Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Courage and Social Interactions

Courage does not mean being fearless, but being able to face your fears. This may sound familiar to you, but for me it didn't mean much until I began to have experiences that backed the idea up.

There are a few mild examples from when I was younger, such as overcoming arachnophobia. First, I stopped being mindlessly afraid and tried to analyse why. I convinced myself that I wasn't really afraid of spiders, I just didn't want to hurt them. Whether this was the real reason or not, the change in my thought pattern did wonders.

Now I'm intrigued by spiders and the information I read about them. When I find one inside, I'll usually try to capture it. I'm still nervous doing this and don't want them to get too close, so I only have about a 70% success rate. But hey, better than calling for my dad to deal it. For the most part, however, growing up I was...well...a wimp. Whenever I was afraid of something, I would figure out every possible way of avoiding the situation.

Again, I want to talk about social situations with strangers, one of my biggest fears. Growing up, if I started talking to someone and I said something really stupid or careless, I would do the only thing I could think of to avoid ever being that embarrassed again; talk as little as possible. As a result, I rarely saw others as sources of light hearted conversation, but instead as potential witnesses to my own idiocy if I didn't carefully construct every statement.

I wasn't aware of my own tactics at the time because I didn't realize the full extent of my fear. After all, I had effectively avoided the situations that caused the fear. My new fear is of not being able to say anything at all when I'm trying to talk with someone. So why didn't I have that second fear before, the one about not being able to communicate? Because social situations with strangers were rare for me. I had managed to avoid most of those to begin with by not having any real interest in initiating contact with new people (unless they made me feel completely safe first).

A few years ago, when I began consciously seeking out new acquaintances, I was at a loss as to why I was still having trouble with conversations. It's because I have to go a level deeper; I stopped avoiding social situations (somewhat), but I haven't stopped censoring myself. It's a very ingrained habit that will take time to change. But I know my next step will be to face my fear of saying something idiotic.

Perhaps the way to do this would be to go ahead and let stupid things slip out every once in a while, and learn not to care so much. I doubt I'll turn into someone who has no filter between my brain and my mouth, but I think it's high time I changed the type of filter.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Social Fears

Sometimes I wonder why I find it so hard to connect with people. Well, that's not completely true. I always have a small circle of friends that I'm very close to. But up until about three years ago, I was never even aware of just how much I depended upon other people being the ones to initiate things. Everything from eye contact, to conversations, to friendships.

I'd say I make a decent friend, but I sure didn't used to make it easy for people to get there :P Maybe that's why my small selection of friends have always been such loyal, amazing people; they were those rare few who were willing to put in the effort of getting to know me, someone who didn't give the usual outward signs of a person seeking out company. No doubt, the occasional bit of luck helped too.

Well, these past few years I've been changing, slowly but surely. I've made a conscious decision to face my social fears and take risks, at least every once in a while. I've gone through phases where I'm making lots of progress, and other phases where I retreat back into the safety of my shell.

At my best, I start conversations with the people sitting next to me in class, go up to the people sitting by themselves at parties, talk to the bus drivers, and even smile at passerby. At other times, I'm perfectly content to ignore the outside world, save for my support system of friends and family who I wouldn't trade for the world. Really, even when I'm at my most extroverted, I never forget that those are the people that truly matter to me.

So what makes me so determined to be more social? Well, one reason is that there are some people who I simply would never meet if I didn't open up first. People with insight and many interesting qualities. Potential friends. In short, people that are just the way I used to be; waiting for someone else to start the conversation. But of course I realize that it's the rare conversation that will turn into a friendship spanning several decades.

I think I'm at the point where I can appreciate a conversation for the sake of a conversation. I used to scoff at small talk, but I can see now that even small talk has it's place. It's a way of connecting with people. Never mind that it's not necessarily a deep, lasting connection, it's a start. It's a way of putting things into perspective. I think if you have that consistent interaction with acquaintances, you can understand humanity better. At least in a basic, rather simple way.

And then there's always the confidence issue. I simply don't want to have a fear of social situations. And I'm becoming a strong believer in facing fears being the best way to resolve them. I'm only beginning to realize just how strong my social fears are. It usually takes a burst of confidence and/or some mental tricks in order for me to start up conversations with people I don't know, and often even people I sort of know already. Sometimes I feel absolutely incapable of it.

It's actually rather hard for me to conceive that this type of thing comes naturally to some people. But I know that it will get easier with practice, and I think it's a worthwhile, long-term endeavour. Well, more details on this topic later. I hope my observations will eventually be of use to others on similar paths.