More complex then it first appears.
20. “I have a hard time making eye contact with people. I look away a lot when I’m speaking. I get startled very easily and it takes me awhile to get my heart rate back to normal.” https://themighty.com/2017/06/childhood-emotional-abuse-adult-habits/
For me, this is two separate issues. Startle response is extreme. I jump at almost anything. A paper blowing suddenly, a person stepping out from shadows, an animal crossing my path all of these come under the umbrella of hypervigilant attention and an extreme reactions to anything unexpected. I worked hard at toning down my reaction. I am faster at identifying the offending motions and more likely to slow my reaction. Slowing down my reaction is part of self-regulation my counselor taught me when I am around people. I still startle easily and it helps that my friends and family know it is a bad idea to startle me so give me warning when they approach. I appreciate their consideration.
Not looking people in the eye is more complex. One reason I don’t make eye contact is I don’t want to engage with the other person. If I don’t look at people they are less likely to say hello. I don’t want my looking at them to be an open invitation to talk to me. I know I don’t come across friendly but I am over cautious when meeting people. Give me time, I’ll get used to you.
The other part is a bit more complex. I discovered the problem when I was in counseling. In counseling, I made the decision to tell the truth no matter how painful. However, if when I talked about ugly horrible truths and my counselor looked uncomfortable with what I was saying I would change what I said to ease his discomfort. I paid him to hear my truth and I would lie so he wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. I was trained well. My parents didn’t like uncomfortable truths, they preferred pretty lies over ugly truth. I adapted. It was survival. In counseling, I could tell him the truth but if I saw him get uncomfortable even by a flick of an eyelash I would alter the narrative until he was comfortable. So when I had to tell him something extremely uncomfortable, I would stare at a spot on the wall and rattle off the information as quickly as possible. Before doing this my counselor discussed my behavior and we selected this as a solution. According to ‘many experts’ if you don’t look a person in the eye when talking to them, you must be lying. Not true for me. I can look a person straight in the eye and tell them whatever they want to hear. This was survival training. NO good for living but great when you are interacting with a person that might hit you if they don’t like what you said.
I am getting much better at this. I recite rule number one daily, “Stop lying especially to yourself.” I watch people in advance and choose to engage by looking them in the eye and offering the first hello. I became better at this as I learned to love myself and recognize that I am a person worth knowing and I am not wasting your time if I say hello. I’ve come a longgggg way on this particular issue.