Social Awkwardness, Social Anxiety, and Asperger’s

There’s actually very strong differences and signs that set each of the three apart.  You don’t need to be a psychologist, clinician, or a doctor to figure these out.  All you need to be is observant.

“Social phobia is a strong fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed. This fear can be so strong that it gets in the way of going to work or school or doing other everyday things.

Everyone has felt anxious or embarrassed at one time or another. For example, meeting new people or giving a public speech can make anyone nervous. But people with social phobia worry about these and other things for weeks before they happen.

People with social phobia are afraid of doing common things in front of other people. For example, they might be afraid to sign a check in front of a cashier at the grocery store, or they might be afraid to eat or drink in front of other people, or use a public restroom. Most people who have social phobia know that they shouldn’t be as afraid as they are, but they can’t control their fear. Sometimes, they end up staying away from places or events where they think they might have to do something that will embarrass them. For some people, social phobia is a problem only in certain situations, while others have symptoms in almost any social situation.

Social phobia usually starts during youth. A doctor can tell that a person has social phobia if the person has had symptoms for at least 6 months. Without treatment, social phobia can last for many years or a lifetime.” (National Institute of Mental Health)

Notice some of the symptoms:

  1. Fear of being judged by others or being embarrassed.  Worrying about such judgments long before they occur.
  2. Afraid to do common things in front of people.
  3. Staying away from places or events to avoid such embarrassments.

The phobia of being in social scenarios or common-day circumstance is what drives their lives.

If you look at the definition of “awkward”, in this context you get: “lacking social graces or manners”.  This gives ‘social awkwardness’ the definition of having a difficult time being social or demonstrating social skills or awareness.

Many people who are ‘socially awkward’ exhibit the following:

  1. Difficulty initiating a conversation.
  2. Difficulty maintaining eye contact.
  3. Very standoffish in their body language.
  4. Reluctance to put themselves in social scenarios.

Notice that people who are socially awkward do not have a fear of social circumstances or events, it just takes some more effort than the average to initiate social contact with others.  You’ll find that the socially awkward person will actually adapt to the social circumstance and ‘open up’.

Asperger’s Syndrome deviates from both above in a number of ways:

  1. Asperger’s Syndrome is classified as a learning disability affecting children and adults alike.
  2. Asperger’s Syndrome has no cure, as it is both developmental and neurological.
  3. Social anxiety implies a phobia of social circumstances; social awkwardness implies a difficulty being social, but Asperger’s is not a fear, nor is it a difficulty – it’s a disorder based on the hard wiring of the brain in social situations.
  4. With social anxiety and awkwardness, it’s possible to read the social cues and intentions of your social peers; with Asperger’s it can be either VERY difficult or downright impossible.
  5. With Asperger’s Syndrome, the person may not have learned certain social skills required for life due to an inability to form the required associations.  With social phobias, the associations have been formed, but done to an extreme negative.  With social awkwardness, the person may just lack the confidence to be social.

Other ways to tell the three apart:

  • Somebody with Asperger’s Syndrome may not pick up on the social cues and nuances that people with social phobias or awkwardness will pick up as the conversation goes on.
  • Typically humor helps alleviate the tension for someone who is socially awkward; somebody ‘on the spectrum’ may not pick up on the humor.
  • Phobias are an irrational fear of something due to an extremely negative experience or trauma.  Awkwardness is just looking at a social scenario and not knowing 100% what to do with it.  The previous two are states of mind where associations can be developed and one can learn nuances.  Many Aspergians are unable to adapt to their social surroundings; as a result, even something as simple as shaking someone’s hand can be confusing.
  • Many Aspergians are too consumed with the logical justification of a social scenario or circumstance to read the phobia or awkwardness of the situation.

If you have any stories of social awkwardness, social phobias, or Asperger-related stories, feel free to check out the Facebook page and add your comments.  Also consider ‘following’ this blog, as I am trying to get better about posting at least once per week.

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