Maintenance Of Social Phobia

So, I read this Cracked article about how anxiety can ruin going to the movies. I didn’t expect to identify with the story as much as I did and I certainly didn’t think I’d have any “aha” moments. But I did.

First, the headline. This title was taken from a line of a scientific study about heightened empathy in people with social anxiety. Only they called it “social phobia”. 

Anyway, I read the link to a scientific study about heightened empathy in the super anxious. Well, I kind of read the link. Once it got to the graphs and formulas they used to measure anxiety, my eyes glazed over. They were already glassy, but the graphs lost me.

The article discussed what must happen for the maintenance of social phobia.

Fucking maintenance?

Maintenance means work. I suck at maintenance. My car is 6000 miles overdue for an oil change. And our furnace has been wonky for at least 8 years. I am a master of bad maintenance.

However, it seems I am extremely efficient at maintaining social phobia.

Why am I doing this? Why can’t I just stop? Why can’t I suck at all maintenance instead of the things that always end up costing me money I don’t have?

I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. I have to try to read the paper again. I really tried, you guys, but I am not a scientist, so I had to plod through the study. They referred to “social phobia” as “SP” and I had to keep going back to see what “SP” stood for, so I was off to a rocky start. Also, I had to read the “Theory of Mind” part a few times. I’ve already forgot the theory. My work days are still hectic as shit after a software implementation. I don’t want to think that hard after working all day.

Hahahahaha…in the spirit of honesty, even if I read the article on a Saturday morning with a clear and rested head, I would struggle with it.maintenance of social phobia

I’m going to take learning about maintaining something I hate as a good thing.

I think any time I examine something difficult from a different angle, it helps. Even if I’m tired all the goddamn time because of doing goddamn maintenance on my anxiety.

The other thing I learned was an explanation of why I hate watching any super awkward scenes on television or in movies.

I hate when characters are humiliated or embarrassed or caught in compromising positions. I find it physically painful to watch.

It’s not a matter of distaste, like my distaste of old war movies or anything starring John Wayne. I mean it makes me hurt. Like I’m feeling what that character would be feeling. It’s because of that heightened empathy thing.

The author talked about shows which comforted him and how horror was something he found comforting. I completely get that. That’s why I watch television shows with vampires and werewolves and zombies. It’s scary, but not real. I can be a little scared and still feel safe because they’re not real.

The possibility of humiliating myself is very real.

I’m good at it. I worry about embarrassing myself at least a few minutes out of every hour. Then, sometimes I do embarrass myself, like the time I face planted in my boss’s office. I catalog those instances. I replay them as they happened and cringe through the memory or I make up an alternate ending where I cleverly save face.

No way can I be entertained by watching someone humiliate themselves, that’s my least favorite thing next to being on fire.

Also, try as I may, I can’t find a way to imagine falling flat on my face in my boss’s office in a positive way. The scenario just doesn’t exist. 

So, I loved this guy. I read his Cracked article a few times and think I’d like to sit and watch a movie with him. Nothing stressful. Scary is okay. But it has to be scary, not a slasher movie. On a scale from Young Frankenstein to Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I am about a Poltergeist.

I suppose it is never a bad thing to gain understanding about ourselves. I’m still a little butthurt over the phobia maintenance thing, though.

Okay, I need one of you to remind me to get my oil changed this weekend.


Photo courtesy of Jakob Orisek

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  • I even get empathy anxiety in Alien and Star Trek movies. I keep watching but end up doing sit ups during all the really nerve wracking parts.

    I don’t stand a chance in films showing reality based awkward or horrific scenes.

  • I’m the same way about watching embarrassing moments on TV or in movies and I never connected it to my anxiety before. That makes so much sense! Thank you! Now I have an actual explanation for when people ask me why I need to leave when THAT scene comes up, instead of just going, “I DON’T KNOW I’M JUST CRAZY!”

  • I can totally identify with this one. Anytime a character in a movie or TV show I’m watching is in a awkward or embarrassing situation I feel it too. Sometimes I even have to hide my face in my arm or pull a hood over my head. That’ll get you some stares.

  • I don’t really have SP, and I can mostly watch silly/stupid rom-coms without pain. Princess Bride is my all-time favorite movie. I know that there’s humiliations galore! in it… but all of it’s justifiable, right? So that makes it better? Or not? I’m curious. What is your take on the good guys winning?

    I can’t stand sitcoms that have a big shlub of a husband married to a hot trophy, where the trophy is ALWAYS right and the big shlub is ALWAYS wrong, because, “men, amirite?” – like, WTF? MY husband may be a real doofus, and of course I’m always right, but I don’t assume that for every married couple, and I certainly don’t expect it to be the “reality” of tv marriages. The shlub is just constantly berated/humiliated as COMEDY? Um, no. Pass.

