Using Curiosity to Combat Fear

Social anxiety disorder: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the majority of my life. The only time I can remember interacting with other people without hesitation or fear was when I was a very young child. It used to be so easy to go up to another child that I didn’t know at all and become friends with them in a matter of minutes. I miss those simpler times. The longer I’ve lived, the harder it has become for me to make new friends.

The last few years as a social worker have really inspired me to try harder when interacting with others. I see the way that my coworkers are so easily able to make meaningful connections to the clients we meet everyday. I’ve tried my best to mirror their social behaviors and improve my own ability to connect, but it always feels somewhat gross and fake. It’s impossible to make a real connection with another person when you are wearing a mask. Even when they don’t know you, there is a different energy that I think we are all able to pick up on whether we consciously realize it or not.

I used to make excuses to myself about why it wasn’t even worth my time to put in the effort to bond with new people. I had convinced myself that the vast majority of people just aren’t worth getting to know. Everyone is an idiot with nothing interesting to say. At least that’s what I used to believe. However, after meeting so many shockingly amazing people in the last few years, that conviction has all but eroded. Now I am happy to say that I truly believe their are still wonderful people out there for me to meet. The issue now is, how do I learn to put myself out there and keep my heart open to that possibility each time I meet someone new?

One thing I have been trying to work on is focusing on curiosity instead of fear. One of the most anxiety provoking parts of my job each day is sitting with the child while my coworkers discuss the next steps with the parent. I am always extremely nervous any time I am alone with someone I’m not close to, let alone a child that has just disclosed horrific abuse of some kind. Even though my time one of one with the children has always ended up going well, often resulting in a swell of admiration and tenderness toward them, I still can’t manage to placate my fears for each new case.

I’ve noticed that when I am faced with these types of situations, my initial instinct is to shut down. All I want to do is run out the clock or avoid the encounter entirely. I also struggle to avoid prattling on about myself instead of getting to know the person I’m talking to. I guess I find it easier to talk about myself because it’s always easier to talk about what you know. And what do we know better than ourselves and our own experiences? I think this is also a subconscious attempt to control the conversation and avoid being taken off guard. When asking questions, you can never predict where the conversation may lead. One of the hallmarks of social anxiety is attempting to plan out a conversation before it happens. Obviously this never works. It just makes you less able to immerse yourself in the natural flow of conversation.

I’m working on letting go of my need to control the situation and open myself up to discovering what/who is in front of me. I would consider myself a very curious person. I am always wondering about the way others think and see the world, what interests them and why, what their goals are, etc. However, my fear easily overpowers that natural curiosity under the pressure of meeting new people, especially in a work setting. It’s always been hard for me to toe the line between authenticity and professionalism. But I’m hoping if I can keep guiding my attention back to that curiosity inside of me, eventually it will become easier to overcome my fear so that I may learn more about the person I’m talking to.

I want to practice shifting my focus from myself, my fears, worries, what this person may be thinking about me, etc. I’d rather focus on the other person and finding out who they are. I’m sure that with enough experience I can teach myself that there is nothing to fear. Sure, maybe it will be an uncomfortable conversation, but it may also be a lovely, enjoyable interaction. Based on anecdotal evidence, I’d have to say the latter is even more likely. Either way, I am going to keep trying. This world is filled with so many fascinating people with minds as mysterious and unique as my own. I can’t wait to meet them. That is going to be my mantra from now on when we have a new family coming in: I can’t wait to meet them! I wonder who they will be.

A Look at Social Anxiety Disorder | Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health

Benevolent Bullshitting

Not sure if good at bullshitting Or if i actually know what the fuck i'm  talking about - Not sure Fry - quickmeme

I was listening to a podcast the other day that was discussing ways to identify and avoid “bullshitting.” They made a clear distinction between what we refer to as bullshitting and lying. When you are lying, you know for a fact that what you are saying is untrue, but say it anyway for whatever reason. Bullshitting however, while often containing falsehoods, is different from lying in that the bullshitter does not know and/or care if what they are saying is true or not. In addition to that we often look at bullshitting as harmless, while we condemn liars.

The host of this podcast made an interesting point about what I’ve decided to call “benevolent bullshitting.” She brought up times in her life where she has exaggerated or embellished factual information in order to make a point or further an argument about something that she strongly believed in. They were categorizing this under the same umbrella term of bullshitting, but until then I had never really thought of it that way. Unfortunately I have definitely dabbled in this form of bullshitting more often than I’d like to admit.

