Today we’re going to talk about social anxiety! Yay!!! Because I don’t talk about that enough on here… or something.
I don’t know how familiar you are with the concept of social anxiety, er social anxiety disorder (SAD)–I usually just say social anxiety even though that’s longer than its abbreviation, but whatever–but if you need a quick briefing: social anxiety is, essentially, like it sounds–feelings of anxiousness in social settings. But there’s more to it than that. A lot more. But in recent months, as I’ve become more open about my social anxiety, I’ve gotten the impression that people don’t see all parts of the picture, don’t realize why social situations make the socially anxious so socially anxious in the first place.
It’s not always new situations. It’s not always new people. It’s not always scrounging for something even remotely intriguing to say. And it certainly isn’t hating social situations or people or conversing. Though all these things are known for raising levels of discomfort for the anxious. No. Rather, the true trigger of our bouts of social anxiety (for me, anyway), is the judgment. The judgment that takes place in those new situations, from those new people, after saying those “intriguing” things. The judgement, er, the fear of judgment is what ultimately triggers my discomfort in social situations. The fear of judgment is the aspect of social anxiety that is so real and inescapable, yet is often the aspect that is most forgotten.
Sure, most anyone can feel a bit anxious in new situations with new people–that’s “normal”. Being unsure of what to say sometimes, that can be “normal”. And even worrying about what others think is “normal”. Great, yeah, I get it. Solidarity in not being alone with this anxiety, right? Okay… But is it “normal” to feel this way with family I live with (with whom I live 🙂 )? Close friends, who undeniably support me no matter what? People I’ve known most of if not all of my life? These aren’t new people or extremely new situations. Still with me? Or, how about this:
Just the other day I was putting together a late dinner for myself in our kitchen as my Mom was getting ready to leave for work. As I’m preparing my food for eating, I see her body stop and stand still, facing my direction. The more normal aspect of me assumes she wants to tell me something while anxious self assumes she’s totally making fun of the way I’m prepping my food. Either way, I turn to her and ask, “What?” She’s looking down at my food with an amused smile on her face and just says, “Nothing.” Her nonverbal communication tells me all I need to know; my anxiety fears are completely confirmed. I’m eating too much. I’m not letting my food cool down long enough. I’m doing everything wrong. So, again, let me ask how about now? Would you feel the same way in this situation? Have the same thought process?
I’m not trying to turn this into an “I-have-social-anxiety-and-can-be-the-only-one-I’m-so-unique” tirade. That’s not it at all (Side note: there’s my social anxiety right here–I’m worried about how my dear readers are judging me. If I’m coming on too strong, defensive. You see?). But I mean, how many people are likely to feel this same way in this situation (to some degree)? Worrying about what their mother is thinking of them and their cooking ability as they prepare a meal for one? Actually, that’s probably a bad example. I suspect this has potential to be sort of universal. I mean, don’t we all want to impress our moms with phenomenal cooking abilities? Let’s try something a little less so. How many of you worry about what other people think of you? Worry that everyone in the room is watching you, judging your every move? Worry the waiter thinks you’re incompetent when you stumble over your order? Worry about your friend’s comment on your tardiness days after the accusation was made? As far as I know, these aren’t regular thoughts for most people. But, oh, for the socially anxious, these are very real and very regular (though I suspect the degree of worrying depends upon the person).
Social anxiety is so, so much more than the basic fear of people and new things and social interaction. So much more. And I hope you, Friends, begin to realize that if you haven’t already…
So, the next time you see or hear some socially anxious-related blip along the lines of:
Know that that’s not the whole story. There are reasons behind the apparent nervousness and refusal to attend social events and talk to people. Now, if you want to get down to the science behind this–why we think this way–I don’t have an answer for that. But I can tell you it’s not a conscious choice. I don’t choose to think this way–it just kind of happens. And it’s not something that can be easily reversed. Beyond that, I’ve got nothing. Maybe that’ll be my basis for next week’s post, if I haven’t bored you already…
Social anxiety for the win!!! …Right?