Have you ever walked into a room filled with people and immediately thought, “Nope, never mind. This is NOT going to happen.”? You know that feeling where you feel like everyone in the room is looking at you? Your pulse starts racing, like your heart is about to beat out of your chest, you suddenly become violently nauseous, and you can feel the beads of sweat forming on your forehead? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think everyone, even extroverts, have experienced that at least once in their lives. But for the socially awkward/socially anxious person this is a daily, sometimes constant, feeling.
I don’t remember how far back my social awkwardness goes, it seems like I’ve always been this way –the simple thought of social interactions often makes me want to throw a blanket over my head and say, “Nope, not today. Sorry life, but people scare me.” That’s the life for the socially awkward individual. It’s a constant battle of longing for friendship, love, and companionship while at the same time being terrified of it. The constant battle in my own mind, and I’m going to assume in many others’, has led me to a deep confusion of my own feelings of wanting something and fearing it at the same time. But one thing I should point out is that, very often, we don’t even realize that this battle is taking place in our own heads. We just constantly feel like we don’t fit in, like no one else is like us. We long to understand why we feel so awkward in social situations and we don’t even realize that there is a battle raging on in our own minds. I know that I was unaware of my what was going on inside my own mind until recently.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I am an introvert. Joy and peace in my life is the greatest when I am alone with a good book, a paper and pencil, or with just one or two close friends. I am no good at small talk and I don’t know how to strike up a conversation with a stranger or sometimes even with an acquaintance. Every Sunday morning at church, you know that time where you’re supposed to shake hands and say hello to the people around you, I always briefly contemplate whether or not anyone would notice if I hid under the pew or took off to the bathroom. Now, I feel as if I should elaborate on that a little bit because, if taken out of context, someone might drastically misunderstand what my point is. It’s not the other people that I have a problem with; in fact, I love other people and I love making new friends, but it’s my own brain and voice in my head that totally terrify me.
I was a painfully shy child who learned how to put masks on as I got older. I learned to adapt to my environments by donning a fake personality, never really showing anyone who I was. I’ve always taken my cues from what the people around me are doing, which has led me to have a really jacked up perception of how people interact. I never really learned for myself what my personality was or who I was, so now, as an adult, I am confused and torn.
In a recent conversation with a friend, I mentioned how socially awkward I am, how my social anxiety often seems to control my interactions (or lack thereof) with other people, and he seemed to chuckle at first, not believing me because he couldn’t see it. But that’s the thing about those of us who struggle with social awkwardness, most people would never know. We’ve gotten really good at masking our awkwardness. As for me, some people question my introversion because once they get to know me well and I am in an environment where I am free to be me (I should say that there is a very small number of people in my life who know me on this level), I tend to be more on the goofy side, I let my guards down and I have fun and enjoy the company of other people. But the people who know me on that level, stuck with me through the beginning of our friendship, which was, for me, painfully awkward. I enjoy public speaking and I am actually rather good at it. I was 11 years old when I won my first public speaking competition and for me this was a HUGE accomplishment that would prove to be the beginning of me emerging from my shyness. But coming out of my shyness would not mean also becoming less socially awkward. In a sense, I believe that it increased my social awkwardness. As I emerged from my shell, I began to see and feel like I was not like everyone else and that feeling of being “different” drove me to hide myself behind layer of lies and masks.
As an adult, most social interaction is filled with anxiety and my own insecurities. I often leave a conversation thinking, “why did I say THAT?” or “wow, I wonder what she thinks of me now,” or “why can’t I be more like that?” Or, if I had a wonderfully, positive interaction with another person, I find myself questioning their motives and what they may want from me. Even in conversations with some of my closest friends (and maybe more often with them because I care more about what they think of me) I find myself over analyzing everything I say, wondering what they are thinking of me because of the what I just said and wondering if I need to explain myself more because maybe they misunderstood me. I have one very close friend in particular, who I seem to do this with all the time – and it drives me bonkers that I do it to myself. This friend has always shown me more love than I could’ve ever asked for and definitely more than I deserve (God blessed me immensely when He placed her in my life), but for some reason, I often walk away from my conversations with her condemning myself for what I said and how I said it and what I didn’t say and the list could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the picture by now. It’s often in this process of over analyzing my words and actions that God will, quite frequently, give me a gentle shake and tell me to just chill out (and let me tell you, without that gentle reminder from Him, I would probably drive myself completely insane with worry over my conversations with other people).
I’m sure that my experience with social anxiety and social awkwardness may not be the only explanation out there. I’m sure that other people may have their own reasons or explanations as to why they are the way they are; but I’m convinced that I am not the only person who struggles in this way.
So the next thing I want to know is, will I always be this way? Will I ever be able to look at social situations without being filled with anxiety? I think so. I think that God has given us a pretty solid description of what love and life should look like, and His description doesn’t include debilitating anxiety.
I have a lot of fears, some rational, most irrational. One by one, I am learning to give them over to God. And while I have not yet been successful in turning over my fear of social situations, I take great comfort in Psalm 34:4 – I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. He WILL deliver me from my fears, I know that, but I think that it requires some hard work on my part first. I will have to walk, with Him, through the suppressed pain of my past in order to be who He made me to be. All He asks is that I trust Him and seek Him and He will deliver me (and yes, I know that this is often much easier said than done because I like to avoid the pain at all costs).
Isaiah 30:18 – Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. Don’t quit before the miracles happen…I’ve heard that somewhere before…
1 John 4:7-8 – Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. I need to remember, and I think all of us who are socially awkward, need to remember what God calls us to do. God has called every one of us to love each other; He doesn’t narrow it down into categories for the socially awkward and the social butterflies. We are called to love and to share His love with others. I think it’s important to not let my own awkwardness and anxieties stand in my way of loving other people with the love that God has given me.
I know that I will always be an introvert; that IS how God made me and how He will use me. There is a desperate need for both introverts and extroverts alike. But I do think that one day I will be able to look at social situations without as much fear and anxiety as I do now. I will probably always have some social awkwardness about me; I don’t think that will ever go away completely. But what I do know is that there is hope.