I struggle with social anxiety disorder. Just today, I freaked out when I got a voicemail message from my landlord. All it said was “call me back when you get a chance.” Very calm. Not threatening at all. And I’m also good friends with my landlord.
Yet, when I played the message, my first thought was “he hates me and wants to evict me.” I didn’t want to call him back. The only reason I did was because my heart was pounding, and if I didn’t call him back, I thought my heart would burst out of my chest. So I called him. It’s supposed to snow tomorrow, and all he wanted was help bringing some patio furniture inside. Once again, I blew things out of proportion. Once again, I underestimated myself — and my friend.
So, when I read about this new study from Washington University, it made a lot of sense to me. It turns out that it’s quite common for people with social anxiety disorder to underestimate what friends think about them. Researchers interviewed people with social anxiety disorder, as well as their friends. The bottom line: people with social anxiety think their friendship has deteriorated due to the disorder. Their friends, however, just perceive their relationship as different, as an acknowledgement that their friend is going through something difficult.
If I had a dollar for every social situation that I’ve ran out of because I felt as though I was some kind of freak of nature, I’d be a rich man. And the thing is, my social anxiety is often WORSE when I’m with friends and family. I’m afraid Crazy Alan will show up. I’m afraid they’ll see the crazy. I don’t want that. That’s why I often turn down invitations from friends and family to join them. If I asked them, that’s why they would probably perceive our relationship as being different.
Maybe studies like this will lead to more communication and better understanding among people with anxiety, and those who love them. I can only hope.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go help my landlord move some furniture.
For more info on the Washington University Studies, go to https://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/27665.aspx