There are some people that I can talk to and some people that I can’t talk to. What some people may not know is that when I am able to talk to someone, it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I actually like the person. In fact, there have been people that I have been able to physically talk to even though I don’t actually like them. Whether I talk to you or not is nothing personal in any way whatsoever, it is all decided by my anxiety.
To me, the pattern of who I can and can’t talk to is baffling. Sometimes I will be able to figure out why I am unable to talk to someone, others I will not. For example, most people I went to school with (with the exception of a few) I am unable to talk to. I can make sense of this because I know the reason why I am unable to talk to anyone from school is because I associate them with school and school was the most anxiety provoking situation for me to date. However, one I can’t make sense of is the fact that I tend to be unable to talk to most of my friends’ parents. This has been something that I have particularly struggled with since my Selective Mutism started and I have never been able to figure out why.
Understandably, (because they don’t understand and that is not their fault) people do often get offended when I speak to someone they know but not them and actually because of this, it does often make me unable to talk to a lot of people that I associate with a person that I am unable to talk to. I can become so anxious about upsetting someone for talking to someone they know but not them, that it actually makes me unable to speak; even though if they didn’t know the person that I am unable to speak to, I would most likely be able to speak to them.
However, there are times when I am able to speak to someone despite knowing they know someone that I am unable to speak to. This is when the problems are created because like I said before, people do get very offended by it. The truth is that most of the people I am unable to speak to are people that I have known since before I began my Selective Mutism recovery. The majority of the people that I am able to talk to are either new people that I met after I began to talk in public or people that were involved in my treatment. My treatment did not involve helping me to talk to all the people that I have known for many years but have never spoken to, but rather my treatment focussed a lot on talking to strangers and new people. The only people that were involved in my treatment that I had been mute around were my college teachers and classmates. This is why I often find it easier to talk to strangers and new people than people that I have known really well for years. It is nothing personal; I just haven’t had any treatment focussed on helping me to talk to you. This is treatment that I am still fighting to receive, but since very few professionals are trained in treating SM it seems like an almost impossible task.
You have to remember that if I do not talk to you, that I have come a long way from where I was. There was a time when I was only able to talk to a total of 6 people for years and the only place I could talk was either inside of my house or in the car with all the windows closed. There is a point when I wouldn’t have even been able to talk to absolutely anyone that you know except for my family members. You have to be patient with me and know that within time as I get better and better, I will talk to you and if it is any consolation, it is often the people that people with Selective Mutism want to talk to the most that they find it the most difficult.
If you are someone that I am unable to talk to, I want you to know that I want to talk to you more than anything else in the world. It is just as upsetting for me as it is for you every time I fail to be able to talk to you. You have to be patient with me. Selective Mutism isn’t something that can be overcome overnight, it takes time and patience. I want you to know that I do try to talk to you every time I see you even though it may not seem like it; sometimes the anxiety can be so high that my entire body freezes and it can be hard to even prize my lips open, but I promise you I am trying. If I experience such severe anxiety around you that I can’t even communicate with you through writing anything down to you, I want you to know that that is also nothing personal. There are some people that I am unable to speak to, but can communicate with writing, others I cannot communicate with them in any way at all. To me, it’s not always clear why I experience higher anxiety levels around some people than others, but what I do know is that it has nothing to do with how much I like the person.
If I seemingly give you a look that makes it seem like I don’t like you, that’s not what it means; it is just my frustration coming out. It is extremely heartbreaking to want to talk to someone so badly but being unable to; it creates extremely high levels of frustration. If you get some kind of a vacant stare, this is just my high levels of anxiety; I am often unable to show any kind of emotion when my anxiety levels get extremely high.
If you know someone who has Selective Mutism who talks to someone you know but not you, then please if there’s only one thing that you take away from this then please just know that it is nothing personal. Showing your frustration when they don’t talk to you will only make it harder for them to eventually talk to you. Please know that they want to talk to you and that they are trying harder than you’ll ever know. If you are patient and just accept that this is just the way they are for now, it will help them so much. Whatever you do, do not try and pressure or force them to talk, this will only increase their anxiety and will only make them less likely to ever talk to you. Also, do not tell them how upset you are with the fact that they don’t talk to you; there have been many people who have done this to me and unsurprisingly, I am still unable to talk to them. If they do talk to you, do not react and make a big deal out of it; this will only increase their anxiety and make them take ten steps backwards, it is important to not react and just act as if they have always spoken to you.
If you really cannot get your head around Selective Mutism, just know that it is a million times harder for them to talk in certain social situations than it is for you. Tell them that you understand that it is hard for them and that they don’t have to talk yet and that they can talk when they are ready. By removing the anxiety they have about you getting frustrated about them not talking, you will help them to become more relaxed and in turn this will help them to begin speaking to you a lot sooner as their treatment progresses. When talking to them, ask them yes or no questions, or saying something such as, I wonder if blah blah blah; both do not actually require them to answer verbally, but if they feel able to, they will. By doing this, you will give them ways to contribute to the conversation; one of the most frustrating things about having Selective Mutism is feeling excluded and being unable to contribute to the conversation in any way whatsoever, so by doing this you will lessen their frustration. Rather than getting upset about the fact that they aren’t speaking to you, please do try your best to see it from their point of view and that talking is actually very scary for them, even though it may not be for you. If you have any phobias, you will know that for you the fear is very real, but to others who don’t have a phobia of whatever your phobia is, it is not scary at all to them. It is the same sort of thing when it comes to Selective Mutism.
Whereas it might seem like they don’t like you, it may be the opposite and they may actually think very highly of you. You just have to know that although it is difficult for both of you at the moment, that if you are patient with them and just accept them the way they are, that with the right treatment they will talk to you. I can promise you that.