All tagged shyness

Imogen, a transwoman in her early 30s, came to me for help with what she called her “social awkwardness”.

At first, she was easily irritable with me because “everyone I’ve talked to about my problem keeps telling me it’s social anxiety.” She expected that I would do the same.

“I’m not anxious around people and I’m not scared that they would judge me or anything,” she insisted.

I understood her annoyance because most people would mistake social awkwardness for social anxiety. While the latter is about fearing people’s judgment and rejection, social awkwardness is broader and more complex. It usually does not include fearing people’s negative judgment.

Together with her, we fleshed out Imogen’s social awkwardness. She shared with me that she tended to feel awkward when people asked her about herself, and really took an interest in her.

I’ve recently become increasingly aware of my social awkwardness. In fact, my awareness of it sharpened quite suddenly one day as I was innocently talking to a colleague about work-related matters. When I managed to provide a possible solution to her dilemma, she was full of praise for me.

To make matters worse, she looked me in the eye and told me, “You’re simply wonderful!” Then she remembered a previous comment I’d made about feeling that I did not quite fit in to my workplace, and she added, “I just want to let you know that we all value you in our team. We love you.”

The effect on me was immediate. I went into a panicky and self-conscious flap and fired back with one self-deprecation after another to deflect such exposing attention on me. I could tell that my colleague looked surprised at my reaction, so I managed to stammer out my thanks.

At another time, I was speaking to another colleague about a project I was doing when he suddenly revealed that his marriage was struggling. Again, I had the same cold, panicked feeling, only it was much more intense than the first encounter. I think I froze then.