By Published On: June 14, 2017Categories: Anxiety

I recently went out to a social event — a friend’s gathering in the park. I was feeling so socially anxious that I just didn’t know what to say to people. Occasionally I was able to say ‘hi’ to someone, or someone would approach me and I was able to engage in a little bit of conversation, but ‘small talk’ just isn’t my thing. Mostly, I tried to back off to the side, away from the crowd, and just keep to myself.

Later on that day, my friend (who isn’t aware of my anxiety) texted me asking why I was so quiet at the gathering. For me, I actually thought I held my own pretty well, engaging at least a little bit, and even more than I usually feel I can do before slightly panicking and needing to step back. But apparently, some of my friend’s other friends mentioned that I was being stand-offish — that they had tried to talk to me, but it didn’t seem like I wanted to get to know them so they walked away. 

This has happened to me many times before. Inside, I’m just trying to muster up the courage to talk to people and not feel overwhelmed with anxiety, or not come off as stupid or feeling concerned about being judged. But my hanging back with anxiety is often interpreted by other people as being disinterested and stand-offish.  


If you struggle with anxiety, it makes sense that this has probably happened to you at some point — being around a group of people and trying to stay back a little bit, just to hopefully avoid anxiety-inducing conversations. However, people aren’t noticing that you’re struggling inside — they’re only seeing that you’re not engaging and don’t appear, at least on the outside, interested to engage. This can be a frustrating and common misconception.

Unfortunately, internal anxiety can make it difficult to be aware of what other people may be perceiving about you, externally. In reality, it’s actually possible other people may also be anxious about how they’re being perceived by you. Yet, even if this is the case, it’s still easy to become fully absorbed in the overwhelming discomfort of our own anxiety to the point that it ends up coming at the cost of what we’re putting forward on the outside.

This can be a familiar experience in general with anxiety. Struggling with anxiety can become so routine for someone who deals with it daily that it can sometimes be hard to realize that others don’t necessarily see from the outside what is being experienced by you on the inside. In some ways, it may feel like you are hanging back and hiding, trying to work up the courage to engage more.

It can be incredibly frustrating and defeating to be feeling such difficult and overwhelming emotions and feel like the people around you are not understanding or seeing the struggle you’re experiencing — only seeming to either judge, or believe that you just don’t care. While many people have the capacity to recognize that there is more going on underneath the surface and are non-judgmental of this, it can bring up a lot of old and familiar pain (and other emotions) to be judged for your struggle.

On another level, it may be useful to recognize that what we experience of ourselves is not always in line with what other people experience of us. (This can also include more than anxiety — people may not always know someone is depressed, hurt, or in some other way dealing with an issue internally). However, this reality is that it would make sense when people judge your struggle that it can feel hurtful, frustrating, and even defeating.

This does bring up a question worth exploring more — how do you handle this? If standing to the side causes judgment, and talking to people induces anxiety, then what do you do? This is a complicated dilemma that can often result in avoidance and isolation. For some, it may lead to them wondering why they bother at all.

Ultimately, the answer is different for each person. There isn’t only one approach to this issue. I have seen many people improve on general and social anxieties. Sometimes, a handful of tools (such as prepared questions, or a conversation plan) can be helpful coping skill to at least have some sort of engagement and not fully avoid connection. However, coping skills are only part of the picture. In general, learning about your anxiety and what is happening on a deeper level that prevents connection, intimacy, or closeness with others is a necessary process to work through long-held anxieties. Though it may feel hopeless in moments, overcoming anxiety is within your reach.

Learn more about anxiety and how I can help you. 

Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy for anxiety. 


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