I’ve mentioned before that I listen to a slew of McElroy Brother podcasts, but on one of them, probably My Brother, My Brother, And Me, Justin McElroy was talking about his social anxieties and he casually referenced how he spends his life worried someone is going to yell at him for something. And I was like, OH MY GOD. THAT IS THE PERFECT WAY TO DESCRIBE MY BRAIN. I mean, it’s not always that I really think someone is going to yell at me, but someone might be upset or disappointed in me and may show it in some way. AND THIS FEAR IS CRIPPLING.
And every time someone says, “People don’t think about you as much as you think they do…” I want to argue back with two points.
1) UNLESS YOU DO SOMETHING WRONG. I mean, the goal is to have no one think of me ever, but the second I screw something up they have to think of me. That is why I worry so much about screwing stuff up, often to the point of total inaction.
2) EVEN ONE GLANCING THOUGHT OF DISAPPOINTMENT IS TOO MUCH. I was looking a different direction shopping at the grocery story and almost ran someone over and I apologized profusely and the girl was visibly irritated in that moment and even if she never thought of me again…THAT MOMENT WAS VERY TRAUMATIZING.
I’m not sure how people without social anxieties process these moments or these fears. My husband would shrug off the girl at the grocery story and he’s also good about knowing if he did his best than anyone else’s complaints are insignificant. He doesn’t give a shit if someone honks at him to go at an unprotected left turn. He knows he’s being safe by waiting. But the fear of someone honking at me is the main reason why I NEVER TAKE UNPROTECTED LEFT TURNS.
But me? The fear of disappointing people is chronic and constant and part of why socializing is so exhausting.
The complexity lies in this: I’m definitely not a floor mat. I stand up for myself and defend myself if I feel like I’m in the right. It’s not that I’m always trying to get approval from everyone. As a matter of fact this week I’ve had several conflicts I stood my ground on. This is more of a “social” phenomena, when I’m out in the world dealing with people in groups that I might not know. Or in new situations or environments. In the relationships I’m comfortable in, or in environments I know (work, home, common social groups), I’m really fearful or fragile.
But send me to a new store, or a new office, or a new social situation, or a new road, or a new city and I’m going to be vibrating at this constant frequency of worry where every strange face and unfamiliar situation is full of potential for me to upset someone and my desire to keep that from happening permeates every breath until I’m back in a familiar or comfortable or safe environment again. Often I won’t eat or drink anything just to avoid doing something wrong with the food/beverage situation. I can’t tell you how many social events I’ve left starving. This is why I need long breaks/recovery time in solitude and comfy environments following intense new social situations.
Or why I just avoid them all together. Which I do often.