One manifestation of my social anxiety is that I try to guess what people expect me to be and then to fulfill those expectations in order to avoid conflict. Iâ€™m always wearing a mask because of that, until I get to know someone really well. I need to know that they will always react to me in a positive way, and that they will accept me one hundred and ten percent. Otherwise my relationship with them is guarded.
To illustrate how far I will go to fulfill peopleâ€™s expectations, one day when I was buying an ice-cream cone at a Dairy Queen, the clerk said to me, â€śDid you get your hair cut, Mary?â€ť
â€śYes,â€ť I said. It was true that I had just gotten my hair cut, but I wasnâ€™t Mary.
â€śIt looks good,â€ť she said.
â€śThanks,â€ť I answered, too embarrassed at this point to correct the error.
After that, I couldnâ€™t shop there any more.
I operate best in social situations that are clearly defined and limited, rather than open-ended. For example, I go to a support group meeting twice a month, and that works well because we have a defined agenda. I donâ€™t have to talk until it is my turn to talk. And the topic of conversation is limited as well. Everything we discuss will be related to issues of our mental health and how we are coping. I donâ€™t have to worry about making small-talk.
Iâ€™ve been going to my support group for years now, and I feel comfortable enough to consider most people there my friends. I even help make new members feel welcome by making small-talk with them before the meetings start.
If free-form social events are too much for you, try limited ones like a support group, a class, or a volunteer project. A structured setting provides safety, and regular attendance brings familiarity and comfort for those of us suffering from social anxiety.
Do you have tips and tricks for coping with social anxiety? Share them in the Anxiety Message Boards.
Published On: January 26, 2007