I haven’t posted anything on my blog in awhile, not because I’ve given up or don’t want to, but because I’ve been dealing with quite a bit internally. It’s also not because I haven’t been writing, I have, for over a month actually, but I just wanted to be sure that I said everything I needed to say and I wanted to get it just right. For me, that usually takes some time.
To be completely honest, this post is not going to be an easy one. If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, then you will know I’ve battled with anxiety just about all of my life. However, in this post I’m only going to discuss one specific type of anxiety I’ve struggled with. This type of anxiety has been the one I’ve dealt with for the longest time, and it has been by far the most difficult to endure. If it isn’t already obvious based upon the title of this blog, the kind of anxiety I’m finally choosing to open up about my struggle with is social anxiety. In reality, it’s something I have never openly talked about with anyone. Literally everything within me is resistant to doing this, hence why it’s taken over a month to write this post, but I feel that if don’t, I’ll never be set free or capable of living a happy life.
You see, while I realize that a lot of people don’t understand what it feels like to have generalized anxiety disorder, fortunately I believe that it’s finally starting to become more acceptable in our society. I don’t feel entirely alone in that area of struggle. But when it comes to social anxiety, I do feel completely alone. It’s not something I ever talk about with anyone, not even my parents, friends or boyfriend of five years. I went to therapy for months last year and could pour my heart out about my generalized anxiety, panic disorder and my relationship difficulties, but I could never muster up the courage to talk about the way I feel inside and the thoughts my mind has when I’m put in new or uncomfortable social situations.
According to the Social Anxiety Institute, “Social Anxiety is the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, being negatively judged and evaluated, and, leads to avoidance.”
For me, social anxiety is that and so much more. It’s never volunteering an answer in class for fear of getting it wrong and looking stupid. It’s not wanting to admit things I haven’t done that I feel like everyone else has or that I feel like everyone loves to do. Social anxiety to me is avoiding going places where I might see an acquaintance because I don’t want to risk an awkward interaction. Social anxiety felt like getting asked the question I hated the most all throughout elementary and middle school: “Why don’t you ever talk?”, and not having an answer because I really didn’t know. It was dropping the same college course two semesters in a row on the morning it’s supposed to start because it was a discussion-based course and I heard that I would have to give a 10-minute presentation at the end of the semester, and the thought of doing that was just too unbearable at the time. It’s feeling totally alone in my mind and desperately wanting new friends, but whenever I do start making them and they want to hang out, I ignore them, or act disinterested or busy, because if they get to know the real me I’m sure they will stop liking me.
Writing about, let alone living that life, is exhausting! Not to mention, these are just a few of the many ways social anxiety has impacted my life. I don’t talk about it because I don’t like it. I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed. I don’t want to be this way. I’ve always equated being shy with being weak, and I don’t want others to think I’m weak.
I tried to hide my shyness with my external persona. I bought clothes I couldn’t afford, I never went anywhere without my hair and makeup done. I was very careful about what I posted on social media. I had friends that were loud, outgoing and popular even though I didn’t really connect with them.
I did all this so my life would seem perfect to others. So just maybe they wouldn’t see how weak and alone and sad I really felt. But all these things were never enough. Inside I still knew who I really was. All the hiding and self-shaming did was isolate me even more.
Growing up I was so shy it makes me cringe to think about it. I literally wouldn’t talk to people I didn’t know. Anybody else besides family or friends I would freeze up around. The older I got the more I was able to talk to people, but the feelings inside of me were worse, because I was older and I knew better. I realized I wasn’t normal but I didn’t know how to change.
Since high school ended it’s been easier to forget who I was, or I guess I should say, who I am. I can avoid it much better now. I don’t have to see huge cliques going and doing things I’m not a part of. I don’t have to worry about who I’m going to sit with in class. I’m an adult. I make my own decisions now. I can come and go as I please from any place I’m at. I don’t have to ‘fit in’ somewhere anymore.
But forgetting, or sweeping things under the rug, doesn’t work forever. It’s like putting a bandaid on your skin hoping to fix an internal wound. But no matter how many times you try to cover up the spot, a bandaid just isn’t enough to fix it.
I’m still reminded that I’m not over it when I’m in public and I insist on using the self-scan checkout even though I have a whole cart full of groceries, just to avoid having to make small-talk with a cashier. Or when I decline invitations to things I know I should go to and actually want to go to, but I worry about others getting to know me too well. Or when I get stressed out at the thought of running simple errands like going to the bank or making a phone call, because I don’t want to talk to anyone. Or when I get extremely annoyed with people out in public who try to make small-talk with me because it makes me so uncomfortable. Or that I’ve been writing this blog post for over a month but I can’t seem to finish it because once I make it available to read, people will discover who I am. The thought of people knowing my biggest secret is absolutely terrifying to me because I feel crazy for getting anxious when doing such simple things.
