My social anxiety makes me question my value in the lives of others all the time.
I wonder if I said something wrong. I wonder if they don’t like how I look. I wonder if they think I’m needy. I wonder if they think I’m cold and distant. I wonder if I’m showing them too much attention and affection; I wonder if I’m not showing them enough attention and affection. I wonder when (not if) they’ll decide they’re tired of me and all of my obvious flaws and imperfections and disappear.
And this never really totally goes away. With any person.
Logically, I know I’m not a top priority (or usually not a priority at all) in anyone’s life. And that’s fine. I’m actually not even sure how well I’d handle being a priority in a lot of people’s lives. And logically, I know, even for the people who do think about me sometimes, they have lives that don’t revolve around me (nor would I want anyone’s life to revolve around me). But anxiety doesn’t respond well to logic. So when I send a text that never gets a response, I think, ‘I must have offended them…I’m bothering them…’ and that leads to other thoughts like, ‘I’ll never speak to that person again, because they clearly don’t want to hear from me.’ Even after decades of knowing me. Decades of time with me taking painstaking care to never intentionally hurt them and profusely apologizing for any perceived (by me, not them) unintentional slight I may have inadvertently sent their way doesn’t negate that negative thought spiral. The truth about how insidious my social anxiety is, is that I’m never sure about where I stand with another person. Not even J. Even in our 17th year of loyal and content romantic commitment and coming up on our 15th wedding anniversary. My social anxiety still thinks J’s mad at me for basically no reason on a regular basis.
For real, this happens a lot. I’d say at least weekly…
Me: Are you mad at me?
J: No. Should I be?
I feel like people I’ve known for nearly 30 years feel obligated to talk to me when I reach out to them and I almost feel the need to apologize for reaching out to say hello (and sometimes I do). It also stops me from reaching out when I think about people. I think about people ALL THE TIME. People I went to high school with. People I used to work with. Other old friends. Kids. J. But I only actually talk to J, usually. And he lives here with me. Because I think to myself, ‘Don’t bother them. They don’t want to have to talk to you.’
I think this about my best friends. I think this about the people I contact the most often and share the most of myself with (I actually think this MORE about them, because social anxiety tells me I’ve burdened them more). I think this about J…my loving husband of nearly 15 years.
So imagine how meeting a new person feels.
I’m planning a trip to meet up with a friend (I consider him a friend…a good friend…) that I’ve had and have spoken with regularly for almost 3 years now. I’ve never met him in person before. And the trip is less than a month away now. So social anxiety has started with the, ‘You’re obligating him to hang out with you. It’s close to his birthday and he has better things he wants to do than entertain you. You should probably just stay home. People stop liking you once they meet you. You’re speeding up the process of him disappearing. He won’t like you anymore once he meets you if he even likes you now…’
People who reassure me when I start feeling this way start a lot of sentences with, ‘I’m sure…’
“I’m sure he’s looking forward to meeting you too.”
“I’m sure you’re going to have a great time once you get there.”
“I’m sure…I’m sure…I’m sure…”
I get it. I want to believe that. But the truth is…I’m never sure.