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Social anxiety

Please talk to me, but don’t say….

I read this post last month. It’s written by “a 30-something working mother living with bipolar disorder.” The post, like all her posts, is beautifully written and explains very clearly all the questions the writer would prefer not to hear from her friends. Once, I would have agreed with it. Now, I’m not sure I go along with its assumptions.

I understand very well what it feels like when people say things that show the gap between them and you. Things that you can’t answer because what they say shows that they and you are on a different wavelength.

Of course I understand it. I wrote something similar a few years ago in a book explaining social anxiety. This is what I wrote:

Don’t Say…

😦 Cheer up it can’t be that bad!

😦 Why don’t you smile? You have such a pretty smile.

😦 Are you ok? You look bored.

😦 Cheer up, love, it might never happen!

😦 Smile, you’re ruining the scenery.

😦 He’s so shy.

😦 You’re QUIET, aren’t you.

😦 It speaks!

😦 What did you do during the weekend?

😦 A penny for them.

😦 This is Susan. She doesn’t like associating with people.

…Or the Sarcastic Ones

😦 You’re full of conversation today.

😦 I can’t get a word in edge ways.

😦 You’re a bundle of laughs.

Don’t draw attention to our symptoms

😦 You’re as red as a beetroot.

😦 What’s up? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.

Don’t Insist on Details…

…of our weekend/holiday/whatever. If we don’t want to say, it’s probably because we’re embarrassed to say we didn’t do anything.

Don’t Patronise Us

As recently as a couple of months ago, I had someone put on a ‘sympathetic’ face and speak to me in a tone of voice that you would use to address a small child or a pet. I am certain that people think I’m a bit backward, mentally defective, not all there, etc.

Just as people in wheelchairs don’t like it when others address questions about them to other people, we don’t like being treated like small children. I know our external behaviour sometimes resembles that of children, but internally we passed that stage a long time ago.

I don’t think I agree with any of that any more. It’s true that those things are annoying. It’s particularly upsetting to hear sarcasm directed at you, highlighting a feature of your personality that you would dearly love to change.

But ‘don’t say’ statements make a big assumption. They say: you are normal and I’m not. And they say: you can have a normal conversation with me, leaving out these things that annoy me.

Well, I don’t know about you, but if I have a list of things I mustn’t say, my tendency is not to say anything at all, because I’m too afraid of forgetting or getting confused and saying the forbidden words.

So I’m beginning to think that we who banish words are defeating our purpose. We’re repelling the very people we want to come close.

Pulling and Repelling

Instead of telling people what not to say, we should accept that these things will occasionally be said, and work out how to respond to them. Even if it’s only to say, “I can’t answer that.” Or to make a joke out of it. Or to explain why the statements are annoying. It all depends on the context and the way we’re feeling. But responses can be worked out in advance, relieving the pressure to react on the spot.

Maybe my next post should list possible responses to the statements above. If you have any ideas about how to espond, I’d love to read them in the comments section.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life.

6 replies on “Please talk to me, but don’t say….”

I’ve had just about everything on your list said to me at some time, as I expect all social anxiety sufferers have, and I do find them annoying and upsetting. Recently I was in a group where we did a supposedly self-awareness exercise. Ironically, the exercise was supposed to help us feel positive about ourselves. We had to each write anonymously on slips of paper a few words or sentences about how we saw each individual in the group. The instructions were for positive comments only.

Somewhat hesitantly, I opened my pile of slips from the others in the group. How can summing me up in one single word, such as ‘Quiet’ or ‘Shy’ be helpful? Worse still, as one person wrote: ‘Quiet, reserved, only talks to individuals when spoken to.’ Can anyone really think this is a positive comment? I’m still hurting from this.

Your post has given me food for thought. Perhaps instead of asking people to please not say things like this, I’d be better accepting that these things will occasionally be said and deciding on how best to respond to them. I’m a bit short on ideas of how to respond at the moment. I’ll give it more thought. Thanks for an interesting post.

Thanks for that, Jean. I would also feel hurt to receive such comments, especially when they’re supposed to be positive. But I’ve come to realise that most people think that I’m quiet because I want to be quiet. If that’s what the people who commented thought, then maybe they saw being quiet as a positive trait – or something you would regard as positive.

Or maybe I’m too tired to talk any sense this evening!

“Your as red as a beetroot.” I hate this one more than anything! After researching bluhsing, I found that taking deep breaths helps to push the redness away. So now we have to devise a way to look cool as a cucumber, have a clever response at the ready and breathe deeply too? Simple? No! How about, “You can pretty much read everything on my face. Can you tell what I’m thinking now?” Ha!
Great post, thank you.

Hi Miriam,
Some of those comments are really quite mean ‘..you’re ruining the scenery..?’ I have thought of some responses, but they’re all a bit sarcastic and I don’t want to be mean too! How would you feel about saying something like ‘You’re quiet.’ ‘Yes, I am. I’m listening to you. You were saying..?’ …? If I think of something better I’ll come back!

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