How do I stop these unwelcome thoughts
January 15, 2013 3:06 PM   Subscribe

I have uncontrollable visions of myself doing socially awkward things when I'm engaging in social situations with family, friends, strangers. How do I make them stop?

I have few friends and I feel like these thoughts limit my ability to make more. Whenever I'm interacting with people I will picture myself doing something super awkward.

-Last night at the grocery store the checkout girl was wearing a restaurant t-shirt and I said "I love that restaurant, do you work there?" and she started talking about how she knew the owners. I immediately pictured myself saying "we should go together!" and her giving me a weird look, like, "who are you?"
-Driving with my dad and he is talking about going to a football game with a neighbor and I picture myself saying, "can I go too?" and him thinking, "why doesn't my daughter have her own friends?"
-At the liquor store I see someone I recognize, we say hello and go our separate ways. I picture myself following her out the door and saying, "where are we going?" and her thinking, "nowhere with you!"
-I'm going to a potluck next week with one of my friends and I'm constantly picturing myself doing awkward things: staying alone in one room while everyone is somewhere else; clinging to my friend the whole night until she says something; not saying anything the entire night.
- I also picture myself tripping, probably 10+ times whenever I go out. I tend to dress nicely, do my hair, etc before running errands and I picture myself falling on my face and everyone thinking, "who is she trying to impress?"

I realize these sound pretty mild but the thoughts are pervasive and I literally can't interact with ANYONE without being inundated with these thoughts constantly. I have two friends that I actually hang out with on a regular basis and would love to have more.
Some things:
- I just (one month ago) got out of a LTR where the vast majority of my free time was spent with him. I saw very few friends. I'm 26.
- I have no problem making small talk; in fact most people would consider me very socially appropriate and even outgoing.
- I'm quite conventionally attractive so I get polite and unpolite attention from the opposite sex which I handle without issue. Since breaking up with my boyfriend I feel like I need to look polished and perfect 100% of the time so I've always gone to the store with my makeup done, hair curled, in a nice outfit. I live in a crunchy/hippie area and am pretty crunchy myself, so I feel totally out of place BUT I would feel self-conscious not doing this!
- I have a job that relies on me to be read social situations very well, to be sensitive and to say the right thing (nurse). I feel like I am hyper-aware of what people are expecting me to say, what I need to say, how I should say it, etc. I'm very good at conversing with people in truly "awkward" situations, (ex - your girlfriend just had a BM on the floor so don't come in; hi doctor we made a big mistake xyz happened what should we do.) These awkward thoughts do NOT happen when I'm at work.
- When I was young my mom was kind of emotionally abusive to me; after I would speak to "adults" in her presence she would take me aside, sometimes hit me, and say "what the hell were you saying / you are so awkward and I'm embarrassed, don't talk to them again / you are so f***ing weird, they probably think you are an idiot." She has since cried and apologized for doing this, but it obviously still bothers me.

I am currently on wellbutrin 300mg for depression/anxiety which was helping but now I don't know. I do not see a therapist and am embarrassed to talk about this. I would LOVE to just be able to go to a group gathering and feel comfortable and like people want me to be there! Or to go to the store and not feel like the checkout person is judging me.

Has anyone else dealt with this? How can I make these thoughts stop? Is there some sort of self-talk that you've used in these moments? It's getting really bad, I want to make friends but I feel crippled.
posted by pintapicasso to Human Relations (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
These are called intrusive thoughts. There are many ways of dealing with them! It's sort of OCD-related. Try using those as keywords.

Obviously the abuse you've suffered is linked; please think of seeing a therapist as a "first step."
posted by MangyCarface at 3:15 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Developing boundaries (even if it's just a personal mental note about what is and is not appropriate) is very important.

For instance, some of the examples provided above (like the example about asking to go with your dad to a football game) are totally appropriate and okay to ask. But, the example about asking "where are we going" is strange and would be crossing the line when it comes to boundaries.

As for the potluck example, I find that this type of thing happens when someone is very socially anxious. It really sucks and can be offputting because you don't want to feel like a loser/loner, but you have to remind yourself that you were invited, people want you to attend for a reason, you have the option of always leaving, and that anxiety towards these situations can be improved through exposure (even if it means taking small steps first).

I think therapy would be SO incredibly beneficial for you. Yeah, it's awkward talking about personal problems at first, but together you and a therapist (perhaps someone trained in CBT) can work together in order to reduce these thoughts and figure out how to cope with these thoughts too.
posted by livinglearning at 3:17 PM on January 15, 2013

I am currently on wellbutrin 300mg for depression/anxiety which was helping but now I don't know. I do not see a therapist and am embarrassed to talk about this.

It sounds like this is something that's really affecting your life, and like it's something you need to talk to someone about, even if it's embarrassing and hard to do. This could be a lot of things -- OCD? Social anxiety? -- but all of them are things you can get help with, if you ask for help.

