Today’s post talks about social anxiety. While it isn’t the same for each person affected, there are some individual manifestations that might surprise you.
Social media is the best outlet for the socially phobic
is our individual disposition nature or nurture??
I’m socially phobic. While I don’t know if this is a genetic trait or one that has been learned and conditioned, I do know that it’s very real. I’ve been like this since I was little. It’s also, most likely, why I’m so in tune with creating a cozy nest at home for me and my family. This has always been the case for me. A few situations ring hard in my head that illustrate the early onset of this issue.
The first memory was set in the grocery store. Whenever I would be waiting in the checkout line as a young girl with my mum and then later on my own, I would count in my head until I was out the door. COUNT?? Yes, I would actually start at 1 and keep going as long as it took to leave the line. It made me so uncomfortable that I had to occupy my mind somehow. This is what my adolescent mind came up with and it then became a habit.
Another situation was when my mum was in the hospital following foot surgery. I think I was in middle school or early high school at the time. She was in a shared room with an “old” lady (I laugh now at what I thought was OLD back then … she was probably 60. ha!). In the course of visiting my mum, I spilled the plastic pitcher of water the old lady had on her bed cart. It went all over. Ever since that time, whenever I’m with a small group of people, I tend to stay in the background and let others take the attention.
The last one was in high school. One of my classmates – who btw is a really great person and I hold no personal issues with her whatsoever – wrote a piece for our senior yearbook. It was designed to include the name of each student graduating. It was just a silly piece that absolutely wasn’t meant to be hurtful. I believe the premise was a snapshot way into the future of our classmates. For the sentence with my name it said [paraphrasing], “I bumped into Allison. She told me her entire life story in less than five minutes.”
While a more confident person may have chosen to interpret that as an appreciation for being direct, concise, and efficient with many pressing engagements pulling on their time. A socially phobic person translates that into, “I’m so boring that my entire life took no more than 5-minutes to sum up! OY!!”
Social phobia comes in all shapes and sizes and is doesn’t always appear in the ways you might think.
The contradictions of social anxiety
If you look up SOCIAL ANXIETY or SOCIAL PHOBIA, you’ll find a lot of symptoms such as these pulled from MayoClinic.org.
- Fear of situations in which you may be judged
- Worrying about embarrassing or humiliating yourself
- Intense fear of interacting or talking with strangers
- Fear that others will notice that you look anxious
- Fear of physical symptoms that may cause you embarrassment, such as blushing, sweating, trembling or having a shaky voice
- Avoiding doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
- Avoiding situations where you might be the center of attention
- Having anxiety in anticipation of a feared activity or event
- Enduring a social situation with intense fear or anxiety
- Spending time after a social situation analyzing your performance and identifying flaws in your interactions
- Expecting the worst possible consequences from a negative experience during a social situation
It’s weird though because I have absolutely NO fear or anxiety speaking in front of groups. In fact, I was a trainer at a bank for almost 10 years and a fitness instructor for (eeks) almost 30 years now. I mean, I was even fine instructing in the ’90s when thong leotards were what we wore. haha, in fact, my (now ex) husband even proposed to me at the end of one of my aerobics classes when I was wearing a thong.
Do you think that should have been a red flag?? lol.
Also, I can be super chatty in the most random places. The coffee shop gal, we’re buds. The post office clerk, hey there pal!
Yet ask me to meet-up one-on-one, go out for a girls’ night, or hang at my boyfriend’s family’s house and I’m all nerves.
I think the difference is that when there is a very specific subject matter pre-arranged, it’s no problem. There’s a topic built-in to the situation so I don’t have to come up with one on my own. Etiquette, I’ve got that down thanks to my parents. Social Dialogue 101, well I failed or skipped entirely that class. (That really should be a part of my education.)
Even with the coffee shop and post office cases, where it’s totally meaningless chit chat. I’ll say, “Oh, I like your name!” or “Isn’t it hard to get used to wearing face masks?” Basic nonsense that I know they will forget by the time I’ve walked out the door. Forgettable, easy-peasy. I’ve got that in spades. Being meaningful and interesting … oh man …
passion and knowledge are coping tools
Yes, many of you who have been trained in sales will know that there are several ways to establish a social dialogue. Remember, I was a trainer who actually taught these techniques and I was very good at my job.
One is F.O.R.D. An acronym for the “safe” topics to discuss: Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Dreams. Always being careful to avoid politics and religion in casual settings or sales settings.
Training like this can help and does. Yet it takes more than these types of tools, that often can fly out of one’s head in a socially induced panic.
I was a very strong salesperson in real estate. I know homes, I know design, I can see the potential, and I have a passion for all of them. Open houses were fun for me to welcome perfect strangers into a home and show them all the opportunities it could present for them. Here’s the difference. Passion. Knowledge. Excitement.
jumping in with the sharks is a bloodbath
Flip that around to my job in vehicle fleet management. I had to cold-call C-level executives (CEO, CFO, COO, etc…) to discuss their vehicle needs. In doing so there were several obstacles all of which were destructive to my future in the role.
