Wallflower (people)

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A wallflower is someone or something with an introverted personality type (or in more extreme cases, social anxiety) who will attend parties and social gatherings, but will usually limit themselves to standing away from the crowd and simply acting as an onlooker.

In terms of a party, wallflowers will literally stand against a wall and simply watch the crowd. Although other attendees may approach them, the wallflower will turn down any attention, wanting to remain away from the focus of the event. This could be due to anxiety, lack of social skills, or a number of other mental conflicts the person may be dealing with.

Wallflower can also be used on a grander scale. When a company or organization chooses or is forced to remain on the sidelines of any activity, they can be called a wallflower.[1]

Connection to Sociology[edit]

Structural Function Theory[edit]

Structural functionalism is a sociological theory that sees society as a number of complex parts that form a stable and functional whole. This leads to a strong and coherent family unit made of smaller parts, with the functioning family unit then going on to form the smaller parts of a wider community, society and so on.[2]

In this aspect, the wallflower would fit outside of the function of society, keeping to him or herself and not attempting to "climb the social ladder" in any sense.

Social Conflict Theory[edit]

Social Conflict theory is a theory in Sociology that claims society is in a state of perpetual conflict due to competition for limited resources. It holds that social order is maintained by domination and power, rather than consensus and conformity. According to conflict theory, those with wealth and power try to hold on to it by any means possible, chiefly by suppressing the poor and powerless.[3]

Again, the wallflower wouldn't fit into this view very easily, as his or her main interest is to stand apart from social gatherings and avoid conflict.

Symbolic Interaction Theory[edit]

The most relevant sociological theory that the wallflower relates to, Symbolic Interaction describes specific gestures or social norms that are symbolic in meaning. The theory consists of three core principles: meaning, language and thought. These core principles lead to conclusions about the creation of a person’s self and socialization into a larger community.[4]

Because the wallflower will usually exhibit a lack of interaction with others, it becomes symbolic of their thoughts and feelings towards others. The most specific example would be in the body language. Many times people who are shy have little or no eye contact with others. You may see a man, woman, or child try to avoid eye contact with others while out walking around in public or even in private. For some this may be a condition that becomes consistent over time and become a normal action.[5]

In the case of parties or social gatherings, the wallflower will remain at a certain distance from the crowd or most of the people. When a shy person is around others you may see that they do what they can to stay away from the people that they do not know. Even with some friends you may or may not see the shy man or woman even near or in the Bell Bubble or within the intimate distance of friends. In a social setting you may not see a shy person in the center of the room without a friend or group of friends. Shy people tend to stay out of the possibility of even being the center of attention.[6]

Anxiety Disorders[edit]

Social Anxiety[edit]

Social anxiety the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations: Social anxiety disorder can wreak havoc on the lives of those who suffer from it. This disorder is not simply shyness that has been inappropriately medicated.

Symptoms may be so extreme that they disrupt daily life. People with this disorder, also called social phobia, may have few or no social or romantic relationships, making them feel powerless, alone, or even ashamed.

Although they recognize that the fear is excessive and unreasonable, people with social anxiety disorder feel powerless against their anxiety. They are terrified they will humiliate or embarrass themselves.The anxiety can interfere significantly with daily routines, occupational performance, or social life, making it difficult to complete school, interview and get a job, and have friendships and romantic relationships.[7]

Being a wallflower can be considered a less-intense form of social anxiety. A person with social anxiety may feel a sense of hesitation in large crowds, and may even have a sense of panic if forced to become the center of attention.[8] This fear may cause them to do something as minor as stand away from the center of a party, but it may also cause a major or minor anxiety attack.

People with social anxiety disorder do not believe that their anxiety is related to a medical or physical illness or disease. This type of anxiety occurs in most social situations, especially when the person feels on display or is the center of attention.

