Bonding & Social Anxiety

Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.

Conor Oberst

Probably my favorite man in the world (besides my boyfriend) is the man I work with at my small little three-person office. I’m not quite sure I’ve ever held someone in such high regard. I genuinely view him as a member of my family and I look forward to talking to him every day. If we were closer in age, I’d definitely have a crush on him. Since he’s my parents’ age, I think of him like a father instead. Strangely enough, he and my real father go by the same name.

Earlier when I walked into his office, he was telling another coworker/friend of ours that he had been talking about me with his wife last night. He was telling her about how close we’ve gotten over the last few years and how much he’s grown to love me. I nearly teared up as he listed off my best qualities proudly. I was so close to telling him that I view him as a father, but decided to bite my tongue. Maybe I’ll tell him one day, but not today.

Never having been close to my biological father, seeing him in this way means a lot to me. I honestly have never had a closer, non-sexual relationship with a man before in my life. He has taught me so much. I am filled with admiration and love for him. He’s one of those people that I just mesh with extremely well. He has such an open, accepting, light-hearted aura.

However, despite all of this, I struggle with the warm emotions I feel for him. It is a constant balancing act whenever I start to feel attached to someone. There are only a small handful of people I’ve ever felt strongly enough about to be vulnerable with. Even so, that vulnerability terrifies me. My anxiety tells me I’m not safe, that I’ll only end up getting hurt and rejected if I show the world who I really am. No matter how safe the person may make me feel, that pinching fear in my chest never fully leaves. Even when I so desperately want to be closer, I can’t help but keep myself at arm’s length.

I think when you don’t have personal experience with social anxiety, you imagine it’s only being afraid of negative social interactions such as being humiliated or not knowing what to do or say in a given situation. But actually, positive social situations can be just a stressful. Even after a great moment of intimacy with someone I genuinely care for, I find myself feeling anxious afterwards. Thoughts start to pop up: Did I share too much? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Do they like me as much as I like them? I feel awkward and embarrassed by getting closer to someone, even when it’s what I want. It’s quite frustrating and isolating as you can imagine.

I think most people in my life notice a striking difference between who I initially present myself to be: cold, distant, quiet, serious, soft-spoken, reserved and who I reveal myself to be later on: warm, loving, sensitive, affectionate, funny, loud, outspoken, passionate. Although most people seem to change once you get to know them better, I don’t think it’s usually as drastic of a difference. I doubt most of the people I am close to even realize how deeply loving and affectionate I can be. I’m just too afraid to be that vulnerable with practically anyone.

It really makes me wonder how different those around me might be from the way they present themselves to the world. I tend to take situations and individuals at face value. I can be pretty gullible and have to make a great effort to integrate the various layers of a person into a cohesive image. That’s one of the many great things about my friend at work. He is not without his flaws, but somehow his flaws make him all the more endearing. Loving someone despite their flaws is such a beautiful and profound thing to experience. Not only that, I am able to see the way he loves others who are deeply flawed themselves. He is open and accepting of just about everyone no matter how different they are from him. Witnessing this in another has helped me so much to come to terms with my own issues.

So for those of you out there also struggling with creating close, meaningful relationships despite your earnest desire to do so, know that you aren’t alone. And for everyone else reading this that may not have much knowledge of social anxiety or mental illness in general, I hope this has given you a new perspective and a better understanding of some of the issues others are going through.

A Father's Guide to Teen Dating - FamilyEducation

Bittersweet Transitions

Today is the last day I will have the pleasure to work with someone I’ve come to consider a dear friend. She is a therapist and leaving to go into private practice. From the moment I began this job, I was excited and inspired by the fact that someone only a few years older than me was already such an impressive figure in the mental health field. She is one of the best therapists (and probably people in general) that I’ve ever known. It is a delight to watch her work with the kids we meet and to learn from her interactions with them and their parents. I am definitely a much better person for having known her.

