Tag Archives: social anxiety

ARGLE BLARGLE

 

Comic is from cyanide & happiness by Kris Wilson

 

I’m going to tell you about something that I find REALLY frustrating. And annoying. And sometimes outright offensive, depending on how people are reacting to it. Something that at this point I despair of ever changing, but still find myself wishing that it would.

So let me put it simply here.

Introversion and social anxiety are two different things.

Seriously. Despite the comics, the way people talk, the widespread misinformation, these things are separate. Sometimes they coexist, sometimes they don’t. Apparently it comes as a surprise to some people, but it’s actually totally possible to be both extroverted and shy/socially anxious. Really. It happens. More than you might think.

Now, you might be wondering why this is such a big deal. Why do I care so much that so many people equate the two? It’s not hurting me, right?

Well… wrong.

Here, let me put forward a little scenario; one that I think actually happens often enough to be a thing.

We have a person. Let’s call them Morgan. Morgan has severe social anxiety and so rarely ventures out of the house. Morgan is very lonely and sad and does not like being this way. Since Morgan finds socializing so very difficult, Morgan figures they are an introvert. I mean, comics like the one shown above explain introversion that way, so that must be what it is, right?

Eventually Morgan gets help and overcomes their social anxiety. As it turns out, Morgan is an extrovert! Morgan now goes out and socializes on a regular basis, gets lots of energy from being around people, and is much happier than they were before. From Morgan’s perspective, they used to be introverted but fixed that and turned themselves into an extrovert.

So now Morgan thinks they know what it is to be an introvert. Morgan knows some introverted people and maybe even has introverted friends. Morgan remembers what it was like when they were so anxious, and believes that all their introverted friends must be going through the same thing.

Morgan responds by deciding that they just need to “get out of their shell!” Drag them to enough (exhausting) social events, show them that it isn’t scary, help them be more outgoing, and they’ll be cured! Morgan feels so nice doing this, thinking they’re doing a good deed for those poor, introverted souls.

Here’s the thing. Morgan is being harmful. I have experience with both introversion and social anxiety and I can definitely tell you – they are NOT the same thing. NOT THE SAME THING. Ok? Really not.

Social anxiety is very unpleasant. It makes interactions ever so fraught; people can be really quite scary. Introversion, on the other hand, is actually rather pleasant. Or rather, it’s neutral, it just means that I take pleasure and gain energy from things that extroverts would generally find more draining. Now that my anxiety is more under control, it’s easier for me to go do social things. As in, less scary. However, it’s still draining. I still recharge with alone time, and I still have a dramatic preference for one-on-one interaction. I happen to like being an introvert and do not want to change.

When someone thinks that my introversion must be anxiety and want to “fix” me, they are harming me. If I am denied much-needed alone time, I am harmed. If I am forced into a group when I would rather just talk to one person, I am harmed. If I am made to interact after all my spoons are gone and I really need to be done, I am harmed. Whoever does those things to me, harms me.

Which means that this pervasive idea that introversion is the same thing as social anxiety is harmful. It’s harmful to me, and it’s harmful to others who are like me. Please, don’t participate in spreading this misinformation. It does no one any good.

 

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How to talk to me

At first I thought about making a “how to talk to introverts” post. Or maybe a “how to talk to anxious people” post, or a “how to talk to aspies” post. However, I really don’t think I’m qualified to speak on behalf of entire groups like that. I may be part of all of those groups but I’m not their spokesperson, and even within those groups, different things will work for different people. So instead, here’s a “how to talk to me” post.

Many, if not all, of the points I make will apply to lots of other people besides me, so this isn’t entirely self serving. They may apply to introverts, or to the socially anxious, or to autistic people, or any combination of the above. Ultimately, your best bet is to get to know people as individuals and figure out what works for them.

So, onwards to what works for me.

One of the biggest is to give me time to process and answer. If I am putting lots of energy into socializing, I can usually process quickly enough that people don’t notice much of a lag. However, if I am focused on something else or not pushing myself to process at top speed, it will take me some time to process what you said, come up with a response, and put that response into words that make sense. Importantly, I really need you to stop talking while I’m working on that. I cannot listen to someone and process my response at the same time, so every time you start talking again I need to begin the process all over again.

Really, any time you are wanting a response from me, it is important to stop talking in order to get it. I’ve noticed that sometimes people seem to just keep talking and talking and talking and just won’t stop, and I’m politely waiting for them to stop talking so that I can respond and it never seems to happen. Eventually I will tune them out (which feels very rude and I don’t like doing it) so that I can come up with a response, and then interrupt to say something. What’s always so odd is they respond as though that is what they were waiting for me to do.

I don’t like socializing this way. Let’s take turns, and please give me the time and space I need. If you want me to be at all relaxed around you, this is even more important. The more relaxed I am, the slower I am to process and respond (Nee would probably attest to that one). So I like it when people are ok with that.

Moving on – this goes against the usual tips I see about socializing, but please don’t touch me without permission. Not even a handshake. I will be far more comfortable with you if you keep your hands to yourself and refrain from thrusting body parts in my direction with the expectation of grabbing one of my body parts. Eventually I might feel comfortable enough with you to engage in social touch, but please let it be on my terms. Beginning an interaction with a handshake guarantees that I will feel tense and icky for it.

Don’t try to force eye contact. I might look at your face when we talk, but I will never even glance at your eyes. Even looking at faces is draining and I might more look in your vague, general direction. However, that is draining too, so I might just look away from you. It depends on how much energy I have, and how I feel it’s best to use that energy. I don’t need to look at your in order to listen to you. On the contrary, oftentimes I listen much better when I’m looking away, and don’t need to process lots of visual information at the same time that I’m processing all that auditory information. Respect that.

Mostly what I need is for you to respect my differences. Don’t try to force me to interact like everyone else thinking that it qualifies as “improvement” because it does not. Improvement is being able to interact with people without being unduly stressed or exhausted. Allowing me to be the way I am is the best way to accomplish that goal.

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