Elephant in the Room Syndrome


Combining narcissism with the level of insecurity and self-consciousness that so many people, especially women, suffer from compounds into a fusion of social disorder. I’m not up on what’s hip in psychology these days, and my best friend, while just a phone call away, doesn’t like phones for reasons similar to mine, and my phone is out of my current arm’s reach so there’s no way I can* confirm if this is recognized in the psychology community. There’s really no point, then, in finding out what official name, if any, this mental mess may have. So I’m going to call it: Elephant-in-the-Room Syndrome.

What nobody wants to talk about.

That’s a pretty straightforward description, really. The narcissistic element of believing you are a giant presence among the rest in this atmosphere, in conjunction with the anxious fear that there is something wrong with you and people judge you for it, create this syndrome.

It makes parties more difficult to enjoy, especially around people you don’t or only somewhat know but do know others who know you. There’s a whole web of whispering around the room that you can’t quite hear, and not knowing very many people hinders opportunities to covertly eavesdrop or overtly jump in.

Making friends in the workplace is a slower, more cautious process because you see these people every day and, more importantly, they see each other every day. Workplaces are worse for gossip than school. There are more parts of a fully grown adult to pick on or belittle, and there are plenty coworkers in all lines of work who are happy to speak ill of somebody else to make them look better. Word gets around quickly, too, and even generally good people can’t escape the tight crowd surrounding them. You may be new, relatively unknown by most departments, and with few opportunities to have made a fool out of yourself (so far). But every word spoken, every name forgotten, every mistake made, and every distinctive element of your workplace appearance are ripe for judging. And as an Elephant, you default to assuming that’s exactly what everyone will do.

Every word you say, then, has the potential to be taken negatively. Saying “Hi” to somebody you don’t already know is intruding on the existence of someone else who cares not to know who you are. “Making conversation” about benign things like weather will give off a permanent impression that you are boring. “Making conversation” about popular interests like sports or entertainment only works if everybody there likes exactly the same teams and shows you do; one difference in opinion could rule out any chances of being respected by the other person. Initiating conversations on things you’re interested in when those things are political, intellectual, or of a niche hobby are incredibly dangerous if you don’t want to leave the small talk in complete ruin. So why start conversation? Everything you say is going to be judged harshly by everybody else at the party, everybody else at the office.

This reinforces the Elephant-in-the-Room Syndrome because out of caution you’re not initiating conversations of your own. You remain there, physically present but absent in dialogue, and nobody seems to want to address that (or so you’ve convinced yourself). This happens to me. It happens on a daily basis for the time being because I haven’t worked at my current job for as long as it takes for my personal comfort to establish itself. I’m terribly boring at parties. I keep to myself, but just sit or stand there waiting for somebody to point out that there is an elephant in the room – at which point, I invite myself to join into the conversation. “You know what the best thing about elephants is? The word ‘pachyderm’, or ‘packydoim’ as the mouse from Dumbo said.” A conversation about Dumbo – incidentally, my favourite Disney movie of all time – ensues. The ice is broken. The self-consciousness has been reassured, and as conversations continue the narcissism can’t overpower other people’s voices.

*What be this “Gooh-GYL” thou speaketh of? Ne’er I heard of such a thing! Now BEGONE, lunatic!


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