Now that I’ve recognized this tendency in myself to support my point even when I may not actually have the facts to back it up, I wonder how often others do this as well. In the moment we feel justified in doing this. We are so desperate to change the mind of the person we are talking to. We are so sure that we are right. What is the harm then in exaggerating just a bit in order to get our point across, we ask ourselves. Looking back on the times when I have done this, I definitely think at the very least it has hurt my cause rather than helped it.

Not only are we being dishonest when we partake in benevolent bullshitting, we are doing a disservice to those we are talking to as well as to the issue we are attempting to bolster. If later it is found out that our assertions were unfounded, it could cause the other person to completely disregard all the other things we have said or will say in the future. They may become angry and write the issue off all together.

I am also a strong believer in being an example of what you’d like to see in the world. I certainly wouldn’t want the people I talk to to mislead me during our discussions. Therefore, why would I justify me doing the same to them? If I find myself in a situation where I cannot support my side of an issue honestly, then that’s a sign I need to do more research, not dig my heels in and continue trying to steamroll the other person into having the same opinion.

Knowing that I, myself, am a peddler of benevolent bullshit has helped me to be more cautious in conversation. I am more careful about what I say, but I am also more hesitant to take what the other person says at face value. I’m quite gullible and generally don’t consider that what someone says to me could very well be untrue, whether they realize it or not.

The phenomenon of benevolent bullshitting also highlights the discomfort we all seem to have about uncertainty or not knowing. Rather than being honest and admitting that we don’t know or have not heard the point the other side has just offered seems intolerable to us a lot of the time. Deep down it feels like we’ve lost the argument if we can’t rebut every comment immediately. However, when I am debating a topic with someone, I don’t ever feel as though I’ve “won” if they tell me they aren’t aware of the information I’m providing. To the contrary, I gain a lot of respect for someone that is able to do this.

The next time you are sharing your opinion or having a discussion with someone, try to be mindful of the temptation to partake in benevolent bullshitting. What might you decide to say instead? Can you get comfortable with admitting a certain degree of ignorance, even about an issue you’re passionate and knowledgeable about? Practice being humble enough to accept that you can’t be right all of the time. You can’t know everything. And that’s okay. Try to get curious when someone says something new or unexpected during a disagreement. Ask questions. Maybe you’ll learn something new! Which is always it’s own victory in my book. Perhaps you’ll even catch a bit of benevolent bullshitting from the other party, and get better at recognizing it.

Time Wasted?

Today, like everyday, I had a lot I planned to do. I had to come into work instead of working from home. I still manage to do a lot of my personal tasks even while at work. Except today was a little different than I planned for it to be. I came back into my office after we completed today’s forensic interview, and just as I was about to get started on my to-do list, my coworker came into my office. He had brought his coffee, took a seat, and began to talk to me about a myriad of different topics. I closed my notebook reluctantly.

I had planned on finishing up a few things and rushing out the door once I was finished with my work for the day. However, we ended up talking for nearly three hours. Now the workday is nearly finished. Not only did I not get to head home early, but I also haven’t finished any of the things I set out to. As someone who sticks to a very rigorous, personal schedule, this causes me a lot of anxiety.

It is hard for me to deal with days like today. I feel as though time spent chatting, even with interesting people that I really like, is time wasted. Nothing quantitative was accomplished in those three hours we spent talking. I now have less time left in the day to do my “important” things. It is difficult for me to convince myself that I didn’t just waste time today by talking so much with a friend.

I think most people would find this mindset fairly bizarre. I enjoyed myself. We talked about a lot of fun, interesting things. We laughed. We smiled. And I probably developed a slightly deeper friendship in the process. But on paper, I have nothing to show for those hours. My anxiety is not pleased. I feel rushed to make up for lost time.

Yet because of the way I feel about these kinds of days, I think I cause myself to miss out on some of the parts of life that are truly valuable. I miss time with people in my life that I will never be able to reclaim. How could I value writing on this blog, journaling, reading, or drawing over genuine connection with loved ones? I don’t even understand this myself. Yet there are many days I miss opportunities to hangout because I am “too busy.” But when I really think about it, my time would probably be better spent do these “less important” activities. I am going to try hard to be grateful for the time I spent talking with my friend today. It was important to me. Even if it wasn’t necessarily productive.

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