Man, I hate social anxiety. So many times this year I’ve felt like I’m just barely scraping by and being crushed under the weight of other people’s judgment of me. I’m aware there have been more than a handful of times I most likely blew the situation out of proportion in my mind or upped the expectations of what I assumed other people wanted in how I should behave socially. In both scenarios, a great deal of anxiety rushed at me and I did not feel capable of moving forward with pushing past the feeling and being all smiles and casual small talk.
A few hours earlier, a relative dropped by after driving over from another state. I knew she was due to arrive soon but it seemed the traffic held her up, I think. In my home, the living room is basically the main room a person goes into after stepping through the front door. I had just eaten dinner at that point and hung out in the living room for a little bit. It was also on purpose that I lingered there; hoping my relative would arrive by then so I could exchange some sort of pleasantries with her before I not so inconspicuously went up to my room for solitary time. This relative happened to be my dad’s sisters L, as she came over to see another sister, T, who was currently staying over.
I’m no good when relatives come visiting. Aunt T and her friend arrived straight from the airport last night to settle into the house and today I acted as their pseudo-tour guide (when really all I did was go with them to two retail stores they wanted to visit). The trip in total was like 4 hours, only because there was lots of walking and we took two breaks in-between to grab a snack and then actually eat a full lunch. I should be giving myself a pat on the back for being “brave”.
Initially, when Aunt T asked me this morning if I was willing to be a tour guide for the day, I could have declined or made up an excuse about being busy. I could have hid in my room or simply ducked out of the house without anyone realizing I had gone, as I have done in past instances when other relatives were staying over and my parents would try to persuade me to accompany those people for outings and stuff.
Instead what I felt after that four-hour trip was drained and honestly hoping that was the last “brave” thing I had to do for today. I agreed to play tour guide since I was familiar with the two places she and her friend wanted to go, and had she not come to me with her plans for the day, I would have still gone out on my own. Aunt T made light conversation with me; asking me general questions about the streets or buildings that looked different since her last visit to New York 5 years ago.
She did ask questions about myself. I felt like a fumbling, awkward idiot with a variety of my answers. For some I took a beat longer to formulate a stilted response, particularly with questions that had some level of sensitivity in terms of how much information I was comfortable and/or not comfortable sharing, all out of fear of how I was being perceived and/or judged. What had happened to the dog I used to have? What about that pet parrot who I was literally always with? How long had it been since I last went to her home country (Taiwan)? Such simple, non-threatening questions and yet somehow my brain was still raising an alarm and screaming DANGER at me.
Aunt T even suggested I stay at her home in Taiwan if I went back with her in November and then she could take me around Japan for a few days too. Nice offer, except it conflicts with a school opportunity I am currently looking into which has a proposed class start date sometime in the same month. This is the biggest problem so far with my anxiety. Rather than share this information with her, I smiled and said I would consider her suggestion. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her because not even my own parents know yet that I am interested in returning to school to study something else. I’m not sure when the last straw will snap and break the camel’s back but I’m being driven into a corner where I can’t keep holding onto this secret forever. Once again the apprehension stems from the automatic thought I have that no matter how I spin it, someone in my family will be skeptical that me going to school again is a good option.
I share very little of my innermost thoughts and feelings with my immediate family. What I’ve never liked is telling something to one person and then that person ends up telling other people in the family about it. It shouldn’t feel like a big deal to me, especially if the information being shared is not awful or negative, but I cannot stop my seemingly automatic perception that the person is obviously going to think badly of me in some shape or form. I hate my own perception that just because I am the topic of a conversation, it feels as though all the attention is on me. I feel some of my skewed perceptions are not my fault because my reactions are in response to other people’s actions which I cannot control (even though I wish time and time again that I could).
An additional contributor to the perceived judgment I sense is when either of my parents switch to a different language dialect when speaking in my presence. I’m not saying all immigrant parents do this, but mine certainly do use the language difference to their advantage when they are obviously talking about someone while the person is right there and they don’t want the person to know they’re talking about him/her.
