problem?", "If I blow it or shoot myself in the foot, everybody will know about it", "No one look at me with respect".

Previous experiences - For these concepts to be impregnated into one's self, the person will have gone through lasting experiences.


Tendency to Self-Actualization - A concept created by Kurt Goldstein in 1940 and later widely used by Carl Rogers, it means a basic force which drives the person forward and onwards. This force has biological and psychological aspects. In the psychological field there are forces which drive us on in several directions. When these forces are obstructed, we feel discomfort.

Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness - Feelings

Feelings experienced through Shyness and Social Anxiety - These are feelings one experiences when a situation brings up depreciative aspects of self-concept and the threat represented by the other person. Example: the individual whose self concept says "I have nothing to talk to other people about" and he faces someone whom he figures is about to criticize him - will feel discomfort in that situation. In fact, this discomfort is a set of feelings and emotions, threat and danger being rather common - this is known as anxiety. Then this anxiety arises from the obstruction of the force that drives the person to social integration.

Anguish is also highlighted and in many situations it preceeds reactive depression, i. e., it preceeds the depression as a consequence of the situation.

The person feels threatened in social situations or facing the prospect of such situations. In feeling the threat, he/she undergoes physiological reactions which prepare the organism for flight in order to survive. Flight is one's natural way out in Social Anxiety Disorder because, according to his self concept, the person has no weapons to fight off the threat.

Although there is no physical risk, what is felt is at the same levels of physical risk and can be as high as the risk of losing one's life. It is a threat of psychological death, of no longer existing as a person, of disintegrated self. At a lower intensity level, one's impression is that of coming to suffer major losses.

Instintictively, the person avoids threatening situations, i. e., avoids contacts with others. If alone or with relatives or with a friend, then there is no threat or it is lower. A natural consequence is the loneliness of solitude.

Deadlocks - In many situations, flight is impossible. In other situations, the inner force, in the form of desire, of need, is very intense. What to do in such deadlocks? People find adaptive ways. Example: they develop behaviors in order not to allow that the hostility - which they think others harbor towards them - to come to the surface. Among such behaviors are common changes in one's tone of voice, the use of auxiliary verbs, the use of the verbal conditional tense, milder gestures, verbal economy. Through such actions, they judge that they control the hostility that they think exists in others.

Concretely, they begin to speak in a lower voice, use expressions such as "I wonder whether you could?", "Perhaps you might be able to", "Could it be that you might do this?", "Were it possible, I would like", and they develop verbal mannerisms, speak little, beat endlessly around the bush before coming to the point, and so forth and so on.

The person who is not able to make these adaptations or regards them as insufficient constantly feels that disintegration is about to take place. In other words, he or she lives in constant apprehension.

It becomes evident that the dynamics of self-concept and self-actualization play a central role in the Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder. To overcome them the person needs to change these dynamics.

Ruy Miranda is a Brazilian Physician and a former University Professor. He obtained his doctorate in Psychiatry in 1965. In Social Anxiety Disorder website he offers a wealthy of free articles on Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder / Social Phobia. He is author of the novel "The Saga of a Shy Fellow" which excerpts you may want to read at

Copyright 2004-2005, Ruy Miranda, all rights reserved. You may reproduce this article as long as it is in its complete form and that the resource box is included.


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