“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” ~ Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Last weekend I was invited to a bridal shower along with some wonderful ladies I know from church. When I got there nearly everyone was already inside and sitting down and talking. I was so nervous I almost turned around and went home.
The past has taught me to fear these things.
The two people behind me were laughing. They must have been laughing at me.
I had a friend over and she didn’t stay long. I must have been boring.
That acquaintance from school never talks to me anymore. She must not like me.
That other mom at the children’s museum was watching me as I passed. My clothes are probably out of style.
That cashier seemed a little uncomfortable. He must think I’m weird.
Social anxiety is like one never-ending performance review, only you are your own harshest critic. That’s why a common therapeutic technique for people with social anxiety is replacing those negative thoughts with realistic ones. But that opens up a rather frightening question: what if I am being realistic?
When you walk down the hall and people suddenly stop talking and whisper as you go past, it’s not paranoia to think they are probably whispering about you. It’s not paranoia when people give you puzzled looks or avoid talking to you and you assume it’s something you did. There is nothing unreal about your friends suddenly turning their backs to you. The fear is not the fear of what could happen, it’s the fear of what has happened and is likely to again.
I have an uneasy relationship with this fear; on the one hand, I don’t want it to control me. On the other hand, I want it to restrain me a little, to keep me from making mistakes.
In the end, I went inside, set my food on the table, and headed straight for the bathroom to calm down. And then I took my seat with the others. And I think it actually went ok. So there’s that.