Which brings me back to what happened with Aunt L earlier this evening. She popped in shortly after I had given up waiting in the living room and gone upstairs to exercise in my room. I thought, Well, I guess I’ll see her later when she comes up (because she was staying overnight in one of the upstairs bedrooms). Instead I hear my dad telling me (from downstairs) that Aunt L arrived. I made the decision to not go down. I could have, yes. But like with Aunt T, I felt it would be awkward for me to try to hold a conversation with her. Even the times I’ve stayed over Aunt T’s house, it was like I always let her take the initiative with talking to me or prompting me with questions. My guard was never truly down.
Of course I felt dumb about my choice, like, what the hell are you doing?? Just go say hi! I even thought about taking my cup downstairs with me and going into the kitchen pretending to be casually filling it with water while greeting my aunt. But nope. I was a coward. I got more anxious once I could make out Aunt T and her friend talking animatedly with her. Yes, I heard them all the way from my bedroom (that’s how non-soundproofed my home is). Then my brother got home from work and he joined them in the kitchen. I don’t know who or what to blame for my course of action. All that noise made me jittery and afraid of what I would be walking into. Had it been Aunt L and my dad in the kitchen, I probably wouldn’t have cared so much and just gone downstairs. But the more people there were, the more unsettled I felt about the contrast of how much chattering they were doing and how little I would be saying if I managed to open my mouth at all.
When Aunt T did finally come upstairs to prepare to turn in for the night, I greeted her as she was in the hallway. She briefly brought up what Aunt L had suggested for me and I told her I still needed time to think it over. The painful part afterward was hearing the verbal exchange between her and my dad from the next room over… They used the language dialect they speak in their family. I caught bits and pieces, mostly because I don’t have full comprehension of the language. My dad basically asked her if I spoke to her and she confirmed I did, along with what I said. I didn’t understand the next thing he said, which is probably why I got the feeling it was something negative. It also didn’t help that I heard him kind of scoff, too?
Featured Image by Peter Forster.
10 thoughts on “Real or Perceived Judgment”
This reminded me of when I was a kid. Whenever a family member, or a neighbor came over I was expected to come down right away to greet them. No matter what I was doing. If it was a family member, I was expected to stay for prolonged periods of time with them. Whenever I escaped, I was called right back. Because it was “rude” to not be there when we had guests. It was pure torture.
Good luck with the school thing!
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Yeah, I think it was because parents wanted their kids to be polite and show their manners, but it was/is awkward when someone is forced to be present for longer than needed. Especially when half the time I wasn’t well-versed in how to hold conversations with older relatives from a different generation, or if there was a slight language barrier if they weren’t used to speaking in English and I wasn’t used to speaking in their language dialect.
I hope the school thing works out for me too!
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I so emphatise with you. Relatives coming over can be so awkward! It is like they are family by blood, yet you can barely feel a connection with some of them and so small talk with them can be painful. It was nice of Aunt T to offer a place to stay for you in Taiwan and take you around Japan. If it were me, I would find it weird to take up the offer with someone who I don’t really know and feel it hard to converse with. So interesting to hear you are thinking about going back for study. That’s always good no matter what age as it’s, well, self-improvement. But coming from a Chinese family like yours, going back to study is not as favoured as much as having a burgeoning career or studying something such as an MBA or post-graduate degree that is regarded highly upon.
My family also does change languages when speaking to different family members. But I don’t think it’s because they don’t want someone else to hear what they say. More like they are comfortable conversing in that language with that family member.
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You know my exact sentiments! They’re my blood relatives but I don’t feel like I can talk to them freely and without being stiff. The offer to travel and see new places is kind of Aunt T but honestly even if I wasn’t contemplating the school thing, I probably would still not want to go.
