Social anxiety disorder can be a beast of a problem, because it causes you to stay in your head a lot, doesn’t it? It causes you to second, third, and fourth guess every move you make.
And you do that before you’ve even made the move, and certainly afterwards if you think you made a mistake, embarrassed yourself, or felt like you annoyed or bored someone.
But what about perception? Is it possible that social anxiety is making you come off as rude or mean?
Let me throw out a couple scenarios at you, and you tell me if they ring true.
Have you ever walked down the street and purposefully ignored someone—even if you knew them?
Have you ever walked out to your car and seen a neighbor across the street, and instead of waving to say hello or asking him or her how they’re doing, you look off into the distance? Or keep your head down?
You pretend they’re not there.
Have you ever been invited to a social gathering by someone—maybe it was a party after school or meeting your co-workers after work to get a drink and a bite to eat—and your immediate response was “no thanks?”
You didn’t even consider it. You didn’t weigh the pros and cons. You’re immediate response, due to your social phobia and fear of hanging out with other people, was a clear cut “no.”
Flipping the script a little bit here—how do you feel you come off to people who you do these things to?
Do you think your neighbor feels that you just don’t see him or her? Do you think he or she feels that you’re so interested in looking at the ground or the sky, or so focused on grabbing that Sunday paper and running back into your house, that you didn’t have the opportunity to look up and say “hello?”
Do you think your peers or co-workers think that you’re such a dedicated worker that you can’t take a few hours out of your day to unwind and have fun? Do you feel that they believe that you’re so busy, so on the go, that you have to ask for a rain check?
Probably not. Because when you’re ignoring people, or brushing them off, or seem disinterested in socializing with them or getting to know them or being a part of the “in” group or popular “clique,” you’re seen as mean.
It’s not necessarily fair or accurate. But it’s important to understand and keep in mind how you come ACROSS to others, even if it’s anxiety—and not ill will or anger—that’s holding you back.
I know you’re caught up in feeling awkward. Or ashamed. But here’s the thing—you don’t ever want to come across as unfriendly.
Why? Because people can forgive people who are awkward. Everyone, and I don’t care how much you think you’re the next Rico Suave, makes mistakes. Everyone trips over their words. Everyone says something stupid they wish they could take back or reveals too much about themselves.
Everyone, at some point or another, feels a bit ashamed or embarrassed too. Maybe someone came out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to his or her shoe. Maybe someone accidentally knocked over a container of coffee in the library and the loud noise caused everyone to turn around and give him or her the death stare.
These things happen. But people can get over them. People can forgive you for them.
Why? Because people are human. People can relate to others who suffer shame, embarrassment or awkward moments.
What people won’t be so easy to forgive, however, is rudeness. Nobody respects the mean guy or the mean girl, right?
Nobody wants to feel like you’re going out of your way to ignore them. Or shun them.
Nobody wants to feel devalued.
So try to keep this in mind: even though you may devalue yourself on the inside, don’t externalize that by devaluing others on the outside. Try and be conscious of the fact that, in order to one day break out of your shell and crush your social fears, you need to help foster a friendly social environment.
So you may not feel comfortable walking up to strangers yet, or talking to your neighbors or co-workers. And that’s okay.
It’s a process, so don’t fret about that.
But try to be proactive in being friendly. Try to be proactive in at least smiling to someone. Or waving to someone. Or just locking eyes for a split second, acknowledging that they are a human being like you.
Heck, even giving a brief head nod will suffice.
And I promise you that, over time, this will foster a less scary social environment for you. Why? Because there’s already good will built up by your small gestures. You’re slowly cultivating a warm and welcoming atmosphere around you.
And that’s exactly what you want.
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