I’m Not Just A Shy Introvert, I Have Social Anxiety

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I’m not just shy, I have social anxiety.

I’m not an introvert, I have social anxiety.

If you know me you think of me as “introverted”, “shy”, “quiet”. It’s just my personality, right? And you like me anyway. The truth is, I live with a constant inner struggle. I’m not just naturally shy and quiet. It’s a fricking battle inside me.

I don’t know why I “suffer” from this, and I’ve tried battling it. I’ve tried making it better. And it has gotten a bit better over time as I’ve aged and matured. I’ve gotten a little bit better about dealing with people. But that’s not saying much if you live inside my head.

Meeting people is terrifying and exhausting. I never know what to say and whatever I actually want to say never manages to come out, and whatever manages to come out, comes out awkwardly. I don’t know how to talk about myself. I don’t know how to accurately translate my thoughts into actual words. I don’t feel like I have anything interesting to say, or mostly I don’t feel like you would find anything I say, interesting. And I’m totally afraid to be negatively judged, especially since I don’t lead a “normal” life with a “normal” degree, and “normal” job, etc etc…

I know it’s all in my head, but it’s a strong head.

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It’s a terrible feeling to be in a social setting and feel like you have something to say, and feel like you WANT to say something, contribute, yet there is a weird force stopping you from saying anything at all. Almost like a little devil on the shoulder, like in cartoons, telling you “don’t do it, don’t say anything, it’s not a good idea, you’ll be embarrassed or even worse, nobody will hear you.” So you don’t. And eventually, you’re sitting there for an hour not saying anything and forcing a smile often so that you don’t seem sad or bored or angry, not that I would be any of those.

Over the years, this behaviour turns you into a person who is underestimated and not taken seriously. Or at least, feels that way. And more importantly, makes me feel completely misunderstood. Nobody knows what’s going on inside me, why would they? They just see a quiet girl. They don’t realize the inner struggle and how uncomfortable this quiet girl is being quiet. Outwardly, I seem shy, quiet, unfriendly, and disinterested, but none of those reflect on my true self. Okay, I may totally be disinterested sometimes, but not as often as it may seem.

I understand people quite well because this behaviour has forced me to become an observer. I’ve observed and listened to people for years. I can tell when someone is lying. I can tell when people are pretending. I don’t say anything, though. I’m not actually a jerk, as I sometimes may seem. 

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First impressions are not my forte. Nor are second or third or even tenth impressions. It takes me months to get comfortable with someone. Comfortable enough to start opening up and start feeling like I can be myself. Yet, I need years with someone to achieve a normal state of “being myself”, but that still may put me at maybe 90%. I have never been quite 100% myself with anyone ever.

I’m known for playing music and dancing in the kitchen. Known by nobody but myself. I’m known for singing my heart out while driving in the car. And this, some people know about but have never experienced the splendor of it. Luckily for them (I’m a terrible singer).

I don’t like being this way. It’s not just part of my personality. It’s an issue. And it’s quite frustrating because it doesn’t go away.

I wish I could sing and dance in front of people, they might actually think I’m fun, and cute, and funny. But I don’t, in fear of something totally irrational. That weird force stops me.

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Do you know how terrible it is to be a grown 27-year-old woman and go into a social event or a new class and feel like a shy and insecure 14-year-old? No wonder people underestimate me. It’s a vicious cycle. I feel like this, people treat me like this, and then I can’t get the confidence I need to not feel like this.

It’s all based on irrational fear. Fear of being embarrassed, fear of not being liked, fear of being judged, fear of not being heard, fear of being misunderstood. The last three are big ones.

I read that Will Ferrell got over this stuff by making a fool of himself over and over and doing silly things in public to get over it. It worked, apparently, and now he has no fear of being himself. Bill Murray did some similar trick. The more ridiculous things you do in public, the more you realize whatever fears you had are not actually viable. And the more you realize how much people really don’t care and they’re actually way in their own heads too much.

I know these things. But I can’t help it.

As a person with social anxiety, I feel distress over the following situations:

  • Being introduced to other people
  • Being the center of attention
  • Being watched or observed while doing something
  • Having to say something in a public situation
  • Feeling insecure and out of place in social situations (“I don’t know what to say.”)
  • Embarrassing easily (e.g. blushing)
  • Making phone calls

I know there are degrees of this. I don’t have severe social anxiety. I don’t avoid major events in life like college interviews or attending a class I like. I go through the things, yet uncomfortably. I definitely may delay whatever the thing needs to happen, especially phone calls. 

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The truth which might surprise people who know me is that I am not an introvert. But I’m not an extrovert either. I’m an ambivert which is something in the middle. An ambivert with relatively mild social anxiety.

What makes me an ambivert is that I don’t mind having dinner alone, I completely enjoy my solitude, but every now and then I don’t mind the insanity of a crowded room, either. I am pretty flexible and appreciate both time alone and in crowds including concerts, malls, cities, and parties.

