the truth can be so revealing.
when I chose to write about this topic, I literally sat with myself and was just wow’d at how far I’ve come.
While some of us who experience social anxiety (we may not even know that’s what we are experiencing) choose to isolate because it’s less threatening then engagement, I was the exact opposite.
I internally isolated but I externally had extreme FOMO.
Looking the part and being the part was too important to me.
Not including how fast I was running.
Hoping that one day my reality (inside and out) would magically just change.
Looking back at my teenage years and early twenties, I was definitely a performer.
Always using my gift of articulation, listening and fast talking to push down any stress in a social situation.
I spent dinner after dinner with people who would be shocked to know what I’m talking about now.
Before I was secure enough with who I was and what I had gone through – there was no chance in hell you’d find me in a conversation talking about .. well, me.
I was great at talking shit.
I was great at listening.
I was great at giving advice.
I was great at showing up.
I had great manners.
I could be apart of any conversation.
No one ever knew anything was wrong.
And while I felt as though I mastered my external world, on the inside – I was really struggling.
Struggling with fear, shame, embarrassment, attention and trust.
It didn’t matter if it was just one other person, a group hang out or a networking event.
How did I look?
what did people think of me?
was I going to be too much?
should I really be spending money on this?
Did I forget to do something at home?
Should I have that second drink?
Am I sharing too much?
Am I listening well enough?
What would I say if someone asked me about my home life?
+ much of the social anxiety came from what I was personally avoiding.
I was afraid of admitting my truth.
I was afraid of what that would mean about me.
I was afraid of asking for help.
I was afraid of my own thoughts.
I was afraid of the silence.
I was afraid of my shame.
I was afraid of abandonment.
I was afraid of what my mother would do without me.
I was afraid of it being my fault.
I was afraid of the weight crashing down.
I was afraid of not being enough.
I was afraid of becoming a ‘problem.’
I was afraid of more criticism.
I was afraid of more judgement.
I was afraid that I had made a mistake.
I was afraid that people would see me as a fraud.
I was afraid of losing control.
I was afraid of me facing that maybe it was true that I was wrong about everything.
I was afraid that the people who were around me weren’t telling me the actual truth of how they felt about me.
I didn’t feel confident in my ability to speak or say what I wanted, so I didn’t.
I didn’t feel worthy of the space I took up, so I acted like I didn’t want it.
I didn’t trust others to hold my stories without doubting me, so I never shared them.
It was all this major internal conflict.
Because I wanted friendships, I wanted to be seen and heard but at the same time I wasn’t giving anyone the opportunity to see and hear me.
I didn’t think telling my truth and owning my truth could result in healthy relationships.
It was too embarrassing. It was too much to listen too. I was saving them from it, I thought.
The built in shame from my childhood prevented me from ever being less than ‘everything’s fine.’
The embarrassment I felt for all that I ‘didn’t have’ and all that ‘I would never experience’ prevented me from admitting what was really going on.
The immense neglect I went through as a child and a teenager made me so uncomfortable with attention and care that every opportunity that was given was quickly given back – ‘thanks for asking but what about YOU?’
And my lack of trust in someone knowing anything intimate about me and not using it to hurt me later on, … was all consuming.
So I hid it.
I pushed it down.
I had no idea what anxiety was.
I was so used to keeping myself busy and focusing immensely on other that it all felt normal.
Every party, dinner, bar hop, study group, etc – I was always full of stress, paranoia and anxious energy.
I was never present.
I constantly worried that the truth would unfold.
That it would be obvious that I was still dependent on my mom or that I had no idea what I ordered off the menu.
That someone else would tell me something was wrong with me.
That I didn’t have the answer to solve a problem.
That my outfit was so last year.
That someone would ask me what I do for a living.
That someone would ask me an honest question and I would be put on the spot.
What if they found out? Would they be ashamed of me, too?
I’d mentally sift through my files of pre-thought of responses to cover up that I was fucking miserable.
Not including the day after every social function, the anxiety train hit me again;
Did I say too much?
Did I drink too much?
Was I too overwhelming?
Did I come on too strong?
Did I listen well enough?
It was debilitating.
But still I said yes. Still I showed up. Night after night.
Even when I would go and get coffee for myself, I was constantly strategizing and full of stress.
Should I really be spending money on this?
what if I say it incorrectly and sound stupid?
what if I get the ‘wrong’ thing?
It was never ending.
I also want to mention that I NEVER asked anyone to hang out, ever.
That’s no exaggeration.
I was so afraid of rejection or of ‘being needy,’ – that I always waited for people to ask me.
I was lucky enough to always be invited but I was so focused on what people thought of me and how I was going to navigate conversations, that it took me a very long time to learn a few things that ultimately shifted my entire reality.
One – I silently put a lot of pressure on my friendships to be everything for me.
Though, I never asked for what I wanted because I didn’t know what I wanted and/or didn’t have the courage to ask for it.
