Social phobias

The other day I was on the T, sitting in one of the single seats near the door. And a pregnant woman came in at the next stop, and she stood near the door because there were no seats left. I wanted to stand up and ask her if she wanted my seat, but I was completely frozen with social anxiety/shyness that I was too scared to ask her. So I sat there worrying about how I should just ask and not be so nervous until someone else offered her a seat and she smiled and said she was just fine standing but thank you so much. And then I felt horrible that I hadn’t offered first.

What is wrong with me? I have this problem all the time. The part of me that is caring towards others and wanting to be considerate wants to reach out to strangers and be a nice person, but the socially anxious side of me is too scared to approach them. I get terrified of making that first contact, of saying “Excuse me?” to get their attention. And then I get scared about the fear of being rejected. The logical side of my brain (I do have a logical side, I promise!) tells me that obviously, 99% of the time the person in question will be thankful that you offered to help whether or not they take you up on your offer. But the freaked-out side of my brain is worried that I’ll offend them somehow. That I’ll cause more problems than I’ll solve. Like, what if I saw a blind person who looked like he needed assistance, but then he was the type who liked to do everything on his own and I got him really angry and frustrated by offering to help him? Or what if the pregnant woman felt awkward about everyone making a big deal over her pregnancy and my offer of letting her sit down made her feel even more uncomfortable? I overthink simple social situations like this ALL THE TIME. And I sit there torn between wanting to reach out to others and being too scared to do so.

People who know me really well have heard this story before, but it’s one that’s stuck with me over the years. One time when I was maybe 11 or 12 in dancing, a girl in my class started to cry. I’m not sure why… but when you’re an 11- or 12-year-old girl, there are always lots of things to start crying over. I felt really bad for her, but I also felt awkward because I wasn’t one of her closer friends in the class, just a concerned classmate. Big surprise here–I was awkward and loserly in middle school. 😛 Definitely not one of the popular kids. So anyway, all the other girls in the class start to crowd over to the girl who was crying to make sure she was ok. I stood sort of near the fringe of the group before deciding that yes, I can go over and make sure she’s ok too, because why am I any worse at helping people feel better than anyone else in the room? And one of the girl’s closer friends, who I’d always been kind of socially intimidated by, looks RIGHT AT ME and mouths “GO AWAY.” At me. Not at anyone else in the class. Somehow I was not worthy of trying to comfort a sad classmate when everyone else there was.

And as you can see, I’ve never forgotten that. Normal people would write something like this off as the other girl being a bitchy cliquey 11-year-old like most 11-year-old girls are. Again, my logical-brain tells me that this is true. But then whenever I’m in a social sitation where I feel the desire to reach out to someone, it’s like I’m mentally that scared 11-year-old being told to go away again. So if you’re ever upset, or in need of assistance, or needing a seat on the T, just know that I really want to be there for you and that I’m working really hard at getting over my crazy social fears so that someday I can help you.

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