At these times, I realize that I am definitely not over it. It’s still there. It may be a bit smaller and harder to notice, and yes, unlike when I was a child, I can talk to people I don’t know now. I can fake it all very well, but internally it’s still there, always lingering in the back of my mind.
However, I’m an adult now. I’m tired of fighting this; I’m so tired of hiding. The shame I carry from hiding who I really am is just too great to bear any longer. I have dreams I want to achieve, and this disorder is holding me back.
It’s funny, I used to be ashamed of being an introvert. I thought ‘normal people’ (whatever that means) were all extroverts. However, I didn’t realize there was a difference between social anxiety and being introverted. To my surprise, I recently learned that an introvert is simply a person who needs alone time in order to recharge after social interaction. While social interaction drains an introvert’s energy, it doesn’t necessarily make them anxious to be social. Upon understanding the difference between the two, now I fully embrace my introvert ways. I realize I will always need alone time to recharge, and that it’s okay if I don’t like partying all the time like many people my age do. It’s okay that I would rather read a book at home instead. I’m no longer ashamed that I’m not extroverted.
Nevertheless, I don’t want to hold back and not do what I love, or miss out on making new friends anymore because I’m anxious. That isn’t an introvert thing, that is simply social anxiety. While the two are often highly comorbid, you don’t have to have both. It was such a relief when I discovered I can still be an introvert, without having to suffer from the crippling effects of social anxiety.
I’m sure by now I’ve made it clear that I don’t want to have social anxiety anymore. But simply wanting to be different isn’t enough to fix the issue. Over the years I’ve learned that in order to truly get rid of a problem you have to do some work. You must dig all the way down to the roots, were the problem began, where the negative beliefs came from. Only then can you find the place where the lies developed, and thus, get rid of them.
As I said before, for as long as I can remember, I didn’t like myself and I never knew why. And because I felt this way, I hid who I really was out of fear of being rejected. I was a painfully shy child, who simply did not want to be noticed by anyone. I wanted to figure out just where these negative beliefs and feelings began. Thankfully, after a lot of soul-searching, I can all pinpoint it back to one moment in time.
I was about three years old. I was being dropped off at my daycare by my father. I remember that I never wanted to go. Not because it was a bad place, I was just very attached to my parents. All I wanted was to be at home with my mom and dad, and so every time I was dropped off I would cry for who knows how long. In my small three year-old mind, I never had the notion to think that my crying might bother anyone else. I didn’t cry because I was afraid of someone there. I didn’t cry because I wanted to get attention. I just didn’t want my mom and dad to leave me.
So as I said, one day I was being dropped off at daycare by my dad. I could feel the lump in my throat forming, the tears about to come as he left the room. But then I heard something. It was a young woman talking. I don’t remember her face, her name, or even how long she had been my teacher, but when I arrived she was talking to another worker there. And that’s when it happened. A very defining moment that would alter the rest of my life.
When she saw me, I vividly remember her saying something to the other girl along the lines of, “Oh great, she’s here. Just wait, she’s going to cry, she always does. She never shuts up. It’s so annoying.” And they both rolled their eyes and laughed.
Now, I am an adult. I realize she had no idea I could hear her. I’m sure she didn’t hate me. In fact, I’ve worked in a daycare myself, I’ve seen children come in that cry often, and would be lieing if I said I never felt a tad bit annoyed or frustrated when a child wouldn’t stop having a tantrum. But I was only three at the time. I heard it, and I took very personal offense.
This moment is one of my earliest memories, and what I remember about it the most is how I felt inside. I felt hated. For the first time in my life I felt like someone didn’t like me. I felt annoying. I felt unlovable. And I felt like I bothered this girl. Not only that, I immediately assumed that if I bothered her so much, then I must bother everyone else around me.
So what did I do in that moment? For the first time ever, I didn’t cry when my dad left! In my mind, the hurt caused from her words and the sadness from missing my parents was immediately replaced with anger. “I’ll show her,” I thought. “I won’t let her have the satisfaction of being right and seeing me cry ever again.”
So I didn’t cry. And guess what? I never cried again, at least not in public. I wouldn’t dare let someone see me being weak. I wouldn’t give someone the opportunity to talk about me badly ever again. But with this deep resolve, I paid a very heavy price.
