Social Anxiety

The loud, colourful, confident impression I give in life is, largely, a false one.

I suffer from chronic (though usually hidden) shyness and moderate social anxiety. This is a difficult combination to manage, partly because some of its manifestations have made people query whether I am mildly autistic (which is certainly possible) or dangerously lacking assertiveness (again, a distinct possibility) or just unfriendly and stubborn (both of which may also be true!).

I have learned, over the decades, to hide this affliction beneath a persona who is larger, louder and more colourful than life! Many people are taken in. I am not. Nor have I ever truly become the persona through and through. We exist in a state of uneasy balance, Ms Loud Rude Peacock-Coloured Ali and I…


The social anxiety started very early and showed itself in strong psychosomatic tendencies from the first: The very thought of my own birthday parties used to bring on either asthma or hay-fever, or both. Now, social occasions affect my tummy or my head: I usually get digestive problems and minor migraines when I have to mix socially.

I tend to make a few, deep friendships, rather than a large group of perhaps slightly less intimate ones. This is partly because trust has always come hard for me, but mainly because I have almost no ability to conduct polite chit-chat. Trying to do so counts as one of life’s premier horrors and stresses for me.

And yet, ironically, I am a very good listener and can devote hours to hearing what another is saying (and what they are not articulating!).

Why am I writing all this?

I will tell you. In late August, I am going, with my son, to a close family member’s wedding – and I am absolutely dreading it. Of course it will be lovely to see this child, now a grown woman, getting wed to the man she loves; of course it will be delightful to see my siblings and nieces and nephews again…

But, I fear my own social inadequacy to such an extent that I am already getting platoons of butterflies in my stomach. I am dreading the casual questions concerning my ex-partner – which are bound to come my way because I have kept the details of the divorce very quiet, and some people may not even realise what has happened at all. I feel sick at the thought of having to interact at a level I find so very painful and difficult.

It is very different when I go to the annual Silent Eye workshop weekends, I think because we are all on the same metaphorical page and our conversations tend to move through the social layers into deeper territory almost immediately.

I also feel great  wedding-related anxiety about my appearance. Unlike Cinderella, I do not have a Fairy Godmother to clothe me in radiant beauty – and, when it comes to clothes, I am clueless and, at present, a tad strapped for cash! There is such unspoken pressure to look presentable at such events, isn’t there? And I have never been an expensive-dress-and-hat-and-accessories sort of a gal! I fear letting the social side down by looking like Worzel Gummidge’s aunt!

I was trying to identify what the basis of this polite conversation allergy is before I set fingers to keyboard. I think it is partly because I have long seen myself as socially clumsy and, in some ways, a misfit – but also because I do have a hunger for friends, for people in my life, but want to connect at a higher level than the social, the gap between the real person and their social side yawns wide. The saddest thing, for me, is when I sense that someone is predominantly operating on the surface, and either doesn’t want to go to another level, or cannot.

I am not blaming others for my weaknesses, however. The basic flaw is in me: It is my total inability to chat. I wish I could. I have tried all my life. I have watched the A* exponents of the art in admiration and self-denigration.

I suppose social interaction is a game we humans have created – and some people are better game players than others.

I am not ruling out the possibility that I will, eventually, become socially adept and confident – because I rule nothing out! – but I think it a little unlikely.

This social anxiety-and-shyness combination is, of course, what gave me the impetus to write in the first place – and, having knocked myself for the lack all these years, I confess I did find comfort in the quote I include below:


Not in any way excusing my social handicap, but it would be lovely to think that this has an element of truth in it!

23 thoughts on “Social Anxiety

  1. Pingback: The Nudge Wink Report – A Round Up Of The Weirdest & Funniest News Headlines This Week Ending 9th July 2016 | toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

  2. Julie

    Let’s face it, clothes help us feel more confident. The more so if we happen to be anxious about our appearance.
    This online clothes shop has beautiful clothes for ‘the fuller figure’ :
    It is a little expensive but it feels good and it looks good. I recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating. Although I think my social anxiety as you describe it has mostly subsided in the last 10 years, I still strongly prefer one on one, deep conversation than a party atmosphere.

    However, the latter is fun in moderation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, Noah – and I think your use of the word ‘moderation’ is key where parties are concerned. And, in my case, trying to avoid getting completely drunk (ameliorates the shyness, but has ghastly side-effects!) and making a total fool of myself! xxx


  4. Fear. A simple thing. You see the lion you fear it will eat you, and it does. Simple. That’s the purpose of fear. Fight (ok not in the lion scenario) or run away really really fast.
    It was all so simple when it was just be-fanged carnivores looking for breakfast. Then we had to go and invent social situations. Lion not enough? Ok how about we invent, I know class. Yes, and we will have lots of social situations where we can exploite our shared fear of fear and those of a higher class can be the lion and those snivelling poorly dressed others can be the prey. Fight or flight. OR… well first off you can’t hide from fear it’s hard wired, no amount of self help is going to alleviate that baby oh no. We all feel fear to some extent. The thing is in social situations we invent our fear. There is no lion except the one we bring along with us.
    (Anyway go, be frightened, and remember as Alinora Browning published author you’re allowed to be a bit weird….) x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, thank you, Ted. The lion imagery was perfect, given my ritual persona two years ago (Sekhmet). Yes, Fight or Flight is at the heart of it – and the physical symptoms can overtake all sense and proportion and logic! The kids I taught mostly thought I was barking (but in a good way!). xxx


  5. I am much the same. Fine if work asks me to do a presentation to an international conference of 600 people – that’s one thing. Wedding, even going out for a drink with more than about 5 people – forget it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad I’m not alone, Simon. Odd, isn’t it? I can quite happily stand in front of a class of thirty adolescents (and did, for 30 years) with barely a tremor – but socialising? I’d rather pull one of my own toenails off! x

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I can relate, Ali. I never feel comfortable doing the polite, social chit-chat, never have. I’ve learned how through necessity, but like you, I’d rather be one to one in real conversation. The thing is, from when I first met you, I envied your ability to meet, greet and mingle with such confidenceI You just never know what is below the surface… or how big a gap there might be between how you feel inside and how others see you xxx

    Liked by 3 people

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