I spent a lot of my younger years hating the fact that I was shy, that social situations intimidated me, and that I generally enjoyed being home by myself than out with other people.
My mom and my brother are the same way. We are all shy and quiet and introverted, homebodies to our core. My dad, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. He is loud and brash and extroverted and can make friends with just about anyone. He’s friendly and outgoing; I am not. It drove him crazy that he fathered two introverted kids who were quiet and shy.
And because of that, I spent a lot of time wishing I was more outgoing and making friends came easy to me. I wanted new situations and being around people to feel exciting, not intimidating. Extroverts tend to rule the world, probably because they’re just more outspoken and their personalities seem to shine a bit brighter than that of introverts. Introverts are happy working behind the scenes, while extroverts want the starring role.
I wanted to be a star. I wanted to exude confidence and friendliness and openness. I wanted to be that girl who had no problem making friends, who could easily chat it up with a stranger on the street, who could enter new situations feeling curious and excited, not terrified and overwhelmed. And I hated, hated, hated that I was not that girl. But more than that, I think, deep down, I always knew I wasn’t meant to be that girl. That wasn’t my calling in life, that’s not the person God created me to be.
And then I discovered what being an introvert really means. For my entire life, I had drawn the distinction that introverts are shy and extroverts are outgoing, when that’s actually not what it means to be an introvert at all. (Or an extrovert, for that matter. Shy extroverts do exist!) Introversion and extroversion depend on where you draw your energy from. For me, being around people can be overstimulating, overwhelming, and ultimately draining. It is only when I am alone that I can recharge my batteries and start to feel more like myself. That’s when I can restore my energy.
Truth be told, I actually really hate when I have more than one social engagement on a weekend. For me, if I have more than one social event happening on a weekend (and forget about weekdays – I hold those sacred and plan-free unless absolutely necessary), I feel overwhelmed. More than anything, I love quiet weekends where I have little to no plans. I will never be the girl with the full social calendar and I am A-OK with that. I’ve never needed to be social all the time (or even most of the time), and I’m learning to harness that knowledge and be okay with it.
So there’s one side of the coin: introversion. And I love that I’m an introvert. I love being a homebody, being quiet, being alone. There’s so much power in understanding yourself and learning to accept yourself for who you are and what you need.
And then there is the other side of the coin: social anxiety. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with social anxiety, but I can relate to many of the common symptoms of this disorder. So if I don’t have social anxiety, I have a very high level of shyness. Both social anxiety and shyness are largely ego-driven and come from the fear of being in unknown social situations and worrying about what other people will think of you. Being in new social situations can be extremely terrifying for me. I get stomachaches, headaches, and so much anxiety racing through my body that it makes me shiver (my teeth will actually chatter when I’m deep in fear mode).
The amount of anxiety I had when I started my current job almost brought me to my knees. It was the most intense anxiety I have ever had. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop my racing thoughts, couldn’t see past the unknown. I was so worried about my new coworkers and what they would think of me. I distinctly remember my second day of work, where I brought a frozen meal to heat up for lunch. It took so much courage for me to get up from my desk, walk to the break room, heat up my lunch, and take it back to my desk. Just the simple fact of knowing I would go into that unknown area of my new office where my coworkers would be chit-chatting with one another to heat up my lunch made my palms sweat, my teeth chatter, and my heart race. For most people, this is no big thing and, in hindsight, I feel silly acknowledging how difficult it was, but for me, it was a moment of celebration. This simple act took so much courage and, because of it, I was able to build on it and grow more and more comfortable at my new place of work.
My shyness is largely due to my low self-esteem and insecurity. I’m so concerned about what others might think of me that it turns me into someone who would rather keep to herself than try to engage people in conversation. It’s why I’m always the quietest one in a group of people (even when surrounded by friends I know well) and why I hate, more than anything, having attention on myself. It’s like there’s this bubble that forms when the attention is on me and all I can hear is the rushing sound of my anxiety racing through my ears. Everything else is muted, my whole body starts heating up, and forming words is nearly impossible. Everything seems to happen at warp speed and I don’t have enough time to keep up. My mind is five minutes behind while everyone else is operating in the present.
And that’s why most people who know me in real life don’t really know me. Because I can write 1,000 words on being a shy introvert and what it actually feels like to be one, but speaking about it is almost impossible for me, without stumbling over my words, forgetting phrases, and feeling completely overwhelmed by the attention. I guess that’s why I love writing so much. Because it is only through my words that I can freely be me. I can be honestly, authentically myself and get these words out of my head.
So while I would love to be a more outgoing, friendlier version of myself, I’m acknowledging and accepting my shy, quiet introverted nature. It’s freeing when you hone in on the truest parts of your authentic self, when you find your truth and learn how to live in it. I wasn’t made to be loud and brash and extroverted. I was made for the behind the scenes, I was made for quiet and calm and peace. That’s who I am, I’m accepting it, and I’m going to live in this truth with joy.