I feel I’m not the only one who thinks that Social Anxiety has prevented me from experiencing more of what life has to offer. I thought I couldn’t meet the standards of sociability that society expected and promoted even.
I just wasn’t the sort of person who fitted in.
We introverted and shy types beat ourselves up for this lack, the failure. The result is our quality of life never meets the standards we hope for. Success in life, promotions, friends and meaningful work seem harder to find for us.
What’s going on here is not the seeming failure on our part, but the social standards we’re exposed to, the metric we measure ourselves against.
The prison of anxiety we find ourselves trapped in is not of all of our own making. We see the messages society gives us; for the introvert, there has long been something wrong with quiet people. The successful people are the extroverts, the talkers, movers and shakers.
The enemy we fight then is not just our minds, but society itself, its values and lessons.
The idea we’re not good enough comes not from us but from society. It’s the messages that become the voice inside our head. Negative thoughts become the weapons that carve wound into us.
We introverts need to look at our understanding again. Social anxiety is an illness, but being anxious in social situations is normal to an extent. What happened to some places is normal behaviour is being medicalised to sell pills. Far too many people don’t need drugs, what they need is therapy.
Being labelled with a disease is a double-edged sword. It can help us get treatment, but we can end up feeling labelled and flawed.
A century ago, adversity was about building character, resilience; now, we wail and worry. Now it’s about personality, and if you have the right or wrong one.
We are born into systems of valuation and judgment. We are all groomed from a very early age to live up to certain expectations. It’s what the philosopher Michel Foucault wrote: society makes judgments about us and pigeonholes us. The worse thing is that we do this to ourselves; we become self-policing.
Freud says we internalise social virtues which become part of our superego. The part of us that monitors ourselves and acts as a self-correcting voice of authority.
That’s why in my journey, a big lesson I had to learn ways to be more critical of society and its values. To be aware that society a community had values, and my thoughts and feeling echo these values.
I felt flawed because I was so quiet, now, I know better. Thanks to books like Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain, I learned to accept being quiet is a normal attitude of some people.
The most insidious thing about it all is this self-policing goes unnoticed, being part of the background of attitudes we hold, like a wallpapering of the mind. The values of society and culture are silently constructed around you by others, some well-meaning, others maliciously.
Values are there to help us live in the world, but they can become a prison. Being a member of society a culture is to accept a these values, but in our youth we didn’t have a choice.
To be happier and more relaxed in life, we have to be more critical of the ideas and lessons culture spoonfeeds us. To ask ourselves what matter to us and find that balance between conformity and individuality.
In a way, we have to emancipate ourselves from society, just a little.
As for myself, I no longer feel I’m flawed because I’m the quieter, more contemplative type. I see the values I can offer in writing I do, the meetups I have and through my art.
I no longer feel I have to live up to others expectations. Instead, I can be more comfortable being me.
Image Credit: Bullying_by_KungFuPlum