Feelings of social anxiety seem to have happened gradually for me; they kind of crept up on me into adulthood. So I started thinking about how the development of society may have subconsciously affected me, such as the “big brother” phenomena, the rise of public CCTV placement instilling the idea of being continually watched, without consent. This change in the external environment affected my behaviour; for example, being mindful that I was to behave in a socially acceptable manner in a civilised world -not that I did not behave “correctly” anyway, just the thought of being watched felt judgemental and oppressive.
In the new big brother social environment, I spent more time indoors. It felt like an uncomfortable intrusion into my privacy had occurred. During this time, “conveniently”, social media was up and running in many households and created the opportunity for me to stay connected to the outside world by artificial, technical, non-human means. I did not give this much thought at the time, just went with it, enjoyed the online experience.
Linking the two together – big brother and social media, it was almost like a subliminal signpost directing me along an invisible conveyor-belt to a safe, comfy convenient life indoors complete with virtual access to the outdoors with all the bells and whistles my heart could wish for but now in a desirable sanitary condition without bothersome crowds of people around, without judging cameras on my person, coupled with the modern, convenient, online cashless society method of purchase power without all those bothersome coins and pound notes.
In the realm of social media, there is virtually no actual human to human contact. As a person with feelings of social anxiety, this could be interpreted as a “dream” come true. Dream… or a nightmare? How will I ever develop the skills I need to stretch my comfort zone if I am interacting with a computer, or via a computer, the computer screen and me, this is so bland, “anti-life”, “anti-human”, it could even be shrinking my comfort zone. What do I do? Limit my use. No, that’s not the answer because the flip side is that social media keeps me up to date with what’s going on in the world and now, literally everybody is plugged in. Double edged sword. In fact, practical day to day dealings like banking, paying bills and shopping are all online. Even education, interests, agony aunts, self-help gurus, job search, house hunt, politics, the environment… everything about life is online.
Not dealing with people directly, I either miss out on, or avoid (depends how you look at it), the intimacy and energetic nuances intrinsically involved in personal interaction. In my gut, avoiding people does not feel right. I have a natural inclination to want to experience real life and warm blooded connection to other people. There is so much to learn from each other, both happy and sad, all enriching my own being, my life, my outlook. What causes my hesitation? It’s the fear of being asked questions about myself and feeling like I would be laying myself bare if I share anything or even that I’ll sound so boring and uninteresting, that the whole sham of the experience will make me want to scurry back to my safe place, completely alone with no judging eyes. Or the fear of awkward pauses or silences when it’s my turn to say something engaging or interesting, the pressure is unbearable. I’ll feel really stupid if I say something wrong, or uncool or a rhetorical question that ends the conversation. My mind works overtime. Building fear, worn myself down to mental collapse, defeat.
Safety in social media
I can hide my anxieties under the cloak of social media and give the impression I am “normal”, outgoing, fun, conversational, intelligent, worldly. Could social media be compounding social anxiety? I can role play any ideal imagined behind the screen and keyboard. Although the terms “social” and “media” imply “broadcast to the many”, in actuality the individual is in a private, un-seeable, unknowable space invisible to the world. Very safe, nobody can see me or judge me when I am utilising social media. “They” don’t know how timid and insecure about myself I really feel. The words I type in a viewer comment can sound as confident and self-assured as I want them to; I can be perceived as having an acceptable interaction with society. One that I can never be my true self with.
I feel safe behind social media buffering my fear of actual social interaction. But on the other hand this could be a good place to start practicing conversing with others and discovering likened interests because social media opens the world and connecting to billions of people. So much to learn and share, this could actually encourage my feeling a social presence at a gentle, gradual pace, it’s up to me how often I interact online.
So I think over time, I have become accustomed to the big brother external environment and choose to find ways this can work for me instead of against me, by utilising social media as a way to build confidence and use it to discover who I am and topics I enjoy sharing.
Sarbjit has been interested in psychology for many years and enjoys meeting people and getting to know them. Being a naturally open and optimistic person, she wants to find a place she feels comfortable being herself with others. Feelings of social anxiety have held her back from this passion to a degree, which she feels determined to overcome. Sarbjit believes the greater social design we find ourselves in can impact feelings of social anxiety, confidence and the will to live a full life. She likes to try and explore possible root causes through introspection, extrospection and vicarious means. Sharing this journey in her writing, she hopes some of it will help others feel they are valued, heard and not alone.