I Have Social Anxiety — I’m Afraid Everyone I Meet Will Hate Me

Tom Kuegler

Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash

I’m afraid of meeting new people.

Actually, I’m afraid of meeting people period, even if I know them or they’re my friends.

It’s not because I hate people — it’s actually because I think they’ll hate me.

Today I realized I probably have something called social anxiety disorder.

It’s defined as “Intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation.”

Nobody really diagnosed me, but I had one of those intense, anxiety-ridden moments today reading all of the symptoms, nodding my head to pretty much every one, and realizing this is actually probably me.

Apparently all these things are a little harder to do for people with SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder)

  • Interacting with unfamiliar people or strangers
  • Starting conversations
  • Making eye contact
  • Returning items to a store
  • Eating in front of others
  • And so on.

What It Feels Like With Social Anxiety Disorder

The other day my Father asked me if I see a lot of friends here in Manila.

I opened my mouth, paused, then realized I actually really don’t. I spend about 95% of my day alone in my home.

Now that I think about it I probably started working from home three years ago because I was so socially anxious.

Now, I’m not totally inept with people..

I have good friends. I’m confident with my best ones and we have a lot of fun together.

But when I’m around folks I don’t know I subvert myself to a boatload of negative self-talk — enough to make the whole occasion absolutely unenjoyable to go through.

On the outside it looks like I’m fine. I can engage in conversation pretty well. If I never told them, nobody would be able to see I’m anxious.

But I recently went on a sponsored trip in the Philippines and spent 3 days with a complete stranger. He was amazing but I couldn’t even let myself enjoy anything because I was so worried that I was boring him.

I’m a pretty boring person.

So I spent three days completely overcome with stress because I felt like I needed to make his day worthwhile. I felt this immense fear of not being good enough, and I probably turned that fear into a reality.

You might say “Tom, it’s natural to be nervous when meeting new people.

To that I’ll say there’s a difference between nervousness and anxiety. Nervousness fades while anxiety stays a while. And no matter who I talk to whether it’s an authority figure or a Starbucks barista, I feel the same with all of them.

Deathly afraid they’ll judge me — and it doesn’t go away.

Social Anxiety Disorder Makes Me Seem Disinterested — But I’m Not

I feel like I only say about 25% of what I want to. It’s not necessarily that I don’t like talking — it’s that I’m too scared of judgement — and that holding back makes me boring.

I have a pretty creative mind that bounces from topic to topic like a pinball machine. Much of the stuff I think about is really weird and funny (to me).

But the intense fear I feel keeps me from saying 75% of what I want to say, thus making my fear that I’m boring as hell a reality. And sometimes my mind is so concentrated on the anxiety that I can’t think about what I want to say next.

This makes me seem really disinterested in conversations with people. The thing is, I’m not! I want the conversation to keep going. I just sometimes wish they would keep talking to help put me at ease that they’re having fun.

Then I can loosen up.

The biggest curse of social anxiety disorder is that it alienates you even more because people think you don’t care or are too cocky to talk to them. I do care.

I’m just horrible at showing it.

Where It Came From For Me

I was bullied from 1st grade until 6th grade. That’s about five years of my life.

When you’re bullied at such a young age, this can have a profound effect on how you view yourself. During this time, I basically always felt unwelcome amongst my peers and like I had little to no value.

And that made me quiet.

Because anything I said was like throwing meat to a pack of ravenous wolves. It was just more ammunition for everyone, and this led to a good deal of me not trusting anybody either.

I’m not saying that all social anxiety stems from being bullied at a young age, but for those reading who relate to me, maybe this is where it came from for you, too.

What To Do About Social Anxiety

So let’s talk about how to fix this. Apparently 15 million Americans are currently living with Social Anxiety Disorder, so it’s important to know the options.

From my research, I’ve gathered that it’s pretty much impossible to beat this on your own. You need to see a specialist to help you tackle it, or else you’ll be living with it your whole life.

There’s anxiety medication you can take as well, and it’s also important for people like us to journal as often as we can.

That way we can understand the way we think and make more sense of our fears. I have been journaling for the past 5 years and it has made a profound impact on how I view myself.

How To Deal With People That Have Social Anxiety Disorder

How do you know if someone is struggling with this? We’re not exactly walking around with a sign around our neck saying “Hey! I have Social Anxiety Disorder!”

Well, the symptoms of SAD can probably be seen if you look closely enough. Trembling, sweating, shyness, lack of eye contact.

For anyone in your life that has struck you as socially awkward, it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more understanding. Even if they don’t have SAD it doesn’t matter — some people clearly aren’t comfortable in social situations.

It doesn’t make sense to call them weird because they’re disinterested. Maybe they’re just really, really scared.

Don’t take it personally. Don’t think they’re arrogant or cocky. They’re not.

We just need to have a little more empathy and understanding for them.

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