I never let anyone see me cry again, but this also caused me to shut down completely. I didn’t let anyone see me show any emotions at all. I became very closed off, my guard was completely up. I would still talk to family, and I had friends, thank God, but I was very selective. I did not trust strangers or teachers. If someone seemed at all aggressive or was a dominating person, I wouldn’t talk to them. Not because I didn’t want to, I physically couldn’t. Something deep in my subconscious shifted that day and impacted my life from then on.
I’ve always wondered why out of all the childhood memories I have, that one is so vivid and sticks out so clearly in my mind. I didn’t realize it until much later, but that moment was what caused me to dislike myself so much, and it changed my life forever. I don’t blame the girl, she didn’t know what she was doing. I just learned that it shows how powerful our subconscious minds are, even at a very young age.
Another issue that’s hindered my life has been due to the fact that I didn’t learn how to properly take care of myself. While I was a perfectionist at taking care of myself on the outside; meaning my hair was always done, I never left the house without makeup on, I always had to wear the cutest, most expensive clothing, I did very little for my mind and soul. I was always thinking negatively about myself. I didn’t think I was capable of accomplishing anything great. I didn’t have goals or dreams I believed would come true. I believed I had no talents and gifts, and I thought I was too shy to be good at anything.
My self-esteem was pretty much non-existant. I had nobody building me up or telling me to think otherwise. I also didn’t allow myself to do the things I really took pleasure in because nobody cool did those things. Instead, I partied, did what my friends did, listened to their music and dressed like them because it made me feel accepted.
Looking back, I never even liked the people or things I surrounded myself with, but at the time, fitting in was the most important thing to me. Not surprisingly, I was never happy. I tried to be happy. I tried to force and fake it. I searched long and hard for happiness in people and things, but I just couldn’t find it. I realize now that I had hidden and suppressed my real self for so long that even I had lost sight of who I really was.
Finding out how all of these thoughts came about in my life was such an astounding revelation, and once I did, I knew I was on the path toward healing these wounds I’ve carried for so long. As I continued to uncover all of the reasons why my feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem had developed, I decided to begin doing some research on how to overcome these demons.
In my quest for discovery, I happened to stumble upon a really eye-opening video called How to Overcome Shyness from The School of Life YouTube channel. It talks about how many of us who suffer with social anxiety and feeling shy innately believe that shyness is an unfixable trait, and that we are incapable of ever feeling more confident in social situations. Because we believe it’s not fixable, we obviously don’t try to fix it because it feels hopeless. Thus, we never change!
Thankfully, researchers have discovered that anyone can overcome social anxiety. The key to breakthrough is simply changing your thoughts. You do this by consistently replacing detrimental thought patterns with more positive, uplifting, self-loving affirmations. The key word here is consistently. You can’t do it one time and expect any significant changes to happen.
I always wondered why with some people I can barely even chat about the weather without wanting to run away, but with others, I can talk effortlessly about all sorts of topics for hours on end without ever feeling anxious, or like I don’t know what to say. From the School of Life video, I discovered that shy people have a very distinct way of interpreting ‘strangers’. We aren’t shy around everyone. We just become anxious and tongue-tied around those we perceive to be drastically different from us. The problem with this is, one, our perceptions and first impressions are rarely ever 100% accurate, and two, we make our beliefs and judgements based upon very surface-level traits; such as age, class, race, gender, tastes, backgrounds, religions, etc., instead of actually getting to know the real person and finding some sort of common ground. We unfairly categorize people into these fixed little boxes and deem them either ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ in our subconscious minds.
This video also explains that socially anxious people suffer so much due to having a personality trait called provincialism, which is “an over-attachment to the incidentals of one’s own life and experience that unfairly casts others into the role of daunting, unfathomable, and unknowable foreigners.”
This means that when shy people have social contact with anyone that they perceive as being from a different ‘province’ because of some external difference, (whether it be age, race, class, gender, hobbies, etc.) the shy person subconsciously decides that there is absolutely nothing that can be said or done because the other person is so much different, so much greater, smarter, richer, prettier, (you fill in the blank), and they couldn’t possibly relate to each other because of that difference.
You see, the mind of a shy person fixates on these differences and it seems impossible to get over feeling anxious because their is mind telling is them that person is dangerous due to being different. On the other hand, the mind of a person who isn’t socially anxious is still very well aware of the differences between themselves and others, they just refuse to believe that makes them unworthy or less than, and so, they aren’t afraid to interact with a diverse range of people.
