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.
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.
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.
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.
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?