This past week I spent some time out in Atlantic Canada and was lucky enough to even touch the Ocean. I’m a proud Canadian who can say that I’ve literally been coast to coast in our beautiful and majestic country, filled with jaw-dropping scenery and wonderful people.
My cousin lives out in St John’s and I haven’t seen her in about six years, so our reunion here was such a treat for the both of us. She’s about 10 years younger than me and I’ve always known her to be a delightful individual, full of positivity and encouragement. She spent summers with my family back when she was only three years old and I still remember her adorable smile as a toddler.
It was delightful catching up with her, as full grown, independent adults. She was my guided tour in this beautiful city filled with history and heritage. We meandered by foot through some old streets, all over town, popping in and out of some very unique and eclectic little local shops which seems to plaster the city with style and colour.
For the first time in my life, I really got to know my cousin and vice-versa because we had the opportunity to chat one-on-one about life and share our perspectives. Like me, she’s an introvert. And like me, she’s an introvert with social anxiety. We talked about the added challenge of being an introvert with social anxiety such as:
- Hauling ourselves to go to social events.
- The back-and-forth inner conflict in our minds whether or not to attend the event.
- The struggle if there’s more than 4 or 5 other people attending this event.
- Feeling overwhelmed when surrounded by loud noises.
- Fear of being left out of conversations and being socially awkward.
- Meeting new people.
- Making small talk with new people and how heavily exhausting it is to do so.
- How it can take about 6 months of regular interaction before we feel comfortable enough to open up to new people.
- How intensely drained we feel in our minds after the event has ended and how we need to decompress and shut down in a quiet space when we get home.
I once dated a lady who was somewhat the opposite of me and couldn’t understand my overwhelming feelings of attending her family affairs which were typically very boisterous. My lack of self-awareness at the time caused a lot of problems because I wasn’t able to articulate my overwhelming feelings to her. As a result, my unmanaged anxiety came out in the form of anger and withdrawal.
Introverts typically appear very quiet and shy in their demeanor at social functions. They’re often scanning the environment and assessing where their comfort areas may be with the crowd. They’re not big on small talk, and prefer a much smaller and more intimate group setting, rather than big crowded functions. An introvert with social anxiety has an added challenge because they can appear to be very quiet and also reclusive. Conversations can be very brief and with little eye contact, and they often may find themselves sitting alone quietly or in a smaller group, not contributing to conversations. Often their behavior can be mistaken for being rude or unfriendly.
What people don’t realize is that these internal struggles are things that we can not control. Like a flip of a light switch, others might expect us to “get over it” or to “fix it”, but it’s often not that simple. Trying to explain it can be difficult because there’s no physical symptoms to illustrate the discomfort. The best we can do is communicate our feelings and thoughts, and do our best to manage it. And lastly, being pushy doesn’t help, but often escalates the feelings.
One of the things I admired most about my conversations with my cousin was how self-aware she was of her anxiety. She explained to me how she would sometimes excuse herself early from the function or even take a breather outside before rejoining the party. And when she goes home, she’d take a few days to herself just to rejuvenate. I applaud her for acknowledging and accepting herself. I used to struggle with that, partly because I thought I needed to uphold an image of being this social butterfly in the public eye in order to gain acceptance. What I’ve come to accept in recent years is that I often feel uncomfortable in new social situations. However, I now have tools to politely excuse myself from either attending or staying too long. That self-awareness comes from a place of self-love and self-worth. I’m an introvert with anxiety, and I’m proud to accept that.