Hopefully this short case story will provide insight into selective mutism and performance anxiety.
“Debra”, age 30 ,works in the media field for a progressive television network. She entered treatment due to her public speaking performance anxiety. Her panic in speaking situations has created substantial anguish and a challenged mood. She has become overly dependent on beta blockers. This has evolved into a major issue as she wants to get pregnant and needs to not be on medication.
Debra identified as having being selectively mute in elementary school. She never got help for the problem. Her parents were clueless. Her school was clueless.
In treatment she has reflected on her past experience with selective mutism. This has been a difficult process as much of her memory has been repressed due to her defense mechanism of detachment. One situation she did remember was on the playground around 3rd or 4th grade. Playing some kind of “bridge game” all the kids were chanting “talk, talk, talk”. Her response at that time was to smile and think it funny. As the tears were flowing she expressed to me “It was funny then but sad now!”
For any parents who are reading this please be clear; it’s a good bet that the smile you may see on your child’s face, when mute in an interactive situation, is detachment. Detachment or disconnecting from thoughts, feelings, and speaking is the doorway to an avoidant personality!
Not only has Debra’s anxiety manifested in formal speaking situations at work, but also in her personal life. In social situations when she says she has “nothing to say”, or “does not know what to say” symptoms of selective mutism are still at play. Her internal negative and obsessive critical script is inhibiting her verbal performance.
Debra’s story is very common. It highlights the insidious and complex nature of selective mutism evolution.