I’ve been doing some deep personal work on myself – you can read about how here.
It isn’t easy. I am a person who doesn’t naturally have a high opinion of herself anyway, so to then do some deep work, well, it is like laying everything bare for the world to see. And sometimes it isn’t pretty. At the very least it is incredibly vulnerable. But the hope is that once all the muck has been coughed up, looked at and dealt with, what will be left is a stronger woman with a much more sure footed sense of who she really is. And that is the aim of any self development, is it not?
As a child I grew up in an alcoholic household. There is much information around about how alcoholism affects a child growing up. The way it affected me was that I clung to my mother. In every sense of the word. The world was, to me, as a child, a scary place and so I developed a friendship with my mom that would become so dominant that I would miss the life lesson on how to form and maintain friendships. Four years ago when my mother passed away and I returned to Australia to grieve, I had no idea I did not possess this skill. Through the process of digging deep though, I realise that it is indeed something I am lacking.
It would seem such a natural thing, wouldn’t it, to just pick up that phone, join a few organisations and put yourself “out there” to meet people so that new friendships can be forged. It would, if I wasn’t so shy.
My mother was a shy person. She found meeting people extremely difficult. Hence, she made a friend of me – yes, it was beneficial to both of us. When I was with my mom I wasn’t shy at all. I could talk the hind leg off a donkey (English colloquialism there) and mom was happy to listen. Because of this, I had no idea I was shy.
It is true that I didn’t fit in at school, but I had always put that down to the fact that we moved around so much and that I always seemed to just simply not fit in. In each school I would manage to find one friend but by the time it was time to move on, I was almost relieved. Friendships seemed so hard to maintain, they were energy sapping to me. It sounds bad, I know, but I now know this is a classic sign of an introvert.
When I was 14, I discovered alcohol for myself and the great sense of dutch courage it afforded me. Suddenly I didn’t care whether or not I fit in, I could babble away without a care in the world. Most people who would meet me would remark how confident I was, how well I could hold myself and they would always tell me how intelligent I was. They had no idea the internal hell that was raging inside. How being around people created such an anxiety in me. How I didn’t feel confident, eloquent and certainly not intelligent. Pass me that drink!
At the same time, I started seeing a boy, to whom I would form such an attachment I would not look at another boy or indeed friend. Instead I would fall in love with him and marry him. Now, I had two friends. Good.
In my early twenties, I started nursing. I found my one friend, as is my pattern. We did everything together. And I was happy. This friendship thing seemed to be working. One day on returning back to the hospital residence after a weekend away, my friend said she needed to speak to me. You know when someone says they “need to speak to you”, it is never good. She told me that she wasn’t really a one-friend person and that she needed to have other friends in her life. As an adult I can now see how that is perfectly reasonable, how I must have been smothering her, almost, I assume, but at the time I took it with the ferocity of a break up. I was devastated. I left the course to retreat back home, to my mom and boyfriend. Well, there were other reasons too, but that was the catalyst.
My point is, that with the death of my mom, I realise that I was left, a woman in her forties, with a fantastic family and life, extremely lonely. I am confined to being at home because I have a son with autism who needs me. That is not negotiable, to me. I have no idea how to reach out and say to the handful of friends I do have, “Hey, I’m lonely today, do you fancy a cuppa” or “Would you like to come on over for some crafty goodness?” or whatever friends say to each other.
I realise that those people that you hear about that have no family or friends to visit them in old age homes, this is how it happens. Shyness, fear, lack of skills to build a community and tribe. And it is a self fulfilling pattern if you let it. I know, I’m there.
Even now, I joined a blogging community to find that much needed sense of connection, but where, in my shy insecure mind, I don’t really belong. Vulnerabilities are exposed and I feel like I am on the fringes of a friendship group into which I cannot break. It is, of course, all in my mind, but that does not make it any less real.
The good news is that it is not too late. There are things that can be done. Tribes can be built. But it does take work, especially for the shy, introverted person. I am working on it. I have some strategies and I am facing my insecurities, learning to quiet those horrible voices in my mind that tell me that I am not good enough or that people just simply don’t like me (in a way that some people don’t like cats).
On the upside, shy people come with a range of positive attributes, as Sian Prior mentions in her article Shyness isn’t nice, but shyness shouldn’t stop you. Shy people tend to have greater sensitivity and greater honesty, both of which I have in spades.
Through my process of self discovery, learning that I am actually shy and introverted has come as a shock. I honestly believed I was an awfully insecure extrovert. But with knowledge comes power. I am now able to face those realities, and work with them, instead of working to the beat of something that simply doesn’t fit who I am. As difficult as it is, I am grateful for this digging deep process. It is helping me to further align with who I am. And that can only be a good thing.