Social anxiety is a fear of social situations. It is a fear of being forced to interact with people who will be less than compassionate and sympathetic with us.
If a person with social anxiety was put into a room with a few people that were very understanding, patient and very kind with them, they would feel comfortable in a matter of minutes.
The people would tell them that they understand and are not going to judge their feelings or behaviors. If the person felt that they could have behaviors that were not the social norm and still be accepted then they would be ok.
Social anxiety is almost a phobia of people who are impatient, judgemental and less than compassionate.
There is a standard of behavior, manners, interactions etc that has been created by the mass population. People expect other to CONFORM to their social rules.
Some people with anxiety, do not understand the rules in all situations. They feel that they will accidentally break a rule and be judged and ridiculed and basically punished.
Other people understand the rules , for the most part (God knows they are always coming up with new ones) but they feel that their anxiety will prohibit them from being able to follow these rules.
Thus there is a fear of our own anxiety or depression causing us to be unable to follow the social norms.
Here is one example. Let’s say I am in a waiting room of a therapist office. There are a few waiting areas but the main room is full of people or it has aggressive verbal people in there.
I am getting more and more anxious and fearful in this room.
The secretary asks me to come up and fill out forms and answer questions. I will lose the capacity to think properly to answer the questions.
There is a point at which , if people are arguing near me, that I can’t even read the words on the papers.
My brain simply shuts the part down that allows me to process written language.
I go into post traumatic stress that is triggered by the aggressive voices in the room. I have flashbacks of abuse , and I have to cover my face with my hand.
If I could simply explain this to someone that I was having extreme anxiety in this room and ask to be moved to a different area then that would be fine and i could complete the paperwork.
But what happens is that the secretary will become impatient that i am taking so long. They will view me as either stupid or uncooperative. I feel that a lot of times I am viewed as uncooperative no matter how hard i am trying to cooperate.
So this anxiety is unbearable and then a new anxiety kicks in. I am afraid of what they think of me based on my behavior. I start to become anxious about the next time i have to come here.
Will they remember me and that I was uncooperative? Will they treat in a way i do not want to be treated when i come here again?
Will they make fun of me or talk about me after I leave?
I do not want to come here again and interact with the same people that saw me in the office. I want to avoid ever coming here again.
So the anxiety that occurs before I leave the house to go somewhere like this, is the anxiety of that type of situation occurring. We feel that we could be triggered by something in a social situation.
I will play out the worst case scenario in my mind, that could happen when I get there. I am so afraid of this occurring that I am already frustrated with the people there for treating me a certain way, before I even get there.
I am already feeling weird, abnormal and embarrassed about the behaviors I will have, before I am even there.
We feel that people will become impatient with us and that will further our state of mental torment. We feel we will do something that will cause these people not to like us and not to want to interact with us.
Why can’t we just act like everyone else?
Because our brain attacks us with these terrifying thoughts and feelings. The fears become overwhelming and shut off other parts of the brain that understand social interactions.
Even if we can sort of access the social rules in our brains, we can’t follow them so neatly. We cry at times that it is not allowed. We have trouble following directions once the brain begins to shut down.
We are no more able to stay focused and follow along with the socially appropriate interactions than a person with a freshly ,broken leg can walk.
We can’t walk. We can’t dance. We can’t feel self-confidence. We can’t stick up for ourselves.
It is a terrifying feeling to be trapped in a triggering environment and to know you are being judged about your less than perfect behavior at the same time.
Social anxiety is about the people who do not understand. I feel like I have a phobia of people who do not understand mental illness.
It is a phobia of having to tolerate an intolerable social situation and not be able to ask for help. It is a fear of being forced to interact with impatient, judgemental people.
I am not sure if this can be fixed. I do not know if some kind of awareness campaign would help people to understand. How would you tell them you need help in order to function in the particular situation?
Maybe some education of the public could help. But the issue would remain of how someone would know that you suffer from social anxiety and what would be done to help.
My goal here is for the people reading this to know that they are not alone.
When you start to feel a panic attack while you are on the phone with someone who is inviting you to a party, you are not alone. When you feel misunderstood while you are trying to explain to them you just don’t feel up to it, you are not alone.
When you wait until midnight to go to the grocery store in order to avoid the crowd, you are not alone.
When you get take-out food rather than risk being triggered sitting in the restaurant , you are not alone.
when you are late for every scheduled thing you ever go to because you afraid to leave the house, you are not alone.
When you try to pretend you are not home when someone knocks on the door, you are not alone.
We are all of us suffering separately but together. If we can connect here and try to validate each other , maybe it will help.