Seeing Clearly

 


I met an old friend for lunch the other week. We have been friends for about twenty years and she views me, so she says, as the big sister she never had. We are both quiet introverts with a good bit of social anxiety though you would never believe that if you saw and heard us talking for three hours straight. Over the years, we have talked a lot about how to combat our inclination to stay home and avoid people and how to overcome our conviction that we always look as awkward as we feel. 

This time, as we were catching up on life during the year or so since we have seen each other, she told me that someone had recently told her she was intimidating. She was shaking her head in disbelief as she told me about it. He told her she had a good job, had recently bought a house, dealt with everything in her life on her own, and simply exuded self-confidence. He thought it was great and was definitely complimenting her but she was baffled because inside she is still the shy, insecure girl she feels she has always been. She still has to steel herself to join a conversation. She still has to convince herself to go to social events. But that isn't what other people see. They see someone who has it all together. 

I started thinking about how frequently our image of ourselves does not match how others perceive us. I know we always hear that saying about seeing ourselves as others see us but I always thought of that as maybe we are too hard on ourselves or maybe we are louder or quieter than we think we are. I never thought about how others can see a completely different person.  We learn coping mechanisms for our personality quirks and slowly these coping mechanisms become part of who we are. Or they become part of who we are to others but frequently we still think of ourselves as the same as we were years ago. We know we are still the person who worries the whole way to a party but other people see the person who walks in the door with confidence. 

My friend realized, and loved the realization, that she is a strong, independent woman. But she is a strong, independent woman who still has social anxiety and still wants to stay home more than is good for her. We are complex people but sometimes we do ourselves a disservice by freezing our self-perception at one stage in our lives. 

I have also been thinking about how since we know ourselves so well we sometimes think others will understand our actions and attitudes. My friend and I have come to the realization over the years that we can both appear distant and a bit unfriendly at times. This was a shock to both of us at different times in our lives. We felt our shyness and anxiety was so obvious that everyone must understand. But they didn't. They just saw someone who didn't mix in much and who frequently let other people approach them instead of being the one to initiate conversations. We knew why we were doing that (overthinking can kill a lot of spontaneity) but they didn't. What was clear to us wasn't clear to them. 

I am not sure what the point of this post is other than that I loved watching my shy, quiet friend revel in the realization that she is strong and independent. And aren't we all both in many ways? Maybe it would be a better world if we looked for the facets in each other instead of the one-dimensional viewpoint. We know we are complex. Let's give other people the benefit of the doubt and believe they are complex too. Maybe they aren't unfriendly, they are just shy. Maybe they talk too much because no one has listened before. Maybe they don't mean to be overbearing it is simply that they are enthusiastic. And maybe that confident woman walking in the door at the party is scared stiff and could use someone to talk to.


8 comments

  1. All you say is very true. One good bit of advice I was given years ago is that when you are invited to a social event, it's good manners to 'sing for your supper'. In other words, it's up to you to help make the event successful and enjoyable for everyone. Once you stop thinking about yourself and try to engage other people, you become less selfconcious and enjoy it more. It works, and I wish I'd learnt it a lot earlier.

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    1. That is very true. The thing I find interesting is that once you start doing that other people don't notice that you are self-conscious. So your internal perception does not always match up with how others see you.

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  2. Very true Jennifer.
    I had a similar thing happen to me about 20 yrs ago with a new colleague at work. I saw her as the life of the party, super social and gregarious, full of confidence and sass. But one day she asked me why I was joining Toastmasters, because she didn't think I needed any help with public speaking. I explained about how shy I was and how terrifying I found public speaking and saying my piece in front of others...and she nearly fell over! She was like, but you lead work staff meetings and always have something pertinent and thoughtful to say and you stand up in front of your classes, talking to parents and other professionals and you do it all so smoothly and confidently. She then told me how nervous she was to talk in staff meetings and having meetings with parents was so hard for her etc.
    We both realised at the same time, that we appeared very differently to others, compared to how we viewed ourselves. I still may not feel confident, but I look it...and that's half the battle!!
    I think the point now is knowing you have the skills to get through anything you have to in public. You might feel like throwing up, but you know you actually wont and so you get on with it, knowing that 1. no one else knows but you and 2. no one else cares but you - because they're also too busy worrying about their private thing!

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    1. Yes, exactly. Everyone is worrying about their own private thing. If we keep telling ourselves that it helps. Our own insecurities loom large in our own minds. It is important to realize that frequently they are not obvious to others.

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  3. I couldn't agree more. I've always been very shy and people in the past have seen me as being snobby and standoffish, which just made me worse of course. Now that I'm an old lady I'm really getting over all that anxiety and shyness.

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    1. That is the nice thing about getting older, I suppose. Though people still tend to think I am snobby because I am quite reserved.

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