So for me to expect others to show up for me in ways that I hadn’t yet communicated I wanted – didn’t make sense.
I also wasn’t showing up for myself — so how could I ask someone to do something for me that I wasn’t willing to do?
Two – due to me never having this ‘blood related’ family that was super loving and connected, I then looked for my friendships to fill those holes for me.
These were holes that I wasn’t consciously aware of so I was let down a lot — which caused a lot of disappointment for me.
I always took it personally and I wanted to give up frequently.
Even though I so deeply wanted connection, affection, tradition and excitement.
I wanted people to look forward to me.
I wanted to have people I could rely on.
I wanted friends who would have my back no matter what.
I wanted things to look forward to.
I wanted to feel important.
I wanted loyalty, trust and respect.
And I wanted to give that all in return.
In fact, I wanted to give it in return so badly that I was constantly running on empty as a way to overcompensate because just being me, wasn’t enough.
These two factors contributed more than I was even close to comprehending at that time.
I was stressed out about shit I didn’t even know I was stressed out about.
I was hiding from feelings I didn’t know I was experiencing.
I was mad at people for doing things they weren’t aware they were even doing.
I put expectations on others to make me feel seen, heard and loved.
I thought it was on them to deliver that for me. No questions asked.
I wanted everyone in my life to be exactly what my parents couldn’t offer me.
Safe, comforting, understanding, nurturing, loving and available.
For so long … I operated in this constant state of worry, expectation and paranoia.
Never being in my body.
Hoping that the next interaction would be better.
That I would finally walk to my car after a night with my BFF of 6 years feeling valued.
And what I learned, years later, — after losing five of my closest friends is that my social anxiety had less to do with who I was socializing with and more so with how I felt about myself.
I had to stop giving away my power.
I had to stop believing that my friends were doing me a favor by being around me.
I had to stop running from my reality and start owning how I truly felt on the inside.
I had to start feeling worthy of how I wanted to feel.
I had to start accepting the way my life had laid out so I could stop panicking when someone would ask me, ‘but what are you doing with your degree?’
I had to become so fully myself so I could have space for others to do the same.
I had to get to know myself so well that I was able to articulate my needs, wants and desires without fear or hesitation.
I figured out my love languages and realized that I needed less acts of service and way more words of affirmation. Even though it felt strange to admit that.
I had to develop my own self trust so that I could stop freaking out about the ‘what if’s’ when it came to someone else’s behavior.
I had to become so solid and secure so that the fear of rejection or abandonment stopped mattering to me.
I had to be for me, what I so desperately wanted others to deliver.
All of this helped me to socialize without fear.
To let people be who they were without needing them to be anything for me.
To let myself finally enjoy the moment without over thinking or over analyzing behavior.
To let myself be a human being without believing I needed to be perfect in order to be likable.
And it’s been amazing.
But I want to mention as I just previously brought up — as the anxiety lifted, a lot of my friendships fell apart.
It was where I learned that my outer world reflected my inner world.
And when I started to become clear and started gaining the courage to ask for change and for help in supporting me through my own evolution, — there were a lot of people in my life who couldn’t understand that.
And while it’s okay if your friends/partner/coworkers/family don’t understand at first, — it’s a commitment to the understanding that is important.
I knew how I wanted to feel and I had hoped that my friends wanted the same for me and also for themselves.
Most of them didn’t work out and while it was painful – I’ve realized that it feels really damn good to not be around people where I’m constantly second-guessing myself and my placement.
It feels good to not be around people who need me to be perfect and together all of the time.
It feels good to not be around people who complain about situations they have the power to change.
But this is only possible because I took the time to look at myself and was open to what I found.
My social anxiety had so much to do with how I felt about me and way less to do with the world being a bad place.
And I had to let go of the notion that ‘no one gets me’ or that maybe I’m just too ‘introverted’ to want connection.
Connection always mattered to me – I just had to be humble enough to admit it and brave enough to not settle until I found what I was looking for.
Most importantly, I had to be wiling to be as great as I always thought I could be.
Letting myself shine regardless of what other people may think,
Letting myself take up space regardless of how it makes other people feel,
Letting myself make tough choices regardless of being misunderstood
And letting myself be me even if I made an error in judgement,
Has gifted me the opportunity to attract people who do the exact same.
Women who laugh with me, root for me and who honor communication as much as I do.
Who are compassionate listeners, each with a bomb ass sense of humor.
Who also value growth, vulnerability, authenticity and behavioral flexibility.
And if there are times where the anxiety comes up,
And I start feeling fear or doubting if I belong somewhere –
I sit with it and let it pass.
Because I am worthy,
I am intelligent,
There’s nothing I can’t overcome,
There’s no one who can take my power away,
There’s no one who can hurt me if I don’t let them,
And I no longer need anyone to be for me as I’m finally beyond there for myself
And that’s my best advice for all things social.