Social Anxiety and Social Awkwardness

AnxietyIf you met me in person, you’d never know that I struggled with social anxiety or what I’ve deemed social awkwardness.

I’m a pretty quiet and shy person at first but the more you get to know me, the more you get to love me! (Just kidding about the latter.) In all seriousness, the more I become comfortable in certain social situations or a group of people, I can be loud, outgoing, silly (zany if you’d like!), bubbly, and full of energy.

After close to a year of being at my current place of employment, I have yet to be fully comfortable. My personality comes out in short bursts but then I get quiet, withdraw, and “shut down,” keeping to myself and avoiding interaction with my coworkers if I can help it.

I assume—I don’t know for sure—that they have judged me negatively and for whatever reason don’t like me. In a previous post, I tossed around a couple of social situations where I felt like this before. I invent all sorts of reasons in my head:

  • I’m a freak
  • I’m a weirdo
  • I don’t interact much with them
  • I don’t have an immediate warm, outgoing personality
  • I don’t dress very fashionably
  • I have nervous habits that they probably don’t like
  • I am all-around irritating, grating, and annoying in some manner that I don’t know of

Most people struggle with this kind of thing without any real basis. My fear used to be completely unfounded and after the incident at my previous job, I am plagued by thoughts of social anxiety and awkwardness tenfold. I don’t know what I did at my last job to rub my coworkers the wrong way but I wish I knew so I could try to work on it and cut it out. Vague references of “immature” and “annoying” don’t help me much.

So here I throw out the detailed descriptions of social anxiety and social awkwardness. The first one was developed by the NIMH; the second is my own invention built off of the social anxiety description.

Social anxiety (officially recognized by the DSM-IV)
Definition: Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is diagnosed when people become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations.

social anxietyMental signals:

  • An intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them
  • Worry for days or weeks before a dreaded [social] situation
  • Severe [enough] that it interferes with work, school, and other ordinary activities, and can make it hard to make and keep friends

Thought process: While many people with social phobia realize that their fears about being with people are excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome them. Even if they manage to confront their fears and be around others, they are usually very anxious beforehand, are intensely uncomfortable throughout the encounter, and worry about how they were judged for hours afterward.

Situations:

  • Can be limited to one situation (such as talking to people, eating or drinking, or writing on a blackboard in front of others)
  • Can be broad (such as in generalized social phobia) that the person experiences anxiety around almost anyone other than family

Physical symptoms:

  • Blushing
  • Profuse sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty talking

Social awkwardness (unofficial term)
Definition: When people not only feel anxious and self-conscious in everyday social situations but they also find themselves feeling out of place to the point of withdrawing or “shutting down.”

rejectionMental signals:

  • An intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged negatively by others and of doing things that will embarrass them
  • A dominating fear that people are talking (or laughing) about them behind their back, plotting against them, or treating them differently from others
  • Constant thoughts of finding a way to extract themselves from the social situation or racking their brain for a good excuse to leave and be alone
  • Pervasive feelings of insecurity and timidity before the interaction, during the interaction, and after the interaction
  • Can be mild enough that once removed from the social situation, the feelings of fear and anxiety dissipate
  • Can be severe enough that once removed from the social situation, the feelings of fear and anxiety are obsessive and linger for possibly hours, days, or weeks on end

Thought process: Many people who suffer from social awkwardness try to rationalize that their feelings or behavior are experienced by others. However when in the midst of a social situation, irrationality and anxiety take over and the thoughts of others negatively judging them become obsessive and sometimes paralyzing. Before a social situation, they may become anxious and fearful and unable to interact. They can be intensely uncomfortable throughout the encounter, and worry about how they were judged for hours afterward. Oftentimes, they will debase themselves in conversation (jokingly or seriously), internally reject themselves beforehand to blunt any possible external rejection, or automatically assume that they have been perceived negatively and cannot be swayed otherwise. Over time, if the sufferer becomes comfortable with the people or person that s/he has interacted with on previous occasions, the “guard” can be let down and s/he will be able to engage in conversation more freely and easily without experiencing excessive worry.

