5 Things Selective Mutism Is NOT
1. SM Is Not Shyness.
Shyness has become a catchall term to describe anybody who is not the life of the party. That is a little bit of an exaggeration, but when people hear words like introverted, shy, or antisocial, they associate the same types of similar negative associations to these words. Each of these has a distinct meaning.
The accepted characteristic of introversion (as opposed to extroversion) in people is a tendency for them to give out their energy in social interactions and to build up their energy when they are alone.
On the other hand, shy people often want to connect with others, but don’t know how to deal with the anxiety that comes with it. This is the reason selective mutism is sometimes described as “extreme shyness” because the signs of shyness are there, but the difference is that the anxiety takes on a unique physiological response where the body redirects energy away from the vocal center.
Shyness and SM can be distinctly separate from each other. For example, someone with SM can be relatively comfortable in a situation, yet still not be able to talk.
Being antisocial is a completely different state all together. True antisocial people have no regard for others and often take advantage of people without empathy. These people often end up as criminals. This is actually the opposite of someone with SM who usually has an over-abundance of empathy.
2. SM Is Not Rudeness Or Apathy.
If you have SM, you know this already. This one is more for the people who don’t know what SM is and make a snap judgment. The go-to conclusion they arrive at is often rudeness or that they just don’t care. But in fact, people with SM desperately want to interact, but just can’t get past the hurdle of speaking.
Something interesting though is I once went through a phase where I convinced myself that I truly didn’t care about other people. They say that if you scratch a cynic, you’ll find a disappointed idealist. And that’s where I was… it was easier to just stop caring than to continue fighting and being true to myself. Eventually though, I did realize what a dark place this was and climbed out of that to a much stronger position.
3. SM Is Not Something You Just Grow Out Of.
This is sort of a cliche people say when they see kids with odd idiosyncrasies. He likes eating worms… he’ll grow out of it. She likes to arrange the bookshelf in alphabetical order… she’ll grow out of it. What do people actually mean when they say this? “They’ll stop on their own. If they don’t, then someone, somewhere will help them.” What they are essentially saying is “good luck” and nothing more, which is not a harmful sentiment at all, but when you take people seriously when they tell you that you will grow out of it, it can leave you waiting for a day which won’t just come to you. You have to create it yourself.
For a long time I did wonder if I would actually grow out of SM and one day start talking. The truth is if you keep doing the same things you’ve been doing, you’re going to get the exact same results. When people do grow out of things, it is usually a result of a deep change in their thinking patterns, habits, and/or beliefs. If those don’t change on their own, you’re going to go in there and manually change it yourself.
4. SM Is Not A Quirk.
The anxiety is real. Having SM long-term can lead to a lifetime of an unfulfilling experiences and missed opportunities. Sadly, many people with SM never actually seek help until it is severe. They are either too afraid (due to the SM itself), have found ways to cope which don’t allow them to be fully happy but allow them to “get by,” or they simply believe it’s not a big deal because the people around them tell them it’s not.
Many people have SM for 10+ years (or 15+ years in my case) before they first think about asking for help. Why are we letting all those years go to waste?
5. SM Is Not Who You Are.
This was originally what the whole article was going to be about, but I came up with a cool idea for a list. The issue of identity is extends far and wide. There are tons of books and other resources you can check out on the topic of identity and what defines who you are. The main thing I want to express with this is that having SM does NOT define you.
Maybe you can relate to this. I was labeled as the “kid who doesn’t talk” for years and years. I even began to think of myself that way, and it wasn’t what I wanted to be. It made me sad because I didn’t choose to be someone that couldn’t talk.
So one day I decided to just give in to my fate. I said right, okay, I’m going to embrace this. This is who I am, and I am happy with it. From then on, when someone mentioned I didn’t talk, I would try to feel proud and smile.
But I couldn’t keep it up. Something felt off whenever I would try to brainwash myself into feeling content with where I was. I was lying to myself and not being true to my core. My inner self was telling me that I did actually want to express myself.
So what is the answer? Do I feel sad about not talking, or do I just accept it and try to find happiness with what I have? It’s both. On one hand, you should feel a little dissatisfied with the status quo, and use that as motivation to keep trying and improving. But you should also draw satisfaction from within yourself… success or failure, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t affect who you are as a person. It makes sense when you read it, but to put it into practice is actually very hard to do.
Now, the topic of happiness and identity are both very expansive and warrants buttloads of more in-depth information. The main point I want you to get from this is not to let SM get in the way of affecting your sense of self. The way I see it, there’s the person you are when you are comfortable around people you trust, and that is who you are. SM is the mask that covers that true self when you go out.
So don’t let SM define you. And keep the fighting spirit alive!
P.S. Be sure to check out my new Personal Coaching service!