How to Talk to a Stranger if You Have Selective Mutism

If you have Selective Mutism, whether you're a kid, (pre-)teen, or adult, you might feel alone! But you're not. Still, by now you're probably sick and tired of being tied down by it. The longer you wait to get rid of it and break your habits of silence, the harder it will be to achieve the ability of being verbal with everyone you meet. A lot of people think that a first start to overcoming this anxiety disorder is to talk to a stranger, maybe someone at a shopping center, worker at a store register, or even a regular doctor once you start becoming more comfortable. If you realize that people won't judge you, (if they do, it's their loss) and that talking isn't as hard as you once believed it to be, then you're on the road to curing your SM!


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    Wherever you are, as long as you're not at your house or something, you can probably locate a stranger. Remember to be safe, and maybe a bit far away from them and call out. If you're at the mall however, and there are many people around, try to find maybe a woman with a stroller, as they're already a tad pre-occupied with their children, and are usually very safe especially in the mall environment (to avoid being impolite, don't talk to someone that's on the phone or doing something else.)
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    Walk carefully up to the stranger, or near them. Easy so far, right? You can tap them lightly on the shoulder if you're afraid they won't hear you. Just don't sneak up on them and give them a heart attack!
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    Think about what you want to say to said stranger. It helps if you think of something beforehand, so you don't stand there wondering what to say. After selecting this, say or call it to the stranger. Don't say anything rude or inconsiderate. You can compliment them, which is always an easy and safe road to take. Ex: I like your shoes. Or simply say, hi. Maybe mention the weather, or make small talk if your SM is not severe. You can also ask them a question, but this also takes more effort, as you have to wait for an answer and maybe say something else if they ask you something in return, so start out with statements instead, and work your way up. Then, you run away as fast you can if you want! Don't worry about making a fool of yourself, like a lot of people with SM do, because guess what, it's very unlikely that you'll see this stranger again, unless you live in a small town.
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    After you go back to your house, you can tell someone you talk to about this accomplishment. It always helps to get feedback on your experience. If no one that you talk to is around, (or your SM is so severe that you don't talk to anyone in your household) keep in mind that other sufferers of the silence of SM are going through the same thing that you are. Congrats, and I'm sure you'll beat this pesky disorder soon enough!


  • If you stutter, you can start out saying one word.
  • Make sure the stranger doesn't have their back turned and can hear you. You don't want to just say something, because it won't feel like you're talking to a real person.
  • Try to, if you can, make eye contact with who you're addressing. It's hard to do for quite a lot of people with SM, so if you can, it's great and helps you gain confidence!
  • Don't listen to your inner critic, they have nothing good to say.
  • Try learning sign language, so you can sign to someone if you're not ready to talk!
  • Some people may not feel comfortable doing this in front of close family/relatives that know you normally don't speak to any strangers. So, if you're a teen, try to get away from them when you do it. (Don't put yourself in any dangerous situations though. Maybe even walk some feet away and say hi to someone randomly! One word greetings are a good start.)
  • Ordering at somewhere like a coffee shop helps too, because the worker at the register has to be polite in their job, and simply place your order, and you're done!
  • Don't put unrealistic expectations on yourself, remember this is only the beginning in your challenging journey!
  • Try saying something at first that doesn't require you to say whatever sound or problem that you have trouble with, so you don't get as self conscious.
  • It's normal to be nervous, have a fast heartbeat, etc. That's just your SM going crazy, and alerting your body that you're in danger, when in fact it's just anxiety tricking you.
  • Praise yourself if there's nobody else to! You've just made an effort to do something that was tough for you, and you can keep going with it as well!
  • There's nothing wrong with only saying one thing to a stranger. Your body and mind won't immediately get used to this kind of interaction, and it's perfectly okay to be nervous.
  • Obviously if you're on the younger side, you've heard for most of your life 'not to talk to strangers', but if you do this in a safe place, and follow all of the article's tips and warnings, you should be fine. The chance that something will happen to you is very, very slim, especially when family or friends are in that same place near you.
  • If your parents get upset at you for talking to a stranger (usually this is for when you're younger) you can tell them why, and they'd probably be happy to hear about what new things you're attempting to push yourself farther out of your comfort zone, which is always challenging for people suffering from the very real Selective Mutism, or just social anxiety in general. You can also make up an excuse, like 'I couldn't see where you went and I got lost.'


  • Don't push yourself too far if you're not ready to talk. Giving yourself bad associations or memories while using your voice might scare you from trying it again in the future.
  • Don't do this in a place where no one else is around or it is very dark outside. Don't do this in any area unsafe where there aren't trusted adults nearby.
  • Don't shout or say anything rude/not appropriate to the stranger.
  • Don't talk to someone that seems unsafe. Trust your gut.
  • If you run away after you say something in fear, make sure your shoes are tied!
  • If you usually don't speak, make sure you won't see this stranger again unless it's a random coincidence and in that case you can hide from them if you feel afraid. Who knows, they might even forget your face in a couple weeks, and you'll have nothing to worry about!
  • If you don't want your parents to hear you, give you attention, or be shocked by your sudden talking, do it while they're making a purchase like at the mall, or are distracted with something else maybe when they have their back turned.
  • Don't avoid the situation either, you'll have to do it eventually (unfortunately).
  • Don't tell anyone that you talked if they normally don't have anything nice to say, or if they typically ignore you.
  • If the person that you speak to answers sarcastically or in a threatening manner, it's safe to assume that you shouldn't be talking to them.
  • Don't do this at somewhere local like a market that people in your neighborhood, town, or county often go to to avoid coming in contact with them again. (On that note, it's great to do this on vacation, because it's almost certain you'll never even pass by these people again!)

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Categories: Mental Disorders | Stress Anxiety and Crisis Management