This “small talk” business is destroying me

Why does our society have to be so focused on small talk? It’s this “small talk” business that is, in some sense, destroying me. I never know what to say to people. I always scramble for topics to talk about, but eventually always run out. I am so uncomfortable with silence, or conversational lulls, and also with eye contact, in or out of a conversation. It’s weird because I will be very open and social with certain people, and then with some people I close up and have no control over it. I try to control this “closing up” but I can’t! I never speak in class, I always keep to myself while the entire class socializes. I just can’t socialize because I am scared of eye contact, and not knowing what to say. One particular time I had to read an essay of mine out to the class, the teacher asked me this out of the blue, and there was nothing I could do to get out of it. I read it so badly, my voice was shaking, I was shaking, I kept skipping words and my intonation was all wrong. I would doubt it if any of the class even understood half of what I said. What’s more, I have a math requirement class to take, and I am very bad at math, even the very simple basic things. Every time I have enrolled in a math class, I have ended up withdrawing. The problem with math class, unlike most other classes, is that you have to participate, and that is very hard for me, not only because I am very slow with numbers and freeze up when asked a math question, but also because I am so shy and scared of humiliation.

I am a senior in college and I am currently doing an internship in an entertainment company. This experience is supposed to help me, but I am afraid that it is hurting me more, because of the way I close up and act around all of these important, and not-so-important, people. There are times when my voice is so quiet, that people ask me to repeat myself five times, and look at me as though I am weird. But I just can’t get my voice loud enough. The one tie I actually spoke up at this internship was when I was asked an opinion by an exec. I was so happy to be asked an opinion, but messed it all up. I tried to not be shy, but I tried too hard. I came across as being too aggressive for such an insignificant project to them, that I ended up being laughed at. I’ve stopped going as much as I used to, but I’m afraid I’ve run out of excuses to give them, and now I not only seem anti-social and weird to these highly judgmental people, but also irresponsible. I am going to start attending a support group. I went to see a therapist once for an initial consultation but when she told me her price I couldn’t continue, unfortunately.

Well, that felt good, getting everything off my chest. Please, anyone! give me some feedback and advice. I am about to start reading the book “Overcoming shyness and social anxiety: a step by step guide” Rapee. Can anyone tell me if they know if this book can actually help? One thing I find which helps very much, and this can help anyone shy or not: keeping a journal, or writing songs/poetry, random thoughts/feelings, singing. Writing can especially help if you have no one you know to listen to you or understand you. Being your own best friend, and your own therapist can help. One quote I will always remember is from a Whitney Houston song: In life “no one is ever completely on your side”. Be your own best friend, talk to yourself, love yourself, nurture yourself, and try especially hard to say nice things to yourself!

06-12-99

2 Comments

  1. Your message really touched me…it brought tears to my eyes because I know what you are going through.

    I just want to extend my gratitude for sharing with us. Every time I log onto this website I feel a little more at peace with who I am from reading messages from all these people who have the same problem as me.

    Eye contact is a very strange thing, isn’t it? I think the uncomfortable feeling you may get from looking into someone’s eyes is from feeling that they can see your insecurities and fears. At least that’s the case with me. If you are already feeling anxious from talking to someone, this feeling of “they can see inside of me” seems to escalate. As they say, a eyes are the window to the soul.

    What I try to do is to believe strongly in what I am saying to this person – even if you are attempting small talk…Remember that you are equal to this person and need not feel shameful about who you are…Whatever ends up coming out of your mouth is not stupid…it’s probably only you who thinks so. You are your worst critic, and you’d most likely feel a lot more at ease with talking to people if you felt sincerely good about yourself.

    I also think that the feeling of humiliation in front of others is what impedes me from talking during class (or in groups of strangers). You just have to remember that they usually don’t even notice that you stuttered one word, or if you make a mistake…and if they do notice, I am sure that they will not hold it against you, branding you as “stupid” or incompetent”. That has always been my fear, but I’m slowly coming to realize that other people aren’t really paying so much critical attention to you.

    People, I believe, are mostly more good than evil.

    One more thing…don’t worry about those awkward silent pauses in between trying to initiate small talk. I hate them too…usually because I am frantically trying to find another topic to talk about in my head…it’s very stressful. Yet pauses indicate you are internalizing what the person just said…I think it’s more respectful than yapping away non-stop. It gives you room to breathe.

    And if a conversation is having a lot of uncomfortable silent times, don’t just blame yourself, a conversation is a two way street (I find that I always blame myself for not keeping conversations alive).

  2. The book you asked about “Overcoming shyness and social anxiety: a step by step guide” is part of my shyness library and an excellent choice.This book, more than any other, shows us that the negative thoughts we have about ourselves are usually self-created and not shared by others. The book gives you a way to prove to yourself where your negative thoughts and projections do not match reality.

    We tend to judge ourselves much more harshly than others do. We also tend to think that the results of making a mistake will be far worse than even our own experiences have shown.

    Small talk is something that can be learned for use in particular setting — just don’t expect yourself to be a unending yapper which to me is the MOST boring type of person (although I often envy their ability).

    While it took me many years, I learned to be comfortable with my own quietness. I notice that when I am OK with my silence, others are too and realize that I am quiet person that speaks when he has something meaningful to contribute.

    To me, the only bad part of being quiet is that many people do not speak up even when a strong opinion is held — since I have learned to stand up for myself and my ideas, this is no longer a problem for me.

    Some people may initially judge quiet people as weak and insecure — but there is also a way to be seen as the “strong, silent type”.

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