Talking is something most people take for granted. The ability to communicate what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling is so important, but for those of us with social anxiety it can be extremely difficult.
As children, some people suffer with Selective Mutism – ‘a severe anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in certain social situations, such as with classmates at school or to relatives they do not see very often’. (NHS UK).
I was a very shy child, but SM was something I never experienced. Oddly I feel I can relate to it more as an adult, as it has been one of the major manifestations of my social anxiety. I seem to get ‘locked in’ to my silence. The longer it goes on for, the harder it is to speak, which feeds the cycle of anxiety and fear of judgement. I might have an idea of what I want to say, but it can feel impossible to actually say it.
Just an observer
It’s a horrible way to feel. That you’re just an observer of life rather than an active participant. Wherever I go it seems like I’m always the quietest person in the room. And sometimes, people will let you know it! I’m guessing if you’re socially anxious you will have heard ‘why are you so quiet?’ pretty often. Having this pointed out can make you feel even more self-conscious, which then makes it harder to speak!
I’m in awe of people who can chat about anything and everything, to me it’s a real skill. They can tell you an intricate story of the time they went to the shop to buy a pint of milk. Of course, it’s worth remembering that anxiety can also cause people to talk a lot, as it makes them feel more comfortable. I try to notice the behaviour of socially confident people so I can try to emulate it myself.
You deserve to be heard
I don’t have all the answers or a ‘cure’, but I want you to know you can take small steps to improve this issue. Everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard.
I recommend that you start with making a video of yourself talking. It can be about anything, but it’s a good way of just practicing using your voice without any fear of judgement. Then you can watch it back and get an idea of how you’re coming across, and hopefully replicate that when you’re around people.
Next, you could try writing a list of situations where you feel most and least comfortable talking, start out with the easiest, and gradually try to talk a bit more than you usually would. Instead of focusing on your thoughts and feelings, really pay attention to people and what they are saying. You don’t have to put loads of pressure on yourself – go at your own pace. I feel most comfortable talking to smaller groups of people, in settings where I feel people will be supportive.
You have a lot to offer
And it’s OK to be quiet! Imagine how annoying the world would be if everyone was constantly chattering on and talking over each other! You can be a whole variety of brilliant qualities and still be quiet, so don’t forget the unique things you have to offer.