Redefining my social anxiety
‘Fitting in’ is a skill that we as a species have valued for centuries. In evolutionary terms, staying part of the tribe ensured safety. Outsiders suffered less protection from the threat of danger and life without kinship meant chances of survival decreased drastically. Translate this to modern times and the risk seems incomparable, most of us are not about to be savaged by wild animals or starve to death. For some however, the results of tribelessness conjure up just as much anxiety.
Every seven years there’s a survey in England to measure the amount of people with mental health problems (http://content.digital.nhs.uk/article/3739/National-Study-of-Health-and-Wellbeing). On this list is anxiety in its many different forms, including social, which unfortunately non-sufferers do not always treat as sensitively as they do conditions such as depression or OCD. Often, social anxiety can be seen as interchangeable with terms such as shy or introverted.
In today’s fast moving world, shy or introverted individuals are sometimes regarded as dull, people who slow the pace of communication, mess with the flow. The terms used to describe them conjure up negative connotations and to be quiet or content in solitude is viewed as an oddity. Some might even equate it with being anti-social, as if they would rather you be anti-self.
For years I was acutely aware that I wasn’t what’s known as a social butterfly. I noticed that not only would I sometimes find it difficult to talk to people, but I would also witness people finding it uncomfortably difficult to talk to me. Fundamentally, the truth was that I liked silence, I was at my best in my own company, I certainly couldn’t abide small talk and groups of people only meant the dilution of any meaningful interaction.
No, I was not a people person, but neither did I have what might now be identified as social anxiety. It was just that b******* made me physically and mentally uncomfortable.
The discomfort would arise more often in groups because I found people so rarely present and honest in their representations of themselves. My tolerance of interactions that did no more than pass the time or scrape the surface was low. Really low. No, again I kept telling myself, I was most definitely not a people person.
Having the label of shy or introverted can in some situations offer refuge, simply because even though alienated from the main tribe, there is an identity there, an inkling of who you are. It’s not until you make the effort to look for a more accurate description of the person you present to the world, that you can understand yourself more intimately as an individual.
By describing myself as not a people person, what I had been doing was creating an immediate separation between myself and others. The separation started to become familiar and in turn it had a profound affect on the beliefs I held about myself. I believed that I wasn’t making enough effort, that if I tried really hard I could just be ‘normal’. And on and on.
It was only with age I recognised that the moments when I felt so apart from things were nothing to do with feeling separated from people, but in fact the complete opposite. I usually felt so connected that anything less than an authentic exchange was painful to the very core of who I am. It’s probably part of the reason I became a coach, because with clients there is nothing but authenticity. I now know that I am what I would call a soul person. If you are communicating from there, then I’m right with you.
So this is really for the other soul people out there. If you too, are better in one to one communication or small groups, if you prefer to talk about passions and pain, or the universe and truth, instead of the weather and the things you hate, then you’re not alone. If these are the moments that set your personality ablaze, that get you excited and animated, then do not sell yourself short. You may be a rarer specimen of a social butterfly, but you’re still a butterfly nonetheless.
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