Can you talk to the person who prescribed you the Wellbutrin, just to get things started?

Also, you might find this MetaTalk thread interesting -- some mefites talk about dealing with intrusive thoughts as part of OCD, and there are some interesting links.

You are not alone, and you can definitely get help for this -- your life can get so much less stressful if you ask for it. Good luck!
posted by pie ninja at 3:18 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hey, pintapicasso - just want you to know you are not alone in these types of imaginary exchanges. I personally have not addressed my issues that seem similar to yours, so I'm not sure exactly what to suggest (I've just been procrastinating getting back to therapy for this specifically). My first thought, is obviously, therapy to deal with the intrusive thinking. But I wanted to point out that your examples sounds to me an awful lot about a fear of rejection. Do you think that could be a factor? Not feeling worthy or good enough, even though you appear to be "doing everything right and normal" and have accomplished alot? (I could be off the mark, apologies if so).

And another obvious comment, I'd say it's absolutely residual from what you experienced with your mother - man, I'm sorry you went through that and I wish you peace soon about that. I am interested in hearing what others will suggest, but just know that you aren't alone and I can understand how crazy-making it feels!
posted by foxhat10 at 3:24 PM on January 15, 2013

You're not alone in dealing with this. The comedian Maria Bamford, who talks a lot about struggling with mental health issues, based an entire album on this idea: "Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome."
posted by steinsaltz at 3:40 PM on January 15, 2013

Whoa, my Mom did the exact same thing!! Right down the the apologizing and crying about it later! It still bothered me too. Didn't matter how sorry she was it happened, I was the only person who could fix the damage it had done.

I got CBT therapy, can't begin to tell you how much better things got. My only regret is not doing it sooner. Don't be embarrassed! As a nurse you would never judge someone who had physical problems, would you? It's why you are helping them. Same goes for your therapist. They are there to help you.
posted by Dynex at 3:53 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

(I just want to add, I was mortified talking to a therapist about this so I do understand that, but please don't let it stop you. The first therapist I saw was quite frankly a dick, and it took me a while to try again. The second time around was far far more successful, even though I spent the first several sessions frozen like a deer in headlights.)
posted by Dynex at 4:21 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I think there's some famous psychological dilemma called "the white bear" dilemma. Essentially, if someone tells you NOT to think of a white bear it's all but impossible to think of a white bear. I think it's likely that the more you try NOT to imagine awkward social dilemmas, it will result in you more frequently imagining awkward social dilemmas.

Have you tried dealing with it by thinking to yourself something along the lines of "Right now I am imagining a very inappropriate social situation." If you wanted the next thought could be something like, "How interesting. That is something I'd never actually do." That way you aren't constantly battling with yourself to get yourself to think a certain way. If you make it more objective (e.g. "Right now, this thought is happening."), then you don't have to own it as a reflection on you personally. It might make the intrusive thoughts ease up over time, if you try to sort of accept them.

It sounds like a lot of it could have to do with the issues you talked about with your mother. If you are imagining her saying those things while you are interacting with people, maybe you could imagine sympathizing with your child self she was talking to, because that's a horrible way to treat someone. And you know that, right?
posted by mermily at 4:37 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

This recent question seems very similar in some ways.
posted by Dansaman at 11:25 PM on January 15, 2013

I have intrusive thoughts somewhat like this. When I start feeling crushed by all the dumb or horrific ways I could botch an interaction, I try to remind myself that if I am this consumed by myself, then it's likely that most people I talk to are doing the same thing -- they are not thinking about me nearly as much as I am thinking about me, if they're thinking about me at all. This takes a lot of the pressure off, and when I think about it like that, I'm better at putting the brakes on those kinds of anxious thought patterns.

It kind of sounds like your problem is not so much that you expect to say something foolish or awkward, but that you assume prematurely that others are thinking negative or embarrassing things about you, and then your mind invents some implausible scenario with that outcome.

We all operate internally, when most things are external. The way you perceive a situation is colored and distorted by how you feel about yourself, but no one else sees it exactly that way. No one is judging you or thinking you're stupid... it seems like your mom planted those ideas early and it has stuck with you.

Maybe give therapy a shot?
posted by perryfugue at 12:41 AM on January 16, 2013

I am currently on wellbutrin 300mg for depression/anxiety which was helping but now I don't know.

When I was on Wellbutrin, it increased this kind of anxiety for me. Which is weird, because my general baseline anxiety was down. It was like it amplified some kinds of anxiety. It ended up being a dealbreaker for the Wellbutrin. Prozac seems to be doing well for me. And it's way cheaper.

But the way to deal with these thoughts is to look at them as you reminding yourself not to do these things. Think, "gosh, that *would* be silly!" and move on. Easier said than done, but it works.
posted by gjc at 4:00 AM on January 16, 2013

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