Most people intend well when they say different things to people who are struggling with social anxiety disorder. They would like to help and make life better for us. However, very often phrases that are intended to encourage or help end up only causing harm to the person with social anxiety disorder. Here are some of the most common things we hear that are intended to be helpful, but in reality cause us distress.
- “You need to _____ (get a job, find a girlfriend, find some hobbies etc…).” While you are intending to encourage us by pushing us toward what you think we need to be doing, these phrases only make us feel pressured into doing something that we just are not ready to do yet. Pressure only makes the social anxiety worse for us, and that means that we are even less willing to take that action than we were before.
- “You never talk.” This one makes us feel guilty and stupid for not being as socially confident as we would like to feel. It also brings our difficulty much more out into the open for people to see, which will only intensify the problem.
- “Smile more often.” Again, this one makes us feel singled out. While we would like to smile more often and have entertaining social interactions, right now we are very consumed with social anxiety and are feeling quite inadequate compared with others. The person who says this intends well again, but this phrase really does more harm than good.
- “I told you that already.” Sometimes, when we are at work, we struggle with our confidence and begin to doubt even the most basic things. In this respect, social anxiety can play tricks with our memory and cause us to wonder what someone really said. As social anxiety sufferers, our goal is usually to please other people, and negligence is really not the issue. And remember, the people who say these things have made mistakes and forgotten things too. Just give us a polite reminder, even if it seems that it is something we should have remembered.
- “I dare you to _____ (dance with this girl, talk to this guy, tell this person off etc…).” Again, this phrase puts us on the spot and makes us feel pressured. We will do things as we are ready to do them, and the more pressure that is put on us to do something that we really do not want to do, the less likely that we are to do it.
- “Why don’t you talk more?” This phrase really makes us feel bad about our condition. We know that we are not as talkative and are anxious in situations where most people are totally relaxed and we feel very embarrassed about it. In fact, we would really like to join other people in conversation, but most of the time we are too afraid, and very often we do not know how to do it. A polite invitation into an activity or asking, “What do you think?” is a much more effective way of engaging us.
- “I have this really _____ (nice, fun, or other polite adjective) friend that I could set you up with.” Those of us with social anxiety disorder do like to engage in all the normal social functions that others engage in, but be sure you are not dumping off your annoying or unattractive friend on us. We know the people that we would go well with, and we can sense it when other people are trying to set us up with friends they do not know what else to do with. Once we realize this, we feel terrible about ourselves because it reinforces our belief that we are worthless and that all we really deserve is life’s scraps. More than likely, we will reject your offer.
- “Why don’t you _____ (go out more, have more friends, have more fun etc…).”This phrase makes us feel cornered and under pressure, and it again brings out our struggle in a negative way. We would love to go out and do all these things and enjoy life, but the fact is, that is a very difficult thing for us to do. We benefit more from your encouragement than your questions.
- “You can _____ (go here to get a job, go to the store, go clean your room…).”This phrase makes us feel bossed around. One of the worst ways to engage us is by bringing out the things we are not able to do, and doubly worse is just telling us what we need to do. We understand what we need to do, but actually doing it is quite difficult. Give us your encouragement and make things positive, and notice the changes that happen as a result.
- Anything that involves yelling. Many of us grew up with very harsh and critical parents, and most of our interactions with them involved us being yelled or screamed at â€“ sometimes for legitimate reasons, but most often not. As a result, if you raise your voice even a very little bit and even if you are doing it just to make a point and not to personally injure us, we can become very frightened because some of our childhood experiences are replaying themselves in our heads once again. The best way is to engage us is to be calm, positive, and gentle. We almost always respond well to that.
Wow, I just realized how pessimistic of a post that was. While pessimistic, it is very true and these are the things that make us social anxiety disorder sufferers feel even more anxious. If your goal is to engage us and help us, please do not use any of these methods; we might do what you say or want, but inside we are really feeling more anxious and in the future we will have a more difficult time doing the things that we know we need to do. And, as a result, you might have to step up your aggressiveness with us, which will only make things even worse. What phrases should be used to engage a person with social anxiety disorder so that his or her fears are minimized and he or she is able to outgrow much of his or her social anxiety? That question is answered in the next article Top 10 Things to Say to People with Social Anxiety Disorder!