Situations:

  • Can be limited to one situation (such as meeting a group of people or talking to a person one-on-one)
  • Can be broad (such as experiencing anxiety around anyone who the person has not formed close relationships with)

Physical symptoms:

  • Blushing
  • Profuse sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Inability to speak
  • Stuttering
  • Mind going “blank”
  • Voicing an inappropriate (or out-of-place) thought
  • Nervous habits (such as biting nails, stuffing hands in pockets, nervously looking around to escape)

Funny I should write about this during lunch when my coworkers are all making plans to go out to lunch and I’m not invited.

I know, I know, I should find my identity in Christ and not be so concerned about what other people think but my coworkers are tangible and Christ currently is not.

…While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
II Corinthians 4:18
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10 Comments

  1. Ana said,

    January 15, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Wow!
    How can I’ve missed a wonderful woman who is Aquarius and Dog just like me?
    Red Hot Chilly Peppers
    Sound of Music
    and other…
    I’ve read about the incident.
    I don’t think that working places are the best to receive positive judgments about ourselves.
    Take a look at this:
    “As to traumatic experience… I think the concept goes a great deal farther than most people are aware. For example, at my last place of employment, I was regularly required to carry out specific tasks, without the requisite back-up, and with necessary information denied to me, even when I asked for it specifically. I found that traumatic enough, and there is no question that it was deliberate: I saw at least one member of “management” take pleasure from the anxiety that withholding information brought. Loosely speaking, anything that one does not understand can be traumatic, I think.”
    This is a comment Matthew left and I have experienced it many times.
    Not being concerned with others…
    Hard task! We all want to be worshiped!
    {joking but not that much}
    I’m not a good person to give advices on that because lately I’m in total seclusion.LOL
    But I hope it helps. The inevitable question: have you been on therapy?
    Love,
    Ana

  2. January 15, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Hey Ana!
    *shrugs* I’m easy to miss. :) Especially since I haven’t been around for the past 6 months or so.
    I think we all experience trauma. Trauma is different for each of us. You’re right; we all DO want to be worshiped.
    Yup. Currently seeing a therapist/counselor (have for 2 years) and am currently taking Lamictal. Formerly on Paxil, Lexapro, and Effexor XR with a short stint on Prozac to get off Effexor.
    Hugs to you!
    Marissa

  3. June 10, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Really like your blog. Good information and helps people with social anxiety realize we’re not the only ones out there. Thanks. Keep it up!

  4. tel said,

    June 19, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    i relli lyk it i think it helps alot lyk the thought processes and all this it happening to me escially the social awkwardness gowsh i cant even spell it infact it happed tonite but yea thanks for writing this

  5. Nick said,

    December 29, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    I’m experiencing this right now, kinda badly. I’m the definition of this and I don’t know wat to do. I feel that I’m a powerful person and I’m a huge fan of self-help. Please, give me some sugestions on what to do via e-mail.

  6. May 26, 2011 at 3:24 am

    I like the valuable information you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here frequently. I am quite certain I’ll learn a lot of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next! Best Regards, Pedro

  7. Sherita Landmann said,

    February 6, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Everyone is afraid of something. This most fundamental, critical rule of human existence may be among the oldest reasons for the human need to socially interact. To a certain extent, it is arguable that all society is based on the foundation that we are playing off each other’s fears. However, while it is normal for everyone to have fears, not everyone has a phobia. The phobia, which is essentially an unreasonable fear that is firmly rooted in a person’s psychology, can sometimes be difficult to spot. In general, they don’t so much affect a person’s social and professional standing as other disorders might. Yet, there are some people that must deal with the prospect of having to face a phobia at work on a daily basis.-

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  8. Ashleigh said,

    May 13, 2013 at 4:54 am

    I know that i’m comparing myself to the internet but this pretty much describes me. I think I am very socially awkward…but i dont know how to tell anyone because i have mentioned it to one of my friends before and he said that i didnt because i was so bubbly…but that because he was someone i had got to know. How do you tell someone about it if your too awkward and i guess scared to say stuff about yourself to anyone else?

  9. Miriam said,

    July 30, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Great web site you’ve gotten in here.

  10. Nat said,

    January 10, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Have you looked into Aspergers Syndrome – and how it manifests in women? I have this and your descriptions mirror my own experiences. Look up the female profile of Aspergers Syndrome.


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