Social inhibition is a term used to describe the behavioral or performance restraint — or lack of restraint — a person displays in the presence of other people. A mild level of social inhibition might not cause much notice, and may even be considered normal. If an individual's level of inhibition is too high or too low, however, social situations and relationships may prove difficult. For example, a person who restrains himself too much might seem withdrawn and have difficulty participating in conversations and social events. A person who is too uninhibited, on the other hand, may behave in a way that alienates others and makes it hard for others to appreciate his company.
Maintaining normal levels of social inhibition may help people keep their behavior within the realm of what is considered acceptable. A person with a normal level of inhibition might feel confident enough to carry on a conversation in a social setting, but would avoid behaving in a frowned-upon manner. For instance, he may appear open and friendly and willing to talk about a range of subjects, but would refrain from making crude jokes to people who are unlikely to find them funny or touching others in a manner that is considered inappropriate.
Sometimes social inhibitions are at higher-than-normal levels, and in such cases, can interfere with the affected person's ability to enjoy social situations or develop personal relationships. For example, a person who is highly inhibited may feel less confident and as if he doesn't fit in with others in social situations. As a result of this, he might seem quiet, withdrawn, unfriendly, or aloof. In reality, however, he might simply feel uncomfortable and unsure of himself or as if others are judging him harshly. In extreme cases, an affected person could even have difficulty showing his emotions or even recognizing them.
When a person's level of social inhibition is too low, however, he may also experience difficultly in the way he relates to others. For example, he might be considered "the obnoxious one" in a crowd who finds ways to insult others and usually acts inappropriately. In fact, his behavior may be so extreme that he could be labeled or diagnosed with antisocial behavior. Interestingly, a very low level of inhibition is often associated with a range of mental health issues. Additionally, many people become very uninhibited when they have consumed significant amounts of alcohol or drugs.