It is useful for highly sensitive people to understand the causes of social phobia which often result in the crippling self consciousness and which can contribute to the HSP tendency to have an introverted personality.
Social Phobia is sometimes referred to either as Generalized Social Phobia, which NIMH states is the most common anxiety disorder, or Social Anxiety Disorder.
In 2008, The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) released the results of a study: Social Phobia Patients Have Heightened Reactions to Negative Comments. The researchers used functional brain imaging tools, fMRI, to map brain reactions to a variety of negative verbal expressions. It was found that those people with social phobia had heightened brain responses only to negative comments about themselves.
The study made evident that people with social phobia are extremely afraid of being judged by other people. The researchers were able to observe that two different sections of the brain became activated when negative comments were made to people with social phobia: the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) which is involved in the sense and evaluation of self and the amygdala which is central to emotional processing. According to the Free Library, “the medial prefrontal cortex is involved in imagining, thinking about yourself and “theory of mind,” which encompasses the ability to figure out what others think, feel or believe and to recognize that other people have different thoughts, feelings and beliefs from you.”
This would suggest a connection between criticism and fear in the person with social phobia. In this research, the concern in the patient was raised by criticism, but only criticism towards themselves generated a brain reaction. It raises a question about criticism that is worth exploring: why would one person be afraid of criticism and another would not be afraid?
As we learn more and more about our brains, it is becoming apparent that one way our brains develop is through social interaction. The social group has been the cornerstone of our survival and our education from the earliest days of human history. When we are young we need the support of our families and social group, and therefore must get along with them for our survival. Rejection by our families is a serious matter, and in a child, will be perceived as a matter of life and death.
Therefore in families where criticism is perceived also as a rejection, a child will have a different experience and reaction than a child who grows up in a family that accepts him/her and criticism is not a sign of rejection. In other words, when the child experiences affection in spite of a criticism they can have a different experience than the child who has the experience of criticism which is delivered in a rejecting or abusive way.
Since the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala areas of the brain are activated when social phobes are criticized, the implication is that criticism implies a serious imminent threat. Many people with social phobia are HSP’s, which means they are different. For them, criticism may be seen as threatening because being different raises the potential of rejection by the group and therefore jeopardize their survival.
Perhaps being different for many highly sensitive people has meant the experience of significant early rejection or a significant fear of rejection that causes their brains respond to all criticism with concern. Highly sensitive people can reduce their phobia if they can accept their uniqueness and find a way to make their uniqueness a valuable contribution to their social groups.