By Tanya Tiger
Is it possible to be surrounded by people yet still feel an aching loneliness? Absolutely!
I often talk about the fact that I am the most socially awkward person I know, making my chosen career in Social Work interesting to say the least. I compare the feeling to that of being the only child in a room full of adults. I often feel intimidated, unworthy and unprepared when socializing with peers. I spend a great deal of time in my own head trying to monitor every gesture that I make, every word I speak, and continually judge “how I’m holding up” compared to everyone else.
I also find myself watching people’s reactions to what I say, do, and even how I stand or move when I’m with them. It’s exhausting! On the outside I may appear confident and outgoing but on the inside, there is this little girl, unsure and anxious, asking, “Do they like me? Do they like me?”
While this reaction stems from a place of pain and self-consciousness it is not lost on me that it’s also a little narcissistic, albeit unintentionally so.
What I mean is, I become so consumed with what everyone else thinks of me that all I focus on is myself and how I’m coming across. This leaves me entirely consumed by me instead of allowing what I really want which is to create a meaningful connection with another human being.
Full Disclosure: It is admittedly difficult to see myself and narcissism associated in the same sentence, let alone in the same zip code, but in order to grow we must be willing to look at our flaws, not just our strengths. Hard medicine to swallow but much needed in the healing process. *Ack*
It seems catawampus, I suppose, to be painfully shy and self-conscious while also harboring a nagging narcissistic inner-voice (I’ll dub this voice The Judge). What can I say, I’ve rented a few rooms in my head to some unsavory characters over the years but the eviction notices have been served. Dear The Judge, you are no longer welcomed on these premises… please get the hell out, like now. Sorry, not sorry. Thanks for your cooperation. Yours Truly, Me.
One of the perks (and punishments) of working in the mental health field is that I continue to learn about the human psyche and human nature in general. This often leads me to take a looooong, hard look at my own inner-workings, including my behaviors, my baggage (what a lovely set of luggage you have there, is that paisley?), and my strengths (hello humor).
Now, as I mentioned earlier, there’s danger in too much introspection because, well, you end up walking into walls and muttering to yourself—more than would be considered “healthy,” and no one likes to hang out with someone who spends the entire evening contemplating their navel. *cough* I digress… where was I going with this, oh yeah…
Recently, I realized that a huge factor in this feeling of social awkwardness is self-sabotage. I unconsciously set myself up for failure by pre-assuming that people see me as less-than or otherwise unfit for serious friendship. I pre-judge myself and allow my assumptions to dictate how I hold myself in public. To paint a clearer picture, I go into a situation thinking, “hey, they are going to think I’m a total flake,” I then proceed to forget their name, slur my words like I’ve had one-too-many cocktails, and trip over my own feet as I try to slink away to hide in the bathroom (I wish I were making that up).
Now, why on earth would a fairly well-adjusted adult woman (or man) do this to themselves?
There are numerous reasons but one I am quite familiar with is someone who has a history of being bullied or otherwise made to feel less-than by peers, family, etc. I’ve written about my own experiences in this area before so I won’t delve into the details here. Let’s just say my school years were hell and I’ve spent most of the years since recovering.
Despite having a successful career, a loving husband, an amazing daughter—and more recently a beautiful new home—I have struggled to recognize my own self-worth, and to be okay with who I am. I have had the tendency to seek acceptance, reassurance and validation outside of me. It’s only very recently that I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin. I’m accepting that I’m a bit odd, a bit colorful, occasionally intense, and not for everyone… and that’s totally okay now.
Why would I want to bend myself into something I’m not to fit in with people who don’t accept the real me? I’d only be duping them and myself. What’s the fun in that? No, now I’m just me. What you see is what you get. I still jumble my words sometimes and I can trip upstairs like a champ! I’ll never be “normal” (whatever that is anyway). I’m quirky and creative, a bit kooky and I like things that are a little weird and spooky (does anyone else hear the theme song from the Addams Family?)
Hopefully by embracing my true self I’ll attract real friends along the way. And, bonus points, I’ll be teaching my daughter how amazing it can be to feel comfortable with who she is without feeling the need to fit in. She’s amazing and I want her to know it.
Questions I have asked myself along the way. What would happen if I changed my assumptions and rather than presuming that I come off as inept, vapid, or just plain strange, I instead assume that I am a person worthy of love, of respect, of friendship? What if I chose to see myself as an awesome person, a loyal friend, a great mom, and a loving wife? What would happen if I chose to let myself be good enough as-is with no need to hide parts of myself or make attempts to fit in with those around me?
To see yourself as worthy of love and acceptance in all situations, without care for others’ judgments (or those nagging little voices in your head). How would that feel?
I think it feels pretty freakin’ amazing.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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