    I’m okay with vampires and werewolves. Not okay with slashers/aliens/demons, per se. Poltergeist, yes. Exorcist/The Omen, not so much. Monsters Inc., yes. Alien v Predator, no thank you. Buffy and Angel and XMen and Once Bitten and Teen Wolf and Young Frankenstein and Zorro the Gay Blade and I think I may have gotten off the track here… NO FREDDY!

    GET YOUR FUCKING OIL CHANGED! Or, do what I did when my car registration was late because I hadn’t gotten it smog-tested: trade up! #LazyAF

    • So with you on the stupid sitcoms.

      I LOVE Princess Bride, it’s one of my favorites. I can’t really pinpoint why a scene is going to freak me out, because it’s fuzzy. Sometimes things bother me more than others depending on where my head is at. My least favorite are when people are in danger of getting caught at something they’re not supposed to be doing.

  • I also love you.

    I love that you also read Cracked.

    Thanks for pointing out that article. I’ve heard that particular charcteristic called “projective empathy.” (In one of the Hannibal Lecter novels. Used of the detective who tracks him down because he (detective) can think like almost anyone.)

    All I know is I used to writhe all over my seat and myself and halfway up whoever accompanied me to the movies, etc., when a chcracter was humiliated at any length. Or, God forbid, a live show. I saw a magician flub a trick live once and blushed up to my hairline (or so I was told by the person whose arm I also started clutching.)

    p.s. Your oil needs checking this weekend, apparently.

  • Thanks for sharing this, I thought I was alone. I close my eyes so no one will know. I try not to cry. Scary moves are a “no”. I have seen exactly one “Star Wars” and I still play the trash compactor in my head. I guess I also have a problem with suspense. Probably another whole problem. Can you imagine for one fleeting moment I thought that new movie “Wonder” would be a good idea?!?! I think I will stick with “Murder on the Orient Express.”
    Almost three weeks since I was fired. Two interviews, no call backs. Met with an attorney, not sure about proceeding. I am numb. Shitty time of year to find a job…… I will survive.

    • You will! You will survive. I am sorry it’s hard now, I so much am.

      I didn’t mind Wonder Woman, and I am looking forward to Murder on the Orient Express.

    • Have you filed for unemployment benefits? Every state is different, and “fired” is a bit of a downer, but if you were fired without cause, you may still have a “bank” from which you’re eligible to collect! At least whilst looking for the next big thing! Good luck!

  • Please remember to change your oil soon, Michelle.
    I don’t now, and have never owned a television, and don’t go the movies often, but I still really don’t like the sort of scenes you describe. I find them stressful and not entertaining, and not something any of my favorite authors would use in a story.
    I used to read Cracked online quite a bit, but ever since Digg bit the big one, I don’t seem to read them much any more.
    I did see one of their videos recently, and it was an engaging summation of the Trump/Russia scandal that straddled that line between news and funny that I find amusing.
    Perhaps I’m still holding that time Neko Case and Kelly Hogan compared them to Maxim in a song/video against them.
    Which would be somewhat understandable because the video is awesome, Neko observes in it that a cougar is an animal that eats you whole and poops you out on a rock.

      • OK, it’s Saturday, did you get your oil changed? And if so could you please tell Briana to take her car down to Rob’s so he can install the brake pads?

        • Yeah…we did NOT get the oil changed today. We DID go to the pet store to cuddle kitties, though.

          Briana, please get your brake pads put on or you’re going to grind up your brakes and it’s going to cost a LOT more. I only had to learn this lesson twice. So far.

          • She seems to have it covered. Meaning she is cooking Rob an omelette as a bribe. I’ll tell you if it works (it probably will, her omelettes are first-rate).