She lives quite nearby to another friend of mine, on the same street actually. Yet we’ve never really spent time together outside of work. I am desperately hoping that we manage to stay friends after we no longer work together. I’ve had that hope many times in the past. However, it has always been an unsuccessful aspiration. So while I still intend to try to stay close, I am not getting my hopes up. Rather I am just going to focus on enjoying this final day at work with her. I would like to snag a card while I’m out later to write all of these warm sentiments down for her. It’s always embarrassing and uncomfortable for me to be vulnerable and express how much someone means to me, but it’s definitely well worth the discomfort.

As I reflect on the time we’ve had together and how sad I was the day she told us she would be leaving, another thought occurred to me. That was the same day that Nate told me he had gotten the job six hours away from me. Up until that point, I had been having an exceptionally good day. Then I ended up crying all the way home. I felt like I was losing everything, my work family and my new boyfriend.

Reflecting on that day now makes my heart feel so full. I can’t believe how far Nate and I have come from that day I thought would mark the end for us. I am so grateful to have so many amazing people in my life. I am so grateful that Nate cared for me enough even that early on to commit to a long distance relationship with me. I am so grateful that our love has grown and flourished even despite the hundreds of miles between us.

Even though today is a bittersweet one, overall I am still happy. It is useless to despair over the fluctuations and changes that come in life. We can never predict what moments we will look back on and cherish, what small events may end up being pivotal moments in our lives. Today I am going to focus on being grateful for all I have, knowing that it was never owed to me, knowing that it may disappear at any time, and being all the more joyful because of that impermanency. Transitions can be painful, but they are also beautiful. They are opportunities to reflect and take stock of all that we have to be thankful for. And I have so, so much.

conflict-related stress: A hug a day will keep negative emotions and stress  away - The Economic Times

It’s Not You, It’s Me

We accept the love we think we deserve

After spending the last few days with my boyfriend, I’m more convinced than ever that he is perfect. Maybe too perfect… I’m used to being the one in the relationship that has it together. If you read my posts then you know what that actually means is I date complete assholes, not that I’m exceptional. This time it’s different though. Nate is more organized than me, more cleanly, even more vegan than me. Of course those are all wonderful traits. I am endlessly impressed and inspired by him. The only problem is how it makes me feel about myself.

I felt so ashamed yesterday when we were making dinner. I saw him diligently washing his hands while I had already started cutting up vegetables. I know not washing your hands before you eat seems like a silly thing to be embarrassed about, but I still am. There are lots of little things like that that make me wonder what he actually thinks of me. Am I gross to him? Does he find my habits disgusting? Does he notice at all? Does he have some idea of me in his head that is better than I actually am? It makes me feel like I have to hide myself away even more than I’m already used to doing with the rest of the world. It makes me feel like he could never love the person I truly am.

I’ve always said that I want a partner that will help me better myself. I just never realized how being with someone who’s already better than me would actually feel. I guess there is a part of me that craves damaged people. There was something about seeing someone else being beautifully flawed that allowed me to let my guard down and be vulnerable. I miss when my high school boyfriend and I would shoplift little gifts for one another. I miss having nights where we would do nothing besides binge junk food and smoke weed. Sure, those things aren’t great things to indulge in, but it felt nice knowing that even though I was a mess, someone would love me anyway.

Now I’m just afraid of my mess. I’ve pushed it into a closet and have to stand nervously in front of the door, hoping Nate won’t open it. For instance, I haven’t smoked cigarettes in around two weeks now. I’m extremely proud of myself. I really worried I wouldn’t be able to give up the habit this time. The problem is, I’ve replaced it with vaping again. For me that is fine, but I’ve hidden both from Nate this whole time. He certainly must suspect, so he probably wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. Still I’m too afraid to bring it up. I really wanted to while I was staying with him this week, but I never managed to work up the courage. God only knows how long this secret will continue now.

People Pleasing

Stop People Pleasing! A People Pleaser Self-Love Intervention

Whether I like someone or not, it’s really important that they like me. I have an overwhelming desire to be liked by anyone and everyone I encounter. Even if I hate someone, I will be devastated if they hate me back. I really have no idea why I care. For the most part, I don’t like people anyway. Why does it matter so much to me whether or not I’m liked? Perhaps it has something to do with anxiety and my fear of confrontation. It does seem safer to be friends with everyone in that regard.

