From Withdrawn to ConnectedSep 05, 2022
Here's a picture from when I was 20 years old. Aside from looking desperately undead, I was having a really rough time.
Beneath that cool, frozen zombie exterior I was battling with depression. I was in the second year of a commerce degree that I hated, barely attending classes and was failing tests and exams. But the worst part was a feeling that I was losing all my friends. The photo above was from the last days of a band that was about to break up, and with that a bunch of my closest friends went off and formed a new band without me. Underneath it all, I felt like they didn't really like me.
And so I withdrew.
To anyone on the outside looking in, I seemed confident, outspoken even. But on the inside, I was paranoid and insecure. When I got home after seeing people, sitting by myself, I’d feel like I said too much, like what I said wasn’t true to me, and it just sounded weird. I felt left out or ashamed. I’d pore over the details of what was said, examining the conversation from every angle, feeling shame and regret.
I now know that this theme started much earlier in life – a feeling of not being safe in groups of people. I didn’t feel safe when we moved from Canada to South Africa at the age of ten. The school environment in South Africa was brutal and violent. I went from being a free little Canadian kid with a teacher wearing Birkenstocks, to a frightened little guy wearing a school uniform (I didn't know how to do the knot on my tie for a while), reciting the Lord's Prayer in front of the class. Being beaten by teachers became a possibility and reality, and there was a lot of fighting and bullying at school.
On top of that I had brownish skin in apartheid South Africa, a Canadian accent, and standing out got me into a lot of fights. So over time I learned to hide and fit in. I was caught between defending myself and trying to fit in - my nervous system on high alert in groups. I was perpetually anxious and definitely not at home in my body with others.
Working with clients from around the world now, I see these themes repeat and repeat. I meet immigrant children from Asian countries whose parents moved to the Americas, or European families that moved within Europe (e.g. from Poland to Germany). The process of assimilating into new countries can be very traumatic for kids. Often it results in shutdown voices or a sense of unsafety in groups of people. Bullying can also cause this.
As a result, some people carry patterns of hiding or fitting in into their adult lives. Many shut down their voices. Some go in the opposite direction, and overcompensate and develop patterns of being shouty or “too much”. And many of us are a hybrid, sometimes ok and sometimes insecure or awkward in groups.
Feeling shut down or just plain awkward in groups can happen to any of us, but if it’s a default mode in our lives it can stop us living a full, fun and purposeful life. And it’s much more common than society at large acknowledges.
The gift is that we can change these patterns completely. We can all learn to feel more confident to share our selves with ease, humour and heart with groups of people.
Do you identify with this at all? There are many different variations on this – I’d love to know about yours.
If you would like to work with me on your self-expresssion, please do book a free half an hour call right here.