Dealing with social anxiety about "new" family arrangements
December 24, 2013 2:28 PM Subscribe
My mother recently divorced my step-dad of 11 years and started dating a new guy about 6 months ago. Having a stranger in my family is causing my social anxiety to manifest when I go to visit on holidays and other times, and I don't know what is the best way to talk to my mom about this, and to what extent I should feel OK removing myself from these situations. I'm 26 years old but I have the feeling that the way I am acting is perceived as highly inappropriate and rude for an adult. She has been very understanding of my anxiety in the past but is now that it is related to her boyfriend, she's taking it personally and I'm not sure what to do.
posted by supernaturelle to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I deal with a degree of social anxiety in my life, and for the most part I've learned to cope with many symptoms when they arise. I've worked with a therapist in the past and we talked a lot about accepting that I am an introverted person, and that its OK for me to turn down social events that I know I don't enjoy participating in. In most cases, just understanding that I have the power to leave a given situation has been calming enough.
However, I've reached an impasse ever since my mom's boyfriend has moved in with her a few months ago. In a perfect world, I would be able to meet him over the course of a few months over lunches out with my mom, but there has been a bit of pressure from my mom to come home and hang out for entire evenings - or in the case of tonight, Christmas Eve and morning. I'm not sure exactly why, but having this new person be a part of intimate family dinners and holidays is just a little too much for me to handle so soon. I only live about 45 minutes away, so I would normally spend an afternoon and evening at my mom's house once or twice a month. I've been doing this much less often, and the last time I went home for an afternoon, I had to retreat to the bathroom 5 or 6 times to cry for about 20 minutes and pull myself together.
I already skipped Thanksgiving dinner, and my mom was disappointed. I tried having a honest talk with her about how I'm feeling and she was pretty upset, it was hard for me to get through to her that I'm not angry with her for having a new boyfriend, that I'm not asking her to do anything for me, I just need time and space to process this new person being a part of the family. She said that she could tell I wasn't comfortable the past two times I'd come to visit, and that I was being selfish. She suggested a few times that I was acting like a child and that it is ridiculous to be afraid of strangers as an adult.
I understand why she is upset, and I'm not angry at her. Its very likely that she feels guilty that I am uncomfortable. I mostly just feel horrible about not being able to "perform", socially. This pressure of course is causing a LOT more anxiety than there needs to be. I have a very difficult time relaxing when I know that someone is watching me closely and monitoring whether I'm having a "good" time or not. Just that thought has been making me cry whenever it occurs to me.
I'm supposed to go home tonight for Christmas Eve but at this point I'm a mess. I'm terrified of going home and having to excuse myself from dinner, I'm terrified of feeling like I have to put on a show of being really friendly to the new boyfriend, I'm terrified of digging myself into a deeper hole of guilt and pressure if I *don't* go.
I would love to spend time with my family, but I feel deeply uncomfortable with this right now. Its really bumming me out that my social anxiety is manifesting in close family situations. I'm avoiding things that I'd really like to be a part of as a result of it. I'd really like to deal with it the best I can, but I feel like its impossible while I feel pressure from my mom to act a certain way.
What's the best way for me to talk to my mom about this?
As an adult, should I feel more comfortable being more assertive about the ways in which I want to interact with my family?
I've seen a therapist recently for social anxiety issues, but am not seeing anyone at the moment while I'm in between health insurance. I feel like my old therapist would say "You need to take care of your needs first. Your mother's reaction is her own to deal with and not your responsibility." But really sticking to my guns in this way during the holidays, knowing what my mom is going to think of me, is proving difficult and I need a bit of perspective!