Dear Introvert With Social Anxiety: What I Want You To Know
Dear Introvert With Social Anxiety,
Today I want to share with you a story of hope and one BIG tip.
Last week was Back-To-School Night at my kids’ school. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, Back-To-School Night is when parents have an opportunity to go meet their children’s new teachers, visit their classrooms, and hear presentations about the upcoming year.
A few years ago…
…attending Back-To-School Night would have been an exhausting endeavor for me.
I would have fretted about it all day long.
I would have felt sick to my stomach entering the building.
I would have felt awkward and uncomfortable for the duration of the event.
I would have wished I was more like ALL the other moms who ALWAYS know exactly what to say and how to behave.
I would have:
- Stayed silent and not said a word to anyone OR
- Forced myself to make conversation even when I had nothing to say.
And then I would have stayed up half the night:
- Beating myself up for being a quiet idiot who never has anything to say OR
- Ruminating about all the things I said that MUST have offended people / angered people/ revealed how dumb I am. Take your pick.
But this year…
…attending Back-To-School Night wasn’t a big deal.
This year, I hardly gave it a thought before it was time to go.
I was calm and comfortable as I entered the building.
I loved peeking inside my kids’ desks and seeing what they had written in their journals so far.
I made note of some of the schedules and posters and artwork hanging on the walls so I could mention some things to my kids later.
I exchanged a few short pleasantries with a couple of parents I had met before.
I beamed proudly when a teacher gushed over my daughter having a positive influence on the whole class.
And you know what? I noticed that, yes, there were a few chit-chatty parents there who seemed like they had never met a stranger, but there were also a whole bunch of people standing on the sidelines, looking awkward, not knowing what they were supposed to do now that they had already talked to the teacher and it wasn’t yet time for the formal presentations.
I slept soundly that night.
So what changed?
That’s what you’re wondering, right? How did I go from Nervous Nelly to Calm Cassie?
Well, what changed was my mind.
I changed my mind about myself.
You see, I used to think I was all wrong. Flawed and defective.
And if I could just force myself to be more like them, my social anxiety would go away.
If I could just be talkative and expressive and make myself the center of attention…
But that strategy never worked. Willpowering myself to act against my nature did nothing for my social anxiety. Forcing myself to socialize when I didn’t feel like it just stressed me out and landed me in a bunch of acquaintanships I didn’t actually have the energy to maintain.
In order to overcome social anxiety, I didn’t have to become one of them.
I didn’t have to become an outgoing extrovert who never met a stranger.
I just had to become okay with being me.
I’m quiet by nature. I like to think before I talk. I like having just a handful of close relationships. I like doing things by myself.
That’s who I am and I had to become okay with it.
And I had to become so okay with being me that I stopped caring what other people thought about me.
I had to realize that there are very few people in this world whose opinion of me truly matters. And those few people already love me unconditionally.
So even if I make a total fool of myself at Back To School Night, it doesn’t really matter. My people will still love me and my life will still go on.
Even if I act like an awkward weirdo.
Even if I slip and fall on my face.
Even if I I throw up on someone’s shoes.
Their opinion of me doesn’t matter and my life will still go on.
So I don’t have to dread being in the same space with them and I can stay calm.
And how did I make this shift in perspective happen?
Well, first of all, it didn’t happen easily and it didn’t happen over night.
It was a result of consistent practice over weeks and months.
Every time an anxious thought or feeling would pop up, I would remind myself of what I wanted to believe.
That it’s okay to be an introvert. And that their opinion of me doesn’t matter.
And over again.