Selective Mutism: Hypervigilance About Who Is Around

When it comes to having Selective Mutism, every single person who has SM will have experienced hypervigilance to some degree. When given a psychological evaluation, I was found to have pretty severe levels of hypervigilance which was not surprising to me.

Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli, and a constant scanning of the environment for threats.”

For people who have Selective Mutism, hypervigilance most often occurs when it comes to being extra alert about who is around. For me, if I am unsure if someone that I am unable to talk to is around then I won’t be able to talk. I will not be able to talk until I am completely and 100% sure that there is no one around that I am unable to talk to.

Anxiety has a habit of affecting people in extreme ways. For example, (this is probably going to sound ridiculous to those who don’t have SM but will make perfect sense to those that do) if someone I am unable to talk to comes to the house, I will have to watch them leave the house and see their car drive off before I’m able to talk again. Sometimes though, my anxiety likes to take it to the extreme and tell me that actually they didn’t just leave and they are actually still in the house and would hear me if I did talk. I feel as though my Depersonalisation Disorder does make this worse, but it can then mean checking absolutely every single room in the house multiple times over until my mind is completely sure that they are gone before I’ll be able to begin talking.

Sometimes, my mind may still not be 100% convinced and this will mean that I will have to whisper until my anxiety levels eventually drop back down again. This is totally normal if this does happen to you because you have to remember that SM makes you experience extreme levels of anxiety; those extreme levels of anxiety are not going to instantly drop the second the source of the “threat” is removed from the situation; you have to give yourself time to recover.

Something that you shouldn’t say during these situations is, “why are you whispering? So and so has gone!” Chances are they know this and this only makes their anxiety levels increase as this is bringing attention to their speech which of course is never a good idea to do when it comes to SM. Just act as if it is the most normal thing in the world and just talk to them as you would if they were talking to you normally. This will help them significantly when it comes to their anxiety levels lowering as since you aren’t putting any attention on the speech, their anxiety levels will most likely reduce much more quickly. 

Another thing is that if you are to overhear someone who has SM and you know that you are someone they have difficulty talking to, do not tell them that you have overheard them. For them, knowing that you have overheard them will only increase their anxiety beyond belief and this will actually only do more harm than good. Likewise, if someone tells you that they overheard someone who has SM talking, do not go back and tell the person who has SM that they’ve said that. When it comes to having SM, in my experience at least, often ignorance is bliss; it is better to have no idea that I’ve been overheard than to know that I’ve been overheard.


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