Woman walking through fire

Life as a Socially Awkward Introvert

You know those drop-off childcare places inside big malls and some department stores? These were basically the equivalent of hell for me when I was a kid. I was painfully shy and my younger brother was the opposite. My parents would drop us off and I’d sit in the corner by myself, secretly angry with my brother for going to play with the other kids instead of me. My parents made us go to church every Sunday and I would beg them to let me go to the adult service with them instead of the youth service. I’d retreat behind them when the pastor said to shake hands with someone we hadn’t met before. (Then once the service started I’d fall asleep with my mouth open, jerking awake when my head fell to the side). Not surprisingly, it was incredibly difficult for me to open up and make friends.

In February 2016 I attended my first women’s retreat. It was set to be Friday evening to Sunday afternoon and would be the first weekend away from my son who was nearly three at the time. The retreat sounded like such a lovely idea when my husband signed me up for it, but as the date drew closer my anxiety began to build. There are going to be a bunch of people I’ve never met before AND I’m going to be around them all weekend. What in the ever-living hell was I thinking?! 

I messaged the organizers in a panic, explaining that I was an introvert and needed time away from people to recharge. They wrote back and reassured me that I’d be fine. That first evening it took all my courage to strike up conversations with the other women, several of whom I had met before but didn’t really know. I admired those who seemed so self-assured and moved through conversations with ease. Small talk is not my forte, even now days. (At the grocery store I usually stand in silence as the checker rings up my groceries. My anxiety builds one item at a time as I wonder if I should think of something to say or remain silent). One of the woman who was at the same retreat – who I am now good friends with – recalled that she said ‘hi’ to me, I said ‘hi’ back, and then I left her hanging. Sounds about right.

Over time I became less anxious and more confident the more I pushed myself outside of my social comfort zone (i.e. going to a workshop where I knew no one, being a part of an online course that required me to talk over webcam, and even making some YouTube videos). My friend and I creating a women’s circle together was way out of my comfort zone. The thought of co-facilitating a gathering where I’d be expected to talk in coherent, normal-paced sentences while everyone stared at me made me want to crawl out of my skin; but I knew it was what I was being called to do so I did it. My anxiety about speaking in front of others in a group setting became practically non-existent. My mind didn’t race a million miles a minute and my heart stopped trying to break its way out of my chest. There was this long awaited calm that replaced the frenetic energy.

The thought of going to a large party still gives me the oh-hell-no’s and hanging out with the more extroverted types makes it easier for me to converse. Whenever fear flares up, I stop and ask myself whether that fear is real or imagined. I try to not let it get in the way of connecting with and meeting new people. I also think about all the positive outcomes that could result from me putting myself out there. I don’t have to be that scared, shy, anxious child.

We don’t have to be the same person for the rest of our lives if we don’t want to be. If we’re willing to walk through the fires of change then we’ll see that there is nothing to fear. We get to choose who we want to be – how we want to react to things. Give yourself the breathing room to believe that.

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