Yeah, Chinese families tend to think so highly of a solid school history and a pristine job with a growing salary. I wish I could turn invisible every time I am present whenever my parents or one of my relatives start chattering about other people’s salaries or professions. I feel no matter what I will never be what the culture wants me to be anyways.
True, people can just talk in the dialect they feel most comfortable with around their own family. I do think my parents do that with their own relatives but I also feel they sometimes use the language difference to their own advantage, and I know this for sure for instances I’ve seen them do that.
Yeah, no matter what you say, sometimes you just can’t measure up with your other family members and you’ll feel like the black sheep of the family D: Good luck thinking over going back to study and hope you make a decision that feels right 🙂
I totally get you!
Talking to family gives me anxiety too! I don’t see them very often.
My parents of course speak with their siblings much more over the phone. But I don’t what they say about me. A.K.A. what expectations those relatives have about me.
I am annoyed that my parents think they know me.
And more annoyed that those relatives want to give me some sort of life advice I really don’t need because I, by now, know how to live life.(!!!!)
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Seeing relatives frequently has never been the norm for me while growing up. It’s awkward seeing photos from my 1 yr birthday and literally everyone from my mom’s extended family was there. So I understand there was at some point an effort made for people to show they cared for me, but honestly over the years it was like I only ever saw my mom’s whole family during the lunar new year and there was always so many people that I couldn’t remember who was who.
It’s probably better not to know what relatives think of you. Maybe they mean well with life advice but I’m a believer in the person him/herself being able to choose what is best for him/herself.
Aww sweetie this must be really hard for you and I can relate to feeling like this, albeit from a long time ago. As for talking in a different language so that you don’t understand … wowza! I once had a boyfriend who did that with his sisters when I was in the room and they didn’t want to include me in their conversation. I dumped him. Well, if there’s a positive to be found here, I’m guessing that the best thing is that in the future it’s probably best to greet them immediately and then make your excuses to go to your room and pass the responsibility of entertaining guests to someone else. There’s nothing worse than entering a room full of people who are already chattering and feeling as though one has little to contribute (I feel that loads!). I’m sending you loads of love because I can see how difficult a situation this is for you. Be brave my friend and stand up for what you want. If you want to go back to school, then work out exactly what it is you want to say in a clear, non-emotional way, what responses you will give to their arguments and go for it. Give them all the facts, dates etc etc. Write a few notes if it helps so you can be concise. It’s your life – they may hold the strings, but you don’t need to be strangled by them. Katie xxx
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It can be pretty uncomfortable being in the presence of people talking in a language you don’t understand. I get how it can feel like you are being excluded from a conversation. I’ve felt that too, and it’s not good for my anxiety because I tend to think others are saying unflattering things about me without me knowing.
Entertaining guests is exactly what I feel pressure to do after I greet people. I think because I believe there’s that expectation on myself, I get more anxious than necessary about saying hi.
Thank you for the support about my school endeavors. I don’t yet feel prepared to open myself up about my intentions but I believe I will at some point in time. One thing which is of great relief to me is financially, I have enough money saved up to pay for the tuition in full. It’s about $450 (I think that is equivalent to 344.25 pound sterling?). I would probably be more stressed out if going back to school required me to borrow money from my parents. So either way if they are supportive of my decision or not, I can technically still go to school without their sayso.
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You are so strong and I hope that you’re really proud of yourself about saving the money because you should be! Nobody should speak in a different language to you (unless they actually can’t speak English!) if you’re present. Sorry to be harsh, but it is rude that they should do this. Now that I’m an old lass (!), I’d have no qualms about openly explaining to them how it makes me feel and ask them very politely not to, but when I was younger like you, I daresay I wouldn’t have been able to so I really do understand. There is an art to ‘small talk’ and if like so many of us you find situations difficult, it’s definitely worth learning. It’s a bit like politicians who never quite answer the question! It might sound a bit daft but can you google for some books on this?? Knowledge is power and all that and confidence plays such a huge part in our lives. Might be worth a look? Sending you huge hugs xx