5 'Harmless' Things People Say to Me as Someone With Social Anxiety
What is it like to have social anxiety disorder? I could begin with the physical symptoms, such as feeling inferior, being scared of social rejection, having shallow breathing, extreme hesitation, severe tension in the body (don’t get me started on my permanent knots in my shoulders and back!), depression and isolation. But instead, I would like to let you in on five things people say to me that cause me to feel awkwardness, shame and embarrassment about myself.
1. “You need to talk more.”
I have always been told I need to talk more and be more outspoken and lively by all different kinds of people — teachers, professors, the working world, counselors, doctors, friends and acquaintances. I don’t feel I need to talk more. When I am not talking, it does not mean I am not functioning or interacting. I am either experiencing anxiety or I am just thinking and observing, which is OK!
2. “You’re so quiet I forgot you were there.”
This phrase does not boost my self-confidence and is harmful to my self-esteem. When I was a child, I was always being called shy, so much so that I learned to hate the word with a vengeance. Not a day has gone by in my life where someone asks, “why are you so quiet?” or makes a point to proclaim, “Oh you’re so quiet I forgot you were there!” to which my self-esteem replies, “Great! Glad to know I am that forgettable.” “Speak up!” is also a common utterance I hear from others.
3. “We need to hear more from you.”
I heard this phrase commonly in grade school, college and in work meetings. This also does not help my confidence level. When I am in a group setting where everyone’s input is appreciated, I am contributing as much as I can. I am concentrating on the subject at hand and everybody else’s input as well. My thought process takes longer than most, so I don’t always spit out answers right away. By the time I have my input formulated, the next topic has passed by already. But just because I don’t speak, does not mean I am not participating. I convey my thoughts more succinctly through writing.
When people randomly say tell me to smile or they say “cheer up,” it catches me off guard and contributes to my anxiety. I am usually unaware that I am not smiling. My facial expressions are not the same as other peoples’. I cannot always control what my face is doing. For instance, when I review a picture or video of myself, where I felt I was smiling big, the picture or video will show that I appeared to be frowning. This does not mean I was not happy. It just means my face does not accurately show what I am feeling on the inside. When people consistently tell me to smile, it makes me feel anxious and like I am doing something wrong.
5. “Just be yourself!”
I am trying. Just because I am not interacting the same way as you, doesn’t mean I am being reticent. I am me, and I can only ever be me. I know that people who say these things to me are just trying to be helpful and encouraging. However, it just makes me more self-conscious than I already am. Living in a world that embraces extroversion makes it really hard for me to feel like I can be OK just being myself.
Having SAD, being on the autism spectrum and being an introvert, my brain processes information differently. I prefer to think thoroughly, before I speak. That is just how my brain works! I often miss out on partaking in conversation because it just goes too quickly for my brain’s slow, but highly effective processes.
People with social anxiety disorder are misjudged as stuck-up, aloof, dense, airhead, lazy or even anti-social. These are incorrect presumptions. I do interact and show emotions, just not as an extrovert would. Society’s favoritism of people who are more outgoing has led to me being ultimately, an outcast. It has also led to me picking up the very harmful, dangerous and unhealthy technique of avoidance.
Unsplash photo via Erik Lucatero