The socially-anxious person has extremely high anxiety when they're put into a position where they must make small talk to a stranger or interact with others in a group. Their anxiety becomes worse when the person fears that they are going to be singled out, ridiculed, criticized, embarrassed, or belittled. People with social anxiety find it terrifying to interact with unfamiliar people, give any type of public presentation, or even be publicly noticed. For example, the office may be planning a birthday party for the socially-anxious person—and instead of this being a pleasant and happy experience—it will cause great anticipatory fear and dread—because they will be put on display... in front of all those people... and then they fear they will do something to make a fool of themselves...

The person with social anxiety is sometimes viewed as "quiet", "shy", "introverted", or "backward". They are continually concerned that other people will notice their anxiety and they will be humiliated and embarrassed as a result. Most people with social anxiety disorder hold jobs that are well beneath their capabilities and capacities because they fear job interviews, working in a position where there is too much public contact, and being promoted to a position where they would have to supervise other people. When socially-anxious people isolate themselves as much as possible and are somehow enabled to stay at home and not work, their social contact can drift down to the immediate family or to no one at all.

Once a person avoids almost all social and public interactions we say the person has an extreme case of social anxiety disorder, more commonly called Avoidant Personality Disorder. As you would expect, people with social anxiety disorder have an elevated rate of relationship difficulties and substance abuse.

To escape the constant anxiety, many people with anxiety (both panic and social anxiety people) turn to the age-old, damaging anxiety reducers: alcohol and substance/drug abuse.[9]

Panic and Anxiety Attacks[edit]

Anxiety attacks are a combination of physical and mental symptoms that are intense and overwhelming. The anxiety is more than just regular nervousness. The anxiety is often a feeling of immense, impending doom that makes many people feel they're about to die, or that everything around them is breaking down.

It creates physical symptoms that are so severe they actually mimic legitimate, serious health problems.

People that haven't had an anxiety attack before often have no idea that what they're experiencing is anxiety. That is because the symptoms of anxiety attacks and panic attacks mimic extremely serious issues, such as:

Yet despite how intense they can feel, anxiety attacks are not remotely dangerous.[10]

Examples in Media[edit]

  • In the film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scott sees Ramona standing by herself at a party. Because she is separate from the crowd and not interacting with anyone, she could be considered a wallflower.[11]
  • In the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (and the film of the same name), the main character Charlie often finds himself alone in school or at parties. He also suffers from anxiety and depression.[12]
  • In the song "Here", by Alessia Cara, the artist describes wanting to enjoy herself at home and not attend any parties with her friends.[13]


  1. ^ "the definition of wallflower". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2016-11-09. 
  2. ^ "What is an example of structural functionalism?". Reference. Retrieved 2016-11-22. 
  3. ^ Staff, Investopedia (2013-07-10). "Conflict Theory". Investopedia. Retrieved 2016-11-22. 
  4. ^ "Symbolic Interactionism". www.utwente.nl. Retrieved 2016-12-05. 
  5. ^ "Body language of shyness – Body language expert, reading body language, read body language of men and women". readingbodylanguagenow.com. Retrieved 2016-12-05. 
  6. ^ "Body language of shyness – Body language expert, reading body language, read body language of men and women". readingbodylanguagenow.com. Retrieved 2016-12-05. 
  7. ^ "Social Anxiety Disorder | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA". www.adaa.org. Retrieved 2016-11-22. 
  8. ^ "Fear of Crowds - Phobias - Anxiety". www.healthcentral.com. Retrieved 2016-11-09. 
  9. ^ "What are the Differences Between Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety? | The Anxiety Network". anxietynetwork.com. Retrieved 2016-11-22. 
  10. ^ "Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks". www.calmclinic.com. Retrieved 2016-11-22. 
  11. ^ "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World." Produced by: Universal Pictures © 2010
  12. ^ "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower." By: 'Stephen Chbosky' Published by: MTV Books/Pocket Books © 1998
  13. ^ "Here - Alessia Cara". play.google.com. Retrieved 2016-12-05.