Today I’d rather talk about the problem with people pleasing in general rather than my own pathology. People pleasers like me try to become whoever they believe the other person would like them to be. Sounds simple enough. But how can any of us really know what someone else wants? We may spend years cramming ourselves into a false persona when the person we are doing it for would have preferred who we really are. Or maybe they secretly find us extremely annoying, but mask their true feelings out of politeness. No matter how hard you try or how “good” you become at winning people over, you can never really be sure of what someone else wants. Knowing this, your best bet is always to just be yourself. You’ll never be able to make everyone happy. But if you remain true to who you are, at the end of the day you’ll at least have your integrity.

Otherwise what happens when you are in a room full of people? Whose needs do you cater to? You may find that the person you are with friend X is someone that friend Y would utterly despise. Then what are you supposed to do? I suppose in that situation I choose the persona that fits more closely with who I really am. Any backlash from the other party is buffered by knowing that I have the friend I prefer there to have my back. Yet you always run the risk of being found out as “fake.”

That term always interests me. What does it really mean to be fake? I always hold true to my main beliefs no matter who I’m talking to. We all have slightly different versions of ourselves that we present for different situations or occasions. At what point does it become fake though? We all have to be a little fake in order to conform to societies standards.

The biggest issue my people pleasing has caused me is when it comes to my work. Social work is not a great field for people pleasers like me. No matter how atrocious the parents or clients I deal with are, I desperately want them to like me. I once brought cigarettes to an old man I worked with while he was in the hospital, because I was afraid he’d be mad at me if I didn’t. I really struggled the other day not to agree with this mom who was outraged that she got in legal trouble for giving her 10 year old daughter a tattoo! These types of situations are incredibly hard for me to navigate.

As someone who is probably on the autistic spectrum, I learn most of my interpersonal skills from direct observation. I think the only reason I’m as good at blending in as I am is because I watched so much TV growing up. It may not be the best reference for real life situations, but it does give you a good idea of how to talk to people in a wide variety of scenarios. I am always eager to observe someone else in a situation that I would have no idea how to respond to. Luckily I’ve gotten the chance to watch our therapist at the office for the last few years and learn from her. I would love to be a fly on the wall of her therapy sessions and meetings with the parents so that I could absorb even more.

At the end of the day, however, no one is going to be liked by everyone. No matter how good of a communicator you are. Eventually we all have to accept that we just aren’t going to get along with some people. Rather than continuing to practice the best ways to be liked and accepted by others, I’d like to spend some time finding out how to like and accept myself. Maybe ultimately that is what makes a people pleaser, someone who needs external reassurance in order to feel okay with themselves. Unfortunately any positive feedback rings hollow when you’re simply playing a role.

About people-pleasers and how to stop being one – Miss Lovage

Attachment

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the feeling of absolute devastation when we lose someone that we love. Whether it be through death, divorce, distance, or any other circumstance it always seems unbearable. I am reluctant to even remember the many times I’ve lost someone in my life. These events led to some of my darkest moments. At times I even contemplated giving up all together. The lingering memories of that pain cause me to have great caution when forming new relationships. I am always trying to brace myself for the worst. Trying to keep just enough distance to keep my heart safe.

I remember recently being afraid for my sister in this regard. She has been living with her new boyfriend for around a year now. She was telling me how everything is okay now because she has him. While I was happy for her, I was also terrified to hear those words. I was afraid for her. What would happen if he decided to leave? I gently brought this to her attention, urged her to try to keep her heart and mind safe somehow. The thing is, we both knew that wasn’t really possible. You cannot ration your love for someone. You can’t plan to protect yourself from future pain, no matter how much you want to.

Even though I’ve only had a boyfriend again for a week, my mind is already flooded with future scenarios. Now that I’ve invested my feelings in another again, I am terrified of the wrenching pain that would ensue if he leaves me. To lose all of my newfound happiness and hope in one fell swoop. I don’t know if I could bear going through that type of pain again. But that is the price we pay for love. In order to experience it, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. And to be vulnerable means risking being hurt, perhaps even ensuring that we will be hurt. We only have one decision to make: is it worth it?

