Franz Kafka is often cited as a famous figure who suffered from social anxiety. Kafka was never officially diagnosed with social anxiety disorder during his lifetime, as such a diagnosis didn’t technically exist yet. The social anxiety speculation comes from Kafka’s personal diaries and letters. I’ve already written about the themes of social anxiety present in Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis, but if you still have any doubts as to whether or not the author actually had social anxiety disorder, look no further than these following quotes of his.
1. “Incapable of living with people, of speaking. Complete immersion in myself, thinking of myself. Apathetic, witless, fearful. I have nothing to say to anyone – never.”
This quote could be a dictionary definition of social anxiety disorder.
2. “Being alone has a power over me that never fails. My interior dissolves (for the time being only superficially) and is ready to release what lies deeper. When I am willfully alone, a slight ordering of my interior begins to take place and I need nothing more.”
Kafka explains how it feels to be an introvert— someone who is drained by social interactions and energized by solitude. Not all introverts necessarily have social anxiety disorder, but most people with social anxiety disorder tend to be introverted.
3. “I write differently from what I speak, I speak differently from what I think, I think differently from the way I ought to think, and so it all proceeds into deepest darkness.”
4. “My peers, lately, have found companionship through means of intoxication–it makes them sociable. I, however, cannot force myself to use drugs to cheat on my loneliness–it is all that I have–and when the drugs and alcohol dissipate, will be all that my peers have as well.”
Some people self-treat their social anxiety with alcohol, but like Kafka, getting drunk has never really helped me.
5. “The person I am in the company of my sisters has been entirely different from the person I am in the company of other people. Fearless, powerful, surprising, moved as I otherwise am only when I write.”
I don’t feel social anxiety with my youngest sister, and I wish I could talk and act that way with everybody. Likewise when writing, I never felt social anxiety, even if I knew someone else would read it— so long as I didn’t have to talk to them about what I wrote afterward.
6. “Nervous states of the worst sort control me without pause. Everything that is not literature bores me and I hate it. I lack all aptitude for family life except, at best, as an observer. I have no family feeling and visitors make me almost feel as though I were maliciously being attacked.”
A perfect description of social anxiety. I’ve never had a serious girlfriend, and the idea of having kids sometimes seems like a distant dream. I can relate to the feeling of being attacked when someone tries to talk to me. My instinct is to get away as quick as possible.
7. “Don’t you want to join us?” I was recently asked by an acquaintance when he ran across me alone after midnight in a coffeehouse that was already almost deserted. “No, I don’t,” I said.”
In the past, acquaintances have seen me alone, and, perhaps feeling sorry for me, asked me to join them. Sometimes I’d accept the invitation, but more often than not, I’d say no.
8. “People label themselves with all sorts of adjectives. I can only pronounce myself as ‘nauseatingly miserable beyond repair’.”
Social anxiety usually stems from having a deep ingrained low self-esteem. You can’t get much lower than Kafka’s idea of himself here.
9. “I am constantly trying to communicate something incommunicable, to explain something inexplicable, to tell about something I only feel in my bones and which can only be experienced in those bones. Basically it is nothing other than this fear we have so often talked about, but fear spread to everything, fear of the greatest as of the smallest, fear, paralyzing fear of pronouncing a word, although this fear may not only be fear but also a longing for something greater than all that is fearful.”
Here, Kafka talks about social anxiety— his fear of talking— but also general anxiety, and his difficulty to describe with words how that anxiety feels.
10. “I have no social life, no distraction; I spend my evenings on the small balcony above the river; I do not even read the Arbeiterzeitung and I am not a good person… I do not even have that concern with people that you require. You see, I am a ridiculous person; if you are a little fond of me, it’s out of pity; my part is fear.”
In this letter to Hedwig W., Kafka reveals a distorted way of thinking that causes social anxiety. We have such low self-esteems of ourselves, that we think others will have no interest in wanting to be with us or hear what we have to say. And if someone does show interest, we believe it is only out of pity for us.
11. “The fact that no one knows where I am is my only happiness. If only I could prolong this forever! It would be far more just than death. I am empty and futile in every corner of my being, even in my unhappiness.”
Sometimes, when we’re overwhelmed by social anxiety, we just want to get away from it all, and go someplace where we can be alone and no other people can find us.
12. “If I could drown in sleep as I drown in fear I would be no longer alive.”
In this quote, Kafka conveys just how intense his anxiety was. I personally no longer feel social anxiety quite like that, but perhaps I did feel similarly at my lowest points in the past. As bad as fear and anxiety may feel at any moment, the good thing is that fear and anxiety itself cannot kill you. And no matter how intense social anxiety may feel, it can be overcome.