So you’re talking to this guy. Maybe your host introduced you to him, because you have something in common. You ask him a question and he answers in one word. You wait for him to ask you something, even just to throw the question back at you, but he doesn’t. You ask him another question and receive another one-word response.
You notice his eyes when he looks at you. They’re staring… nervous. This is probably anxiety, you think. You look for ways of putting him at ease. You launch into a story about something that happened to you. You make sure to add something that was embarrassing at the time but now you can laugh about it. And laugh you do, while scanning his face. Did he smile a bit? You think he did.
Still his eyes stare and he doesn’t say a word.
You want to help, because you feel sorry for him. Living with anxiety like that must be really difficult, you think.
But does he want your help? Maybe he just wants you to leave him alone. After all, it’s you who’s causing his anxiety. Left alone, he’d probably be all right.
Also, his strange behaviour is making you a bit anxious. You’re not used to having to make all the conversation. You’re used to it bouncing back and forth. You’re afraid you’ll soon run out of things to say.
What do you do? Struggle on or end the conversation now? The latter would be easy. You’d just say, “Well, it was nice talking to you,” and move on. He would probably heave a sigh of relief. To be honest, so would you. But…
But that wouldn’t help him at all. You might also feel you missed an opportunity to make a difference to someone else.
If you don’t walk away, if you struggle on despite the barrier he has erected, you’ll probably be doing him a favour. Even if it’s just prolonging the social contact. You might even be rewarded with two words at a time, or three.
That’s all I want to suggest. Don’t walk away so quickly. Because those staring eyes that seem to be saying “Please leave me alone” are really saying “Please help me.” Probably.
When you do finally move on, you start humming that Beatles tune: Help me if you can, I’m feeling down. And I do appreciate your being ’round…
The release of Social Anxiety Revealed is only nine days away.