A frequently asked question about Selective Mutism is why someone that they know who has Selective Mutism doesn’t seem anxious. They ask because Selective Mutism is supposed to be an extreme anxiety disorder, so why isn’t their body language showing any signs of anxiety?
With many people who have Selective Mutism, it is pretty easy to tell that they are highly anxious through their body language. However, when it comes to anxiety it does tend to manifest itself very differently from person to person. On top of this, it is also a question of whether or not they are only suffering from Selective Mutism or if there are other anxiety disorders on top of it. The more anxiety disorders they have, the more anxious they will be. However, it is also possible to have very apparent anxious body language and have no other anxiety disorders other than Selective Mutism.
Some people who have Selective Mutism may be able to express themselves pretty freely via a whiteboard and they may also use a lot of gestures to communicate with others. They may not show any real timidity whatsoever and it may appear to others that they are not actually suffering from a severe anxiety disorder. Others may not be able to communicate in any way whatsoever and will show very apparent anxious body language. Both can still suffer from high profile Selective Mutism, it’s just that Selective Mutism manifests itself very differently from person to person; no two cases are the same.
With many people who have Selective Mutism, the anxiety is avoided by not speaking. By avoiding the thing that makes them feel anxious can in turn make them feel very little anxiety despite suffering from an extreme anxiety disorder.
If you look at it like this, Selective Mutism is effectively a phobia of talking in certain social situations. Now, say if you had a phobia of spiders and to deal with that, you completely avoid spiders altogether. By doing that, you won’t feel any anxiety because you’re completely avoiding being around them. It’s the same sort of thing here; by not speaking they avoid the anxiety. However, if you tried to pick up a spider, it would create a tremendous amount of anxiety, just like trying to speak would create a tremendous amount of anxiety for someone with Selective Mutism.
I thought it would also be worth adding that it is also possible for someone who has SM to not realise that they are anxious at times. Of course most of the time they will realise that they are highly anxious, but for me personally, (and I know this is true for a lot of others too) I often find that because I have dealt with such high levels of anxiety for such a long time that it can be very difficult to know when my anxiety levels are at a “normal” level. There have been many times when I have thought that my anxiety levels were low, but people around me have noticed that my body language says very differently and they have asked me if I’m feeling alright.
Another point I should add to this is the fact that since Selective Mutism is situational, it is possible that in some situations, they may show no apparent anxious body language but in others they appear to look very anxious. For example, they might be mute around relatives that they have known all their lives but be able to express themselves very freely in a non-verbal way. However, when they go to school, they might find that their anxiety becomes so high that they are unable to communicate in any way whatsoever and they will appear to look very anxious. It also depends on the person that’s around. It may be that they are able to freely express themselves non-verbally around the other children/a teacher they feel comfortable around in school, but when they are around a teacher that they may feel intimidated by/don’t feel as comfortable around, they may become very obviously anxious. The same could be said for when they’re around relatives; depending on who they feel the most comfortable around will depend on how anxious they will appear to be.
I hope this makes sense to you all! These are just my thoughts on this question.