Shyness ultimately stems from a hyper-awareness of our own selves and our shortcomings, and believing that these shortcomings will bother other people. We who suffer from social anxiety have an outrageous belief that a stranger might be dissatisfied or discomforted by us. Shyness is feeling special or singled out, but in a negative way. We think everyone is going to notice us. And while our intentions are good and they sound very humble, meaning we truly don’t want the spotlight on us, this thinking has the exact opposite effect. These negative thoughts of, “Oh no, everyone’s going to notice me!” are, in fact, making it all about us.
Shyness, in a sense, is actually a form of pride. We are too fearful of losing our dignity. We are afraid of doing simple things like asking for help, because we might be pitied or seen as ignorant by the other person. In an attempt to never look foolish, weak or strange, we build walls up so that others will think we have it all together. But the consequence of this isn’t what we want, which is to be seen as having it all together. Instead, it tends to make us seem rude or stuck-up, and obviously makes forming relationships with others very difficult.
I’ve got good news though. Nobody is really noticing you all that much. It’s hard to believe, I know. To convince my own mind of this, I ask myself questions such as,
“When someone else gets an answer wrong in class, do I belittle them in my mind?
Do I stare at people going to the bathroom and wonder what took them so long when they come back?
Do I remember that so-and-so already wore that shirt last month?
Do I get annoyed with a person who asks me for help?”
Well guess what? They don’t think that way either. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t that important. In all honesty, everyone is too worried about themselves to think about your mistakes, what you look like or what you are doing.
I have decided that from here on out, I am going to start saying no to fear, and start saying yes to things that scare me, especially in social situations. Will I face rejection every now and then? Probably. Will I feel anxious? Of course. Will it kill me? No! I just desperately want to be free and I have so many dreams I want to accomplish, and in order to do these things I must be myself. I have to step out of my comfort zone and do the very things that my mind tells me I’m not capable of doing.
Sometimes it’s hard to admit because my whole life I’ve told myself it was selfish and arrogant, but deep down, I do love myself. Who am I to believe that there aren’t people out there who will like me just the way I am? And so what if people don’t like me? My biggest fear has always been being disliked, but while it’s true that since I’ve kept myself hidden I haven’t given anyone much reason to dislike me, I’ve also not given many people much reason to like me either. How ironic! I’m hoping that taking this step allows me to finally find ‘my people’, instead of settling for those who I don’t much care for, but still hang out with just so I won’t feel lonely. I know I will make mistakes, and I’m sure I will sometimes still give in to fear, but I refuse to settle, or stay stuck and stagnant any longer.
If you’ve read this entire post, thank you so much. I don’t know how helpful it was, but it was something I had to bring to light in order to be set free, even if no one reads, relates or understands it.
If you have social anxiety, I want you to know that I get it. It’s hard. It’s lonely, but you aren’t the only one. You are not weird. You are not unlovable. And you don’t have to be this way forever. This disorder can be defeated. There’s no need to be ashamed of it anymore. Bring it to light, ask God to heal you of it, and ask him to use what you went through for His greater good.
If you suffer from this, I ask you to look back throughout your life, find the moment where it all began. At what point in time did you start to believe the lies that you weren’t good enough? That you were less than? That you were unworthy of love? That you should be ashamed of yourself? Find out who or where those lies came from, and refuse to accept them any longer. Then, every time you start to have a negative thought about yourself, replace it with truth. Turn the negative thoughts into positive, uplifting ones. And absolutely no more shame and hiding who you are. God can’t heal what you won’t bring out into the light.
It takes time and effort, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. You see, the mind of someone with social anxiety and low self-esteem is so accustomed to negative thought patterns because they’ve been thinking this way for so long that negativity is their mind’s automatic response. But the more the mind is fed with positive, loving thoughts, the more accustomed it will become to positive thinking, and thus, the mind will begin to think positive thoughts with much greater ease. It’s by no means easy, but it is so incredibly worth it.
With that being said, I leave you with one of my all-time favorite Bible verses.
“So be content with who you and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God, he is most careful with you.”
1 Peter 5:6-7 The Message Version
This is my go-to verse when I’m about to do something really scary, especially socially-wise. God commands us to simply be ourselves and to get rid of the fake outer persona, by stripping down to our true, God-given self. When we do this, God will bless us beyond belief, and his grace will allow us to do the seemingly impossible because it takes great courage and faith to do this. My advice is to trust God, stop worrying, and start being your true, authentic self. I promise when you do that, life will be so much better and you will finally be free.
If you are struggling immensely in this area, please don’t hesitate to reach out, it’s what I’m here for. 🙂 As always, please comment or share this post if it resonated with you!
Also, if you would to like watch the video How to Overcome Shyness, I have inserted the link below. It was incredibly eye-opening and helped me tremendously! I definitely recommend watching it. 🙂