- No passion whatsoever for vehicles.
- Insufficient training.
- An immediate need to build excitement through cold-calls.
- Bluffing was part of everything else.
Talk about a recipe for disaster. Bluffing in conversation is perhaps my biggest fear!
That job only lasted 18-months and the only thing I miss about it was my company car, which as a beautiful BMW 5-series. R.I.P., my dear friend.
this is why I don’t have friends! (OMG, did I admit that)
Where social anxiety hits a ceiling, for those like me, is when there’s an expectation of spontaneous, educated, and INTERESTING conversation in a random way. Asking a socially phobic or even just an awkward person to be spontaneous AND interesting is like asking a swimmer to run a marathon.
In theory, both elite swimmers and world-class runners train hard. They have outstanding cardiovascular fitness levels. However, without the RIGHT set of muscles, a swimmer can’t run a marathon.
If you have a friend or family member with social anxiety, you can’t force them into social comfort. They have to prepare to handle each social interaction.
I remember my ex-husband, who is incredibly extroverted, would try to set me up with friends. He would try to force me into relationships with other women I had just been introduced to and thereby create the most uncomfortable tension. It was awkward for everyone (except him … he didn’t get it) as I tried to produce an excuse or an insincere “Sounds great!”
Control builds confidence and reduces anxiety
It takes building confidence and the ability to control a situation to overcome the times that trigger a person’s social phobia.
Socially phobic doesn’t necessarily mean anti-social or even shy.
It may just be a confidence and control problem.
My daughters and I were playing a game in which we all answered a series of the same questions. I think Sophie found it online. Anyway, one of the questions was “What would you MOST like to change about yourself?”
My answer was my social anxiety. I would LOVE to have girlfriends to do GNOs or getaway weekends like I hear about and see in movies. However, these relationships can never be built if you, like me, are too nervous to pick up the damn phone and talk to a potential friend. There’s too much uncertainty built into unscripted situations.
Hello social media and the internet … a refuge!
why go in person when virtual is an option
For the introverted and the socially phobic, the internet and social media are the BEST!
No exchange is spontaneous. Photoshop can diminish flaws. Each LIKE or heart is a hug. Comments?? Whoa, they’re the best! People who take the time to comment provide just enough human interaction to feel convivial yet each response can be carefully constructed BEFORE putting it out into the world.
A person who is socially phobic will do a few things pretty reliably:
- Avoid any social situation that they can diplomatically circumvent.
- Let the more extroverted in a group be the focus of attention.
- Find a distraction to sidetrack any direct conversation.
- Plan an exit strategy to leave social gatherings EARLY without causing notice.
- Use coping tools (hello margarita!) to help relax the nerves.
- Learn to look BUSY so you don’t appear open for conversation.
Guess what? ALL of these are easily achieved when your social life is virtual. Turn on, turn off, comment, don’t comment; whatever works at that moment is all possible on Instagram, Facebook, etc.
Even better, social media let’s those of us who are too awkward to have our own lives out in the world be flies on the wall of all of YOU people. “YOU PEOPLE” being those of you who thrive on being with friends, new or old, and get amped up by your social presence in the REAL WORLD! Not in a creepy way. Just in a way that appreciates the casual social grace that you exhibit so naturally, while for those of us with social phobias, that’s the hardest thing in the world.
psa: social phobia is real
I don’t know where any of this is going. Honestly, I don’t have a conclusion or a profound lesson to share. Think of this as more of a PSA to let you stop and think about someone in your life who might live with social anxiety. It could explain a lot of your questions about why they never seem to want to hang out!
They may NOT be avoiding you, or be stuck up, or think they’re too good to spend time with you and your friends. It could just be that life out in the world is scary.
Fortunately, we can live virtually on Instagram and Facebook. As far as time with people in the flesh, it does happen in small doses. I LOVE my relationships with my boyfriend and my daughters. While I wish there were more friends, I’m content.
I was always called a snob growing up. One girl in high school, who didn’t know me well, actually wanted to beat me up after our graduation because she said I was the “Queen of the Snobs”. What she didn’t understand were all of the underlying issues. I avoided talking to people. Plain and simple. So I would walk by with good posture and eyes raised, as my mum taught, as I evaded every single social interaction I could (as I still do to this day)!
So maybe, before judging someone,
consider that there may be something else going on.
Then, when you see someone online
who you never see out hootin’ and hollering it up with girlfriends,
give them comments through their virtual presence.
For them, you might just be their VBF
(Virtual Best Friend)!
hello my virtual GF!
If you love to have relationships with people you’ve never met and probably will never meet, then say HALLELUJAH to social media with me!
Through social media, my friend, we can share a love of handmade goods, home life, decor, and other random musings. Just subscribe to “Coming Unzipped!”. That’s the newsletter for American School of Charm that gives you updates directly to your email on our posts, events, and goods that are going out into the world! Just sign up with your name and email below:
With gratitude for your generosity of time and mind, namaste!