Also, most people see the side of me that is quiet and reserved, but close friends see the (almost) real me, comfortable enough to put myself out there if the situation calls for it, and being silly.

Moreover, spending time with others and out and about can leave me feeling drained and needing a recharge, but too much time alone can foster gloominess and loneliness. I like the balance of the two.

So that sums it up.

Can you relate at all?

16 Comments

  1. Dear Mani,
    I’m so glad you wrote down your situation in so many details, because in every single one of them I saw myself. It could be me who wrote that story. Same feelings of awkwardness, of being the center of attention. And through this I believe that nobody really knows me. My mother might have a good intuition about me, but she always urges me to speak out my thoughts and wishes. That’s part of why I’m having a blog: to finally speak out those things that I keep hidden for myself, that I wonder about when other people have their discussions, the small things I notice about cultural differences… People tell me I’m good at it, but still I feel weird about telling them to their faces (“what if it’s not an interesting fact for them?”, “what if they feel annoyed by me entering the conversation?”).
    On the bright side, I feel some slight improvement over the years, might it be due to travelling, to growing older, or just due to meeting the right people; but I mean really slight, like a tiny tiny improvement….
    Thank you so much for sharing!
    I wonder if it helped you in any way addressing this openly in your blog?

    Reply
  2. Thanks so much for sharing this and your incredible honesty. I find it inspiring and reassuring to read about how others feel and deal with this. I have tried loads of things to try and ‘cure it’ myself, but nothing has really ever got me over it, like for Will Ferrell. Solo travel was the biggest help, as it gave me more confidence and, in that situation, if I was too worried about social things I could just move on to another place. However, I still come away from pretty much all social situations replaying it in my head and worrying I’ve said the wrong thing, made a fool of myself etc. Even with close friends and family. I don’t want to be this way, but I think I’ve reached the point where I think it is just part of who I am. I try to do stuff anyway, despite the worry in my head. Phone calls are definitely still avoided as much as possible though!!

    Your blog is a favourite of mine, so maybe having this condition/ affliction/ personality trait – whatever it should be called – really does help you to be a great writer. I certainly find writing a comfort 🙂 Thanks again for this post.

    Reply
    • I do that too! Replay conversations in my head after they’ve happened and always find that I wish I had said something or hadn’t said something. It’s terrible. But that is good, it’s good to accept it as part of who we are. Thanks for your thoughts and your kind words!

      Reply
  3. When I first discovered someone online who suffered from social anxiety disorder. I was immediately blown away by how similar our personalities and behaviours were. This gave me hope as I could identify a lot of these behaviours as a result of SA. However things weren’t always easy, and my life has been a mixed bag of good and not so good experiences.

    Great post and thanks for being so honest.

    Reply
  4. Such a strong message and inspiration for all people who are experimenting this!
    I must admit I was so shy when I was younger,but while growing up and constantly evolving,I’ve come to realize that being my true self in every situation is the right thing to do and the best for me.I relate to your way of being more open and honest through writing than verbally,because here,it is just you and your heart,which is by far so much more personal and this comes with the freedom to choose to speak about whatever you feel or want.
    I admire your courage to write about such a personal matter and I wish for you to discover that no fear should come close to the love you have to feel for your own self.

    Reply
    • I’m glad you were able to find that spot where you’re comfortable being yourself. I totally agree that being ourselves is always the right thing to do, I wish it was as easy as just knowing, though. Thanks for your comment and your kind words, Claudia.

      Reply
  5. I love this post. Thanks for trying to help people understand that social anxiety is a genuine fear, an irrational one, but something that can’t just be gotten over by “putting yourself out there.” It’s really good to read about another traveler experiencing this because I can relate to it.

    Reply
    • It’s one of those things that people suffer in silence for, because it’s so hard to express and we feel like nobody else feels the same way. I was compelled to write about it and it’s nice to get these kinds of responses, from people who can definitely relate, and it also feels good to be able to explain to whomever will “listen”. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  6. Ahh, I can relate to so much of this. I am definitely shy, and probably have some sort of mild social anxiety. It’s gotten better over the years, but whenever I go through periods of spending a lot of time on my own, not doing new things or meeting new people, it gets worse. It constantly feels like I have to start all over… how to meet people and have a conversation or make small talk. I often feel like I’ve said something slightly wrong, or things come out of my mouth in a way that I don’t intend them too. And phone calls! Sometimes I’m hard on myself because I still hate calling people on the phone and I think I should be past this by now.

    Long comment, but just wanted to say that I appreciate that you shared this with us. It’s probably one reason that we’re writers, huh? I could always express myself so much better with written words, than with anything verbal, and I suspect that you’re the same!

    Reply
    • Nadine! 100% yes, expressing myself through writing is WAY easier than verbally. Also, that’s so true, that when you start spending a lot of time on your own, it’s harder to “get back into it”. Thanks for sharing, it’s always nice to find other people that can relate. 🙂

      Reply

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