Most of us would have tried to speak to somebody at some point in our lives, only to be dismissed or responded with a blunt, almost rude reply. This may have left you wondering what you have done wrong. Wondering what you could have possibly said to offend the person. Maybe you have done nothing, maybe the person was just rude; or maybe this person has social anxiety.
A lot of people with social anxiety find it difficult to communicate with people resulting in cutting conversation short, finding it hard to get out their words and having difficulty making eye contact. In turn, this can make them seem uninterested in what you have to say. However this isn’t always the case. The issue is not that the person does not want to interact socially, it is simply that they find it difficult to.
It is not rare that people with social anxiety say that their friends thought they did not initially like them due to the way they came across. Appearing distant and unattached is not uncommon for people with anxiety when they are feeling anxious; especially during first-time meetings. People with anxiety can also feel incredibly insecure with themselves, which doesn’t help with first impressions. They are constantly thinking they are being judged by just about everybody. Many people with anxiety also find it difficult to open up about details of their personal lives. A common sign of anxiety is fear of intimacy or difficulty trusting others, which is especially the case for people they have just met.
‘Sometimes I don’t join in the conversation because, even though I can hear voices having the conversation, I have no idea of the content. My brain is too busy trying to process all the conversations in the room, my surroundings, the people there and trying to work out whether it’s a safe environment and what these people think about me.’
Usually, upon meeting somebody for the first time, having a laugh together is a great way to ease the tension. However, for those with anxiety, a joke that has just been told may be the last thing on their mind! It may have gotten lost through all the other thoughts such as ‘they probably hate me already’,‘I don’t know if I can get my words out’, ‘They probably think I’m obnoxious for not laughing straight away’. Similarly, during group events somebody with social anxiety may seem to be keeping to themselves, sitting alone on their phone or trying to distract themselves in some other way by fiddling with an object or pretending to seem interested in their surroundings. This is to stop people approaching them and starting conversation. If somebody is severely anxious, they may just get up and leave. This is not because they do not enjoy the company, it is not them having better things to do or better places to be; it is because they needed a break from their own brain and anxious thoughts.
‘People think I’m being rude when I have my phone in my hands constantly or when I look down at my hands and fiddle with my rings instead of looking at them when they’re talking. I’m not trying to be rude, I just can’t cope in a lot of social situations, and it’s either do little things like I do or have a panic attack, which would be worse.’
Since anxiety is actually fairly common and we probably all know of somebody who has some degree of anxiety. It is important not to mistake somebody’s anxiety for rudeness as this will only make them more anxious. If you have a friend, family member or colleague who always cancels on plans, be thoughtful and understanding because it might be due to anxiety/depression. Obviously, this is not an excuse for every cancelled plan or rude comment; some people are just plain rude. But others may be too emotionally exhausted to put their clothes on and attend the event they promised they would show up at months ago. Don’t assume that because somebody is quiet they are upset with you either. When anxiety hits, it can make the smallest of conversation seem impossible! Be kind to people and always give them the benefit of doubt.