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.
- 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.
- 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
- Profuse sweating
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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)
- Profuse sweating
- Inability to speak
- 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.
— II Corinthians 4:18 —