  • So, how often ARE you supposed to get your oil changed? HAHA! I can totally relate to this and that study!!! I also HATE practical jokes. I think I’m the only person in the Universe that despises the Jimmy Kimmel Halloween “I ate all your candy” bullshit played on very small children. I always think, “Wow! Three seconds of ‘fame’ on some freaking talk show and these parents are willing to throw their kids under a bus!” I get genuinely angry! I know it probably stems from my early childhood when I was repeatedly lied to in order to get me to the dentist or doctor. I’d be told we were really going to a toy store or a movie and I’d always end up at the dentist. What happened was, I eventually got to the point where I was terrified to leave the house at all. I no longer trusted or believed anything my mother or father told me. As soon as my mother would say we were going shopping, I’d scream bloody murder and not want to go. If we went shoe shopping, the poor sales guy would take out that metal foot sizer thing and I would panic and start screaming and crying again. Hmmmm. is it any wonder I wound up with a panic disorder and severe agoraphobia by age 15? I am definitely one of those heightened empathy types and especially protective of children and animals—no big surprise there. Oh—get your oil changed! But, really, no kidding, how often SHOULD you change your oil? 🙂

      • Whoa! I haven’t had my oil changed in either my car or Paul’s truck in over two years! You think I’m over due? HAHA! And thanks for the kind words! 🙂

  • I also need my oil changed. And I’ve been procrastinating on finding the papers for my disabled mom’s Medicaid recertification. Or even opening the letters about it.

    It’s due Monday.

  • I’m going to use your scale of Young Frankenstein to Texas Chain Saw Massacre from now on even though I have no idea where I’d fall on it. Young Frankenstein is one of my favorites, but aside from that I’ve seen, and even enjoyed, some pretty scary movies, including Cabin In The Woods, but for some reason couldn’t make it further than twenty minutes into Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
    There’s a point here somewhere if I can find it. Mainly it’s that these things are complicated. Our best intentions and most careful plans don’t always work out–a point made, disturbingly well, by Cabin In The Woods. And sometimes things get completely fucked up but with a little luck and a little effort they work out, although not the way we expected–a point made, amusingly well, by Young Frankenstein.
    What I’m saying here is crank up “Puttin’ On The Ritz” and go get your oil changed while you’re thinking about it.

    • We JUST watched Young Frankenstein last weekend. I love that so much and it doesn’t matter how many times he sees it, Randy is going to laugh his ass off at Puttin on The Ritz.

      I snuck into the Drive In when I was a teenager and saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it profoundly disturbed me. It still disturbs me. I hated it. The movie that took me years to get through was Seven. Every time I’d get to the scene with the dude and all the air fresheners, I freaked out and turned it off. I finally got through the whole thing a few years ago. I have no idea why I did.

  • I am SO VERY with you on that. Can’t watch Veep… too cringeworthy… or The Office, shows like that just bore the snot out of me and make me feel uncomfortable, don’t make me laugh at ALL. But SAW? Yes, loved it… mind-fuck horror is really the only thing that can get me completely out of my own head (otherwise I find myself thinking over life-details and missing parts of shows/movies)… this does not apply to gore-horror… only mind-fuck horror … if gore exists in mind-fuck horror for the sake of the story, then that’s fine, I’m not gore-adverse… but gore just for the sake of showing gore without a good thought-provoking story? no thanks… I just really need my mind sucked in hard to enjoy it and feel like I had a small vacation from myself without alcohol! ha!

  • This is why I never watched Seinfeld! God! They embarrassed themselves ALL THE TIME! And now I would never leave the house if my friends (all 2 of them) didn’t demand it.

  • I read a book about how our brains work a while back. There are these things called mirror cells. If I’m sitting across from you at a table and you pick up up an apple off the table, my brain fires the same neurons as would fire if I picked up the apple. I basically picture myself picking up the apple – and my brain has to restrain my body from actually going through the motions.

    I assume the same thing happens when we see someone embarrassed on tv.

  • THIS! This right here is why I find Lucy the Three Stooges and The Munsters unfunny! But I loooove The (orriginal) Addams Family! People act like I’m a freak, but really I just feel Lucy’s pain!

    • The Munsters never bothered me, but I am right there with you with Lucy. She was ALWAYS in uncomfortable situations and I find that painful.

      Ditto on the Addams family, they rock.

  • Enlightening and enjoyable read as always! I have social anxiety for sure but I think years of acting (the hobby which got me through so much) maybe numbed it in some ways. I tend to go to a “space” and I’m fine for the most part. Unless I don’t feel well. Then it’s full on panic mode.
    I don’t know if that means I maintain it well or I suck at it but *shrugs*. I can only do so much 🙂
    Reminder-Get your oil changed And keep on truckin’ (Or trucking…I dunno).

  • omg. yes about the oil change and about the furnace. We have been talking about that furnace for about um….ten years now. It is still limping along, but geesh, we do need to get on it.

    Are you sure you aren’t me?

  • Thanks fo replaying this one. I have felt weird all my life because I walk out of the TV room when a character is headed for trouble, is being decieved or humiliated. I don’t laugh at videos of people hurting themselves. Now I know if I _am_ weird that I am also empathetic. And I am okay with that 🙂

By Michelle


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