I’m not going to allow the fear of the future to keep me from loving will all of my heart. Love is what this life is about after all. It’s always worth the risk. It’s always worth the pain. Even if I tried to lock my heart away, there will always be painful moments. After all, we all have to let go of everything in the end. What’s important is learning how to appreciate and be fully present with what we have while we have it. It’s okay to need other people. It’s also okay that they sometimes let us down. Both of these things are important parts of what it means to be human.

When my boyfriend comes over today, I am going to let all of these worries go. I am going to simply enjoy the time we have together right now. I am going to be present with him in every moment. I am going to be grateful for what we have today, even if it doesn’t last forever. I will no longer allow fear to close my heart. I will love with everything that I’ve got. And I’ll keep loving until the day I die, no matter the cost.

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Relearning Vulnerability

I’ve always struggled with letting my guard down around people. There are very few people in my life that are given the chance to see the real me. I’m only able to open up on this blog because none of the people I know if real life even know it exists. I suppose even if they did though, it would be easier to tell them these things behind the veil of words and screens than upfront and personal. For as long as I can remember, there has always been this small voice deep in my heart that tells me I must hide myself away. It warns me that I mustn’t reveal my true, full self to anyone. That no one would be able to accept, let alone love, the real me.

There have only been a couple of people in my life that I felt really saw me and chose to love me anyway. There is nothing more precious to me than the relationship I have with these people. They are my world. I am humbled by their love. Most days I don’t feel worthy of it. They have seen all the ugliest parts of me throughout the years and yet they are still willing to stand by my side, to be there for me. It seems impossible, but it’s true. And there is nothing that they could do that would change my powerful love for them. I’m sure they feel the same, although my mind doesn’t want to believe it.

Secrets separate. Secrets create space. I’ve noticed throughout my life that the more secrets I keep from people, the lonelier I feel. Sometimes it feels like I am playing a character when I interact with others. But the longer I play that character, the more certain I feel that my true self would be unacceptable to show. I even fear people seeing through my facade. I have always been so brutal towards myself. Always telling myself I am not enough, that my many flaws disqualify me from love. But life and love aren’t so black and white.

There are few things in life as beautiful and meaningful as bearing your soul to someone and receiving in return their unwavering, unflinching love. The mere concept is almost enough to bring me to tears. Yet at the same time, there is nothing more painful than bearing your soul and having it rejected. Few things are able to cut so deep, to leave such jagged scars. Such is the duality of life. We must always take big risks if we hope to have the chance for big rewards. I know I’ve once again reached that fork in the road where I must choose to take that risk.

Even though I have decided to trade vulnerability for intimacy, I’m honestly not sure how anymore. It has become second nature for me to cut and edit myself to be more pleasing to others, especially those I admire and respect. The idea of “being myself” seems utterly foreign to me now. I’ve isolated myself to black and white. The shade of grey that is truly me got lost somewhere along the way. I suppose that uncertainty is all part of relearning how to be vulnerable. I don’t have to be sure. I’ve just got to be honest and try my best.

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Afraid to be Seen

It’s a frustrating thing to desperately want connection, while also fearing the very connection you crave. At this point in my life the fear seems to be much greater than the desire. It’s almost as if I’d rather be alone than risk rejection. My fear is so daunting that it seems easier to just turn away. I give up on myself far too easily.

The event that has spurred this particular introspection happened at work yesterday. Someone my organization works with began trying to set me up with his son. I genuinely like the man, and his son seems very nice. At first I was pretty excited. I find meeting people in these types of ways normally works out better than meeting someone online. I was also quite flattered that he would consider me a good match for his son.

However, once things got real and I actually began messaging back and forth with this new guy, the fear started to set in. What if I don’t like him? I can’t ghost him. I can’t let things end in an awkward or immature way like I usually do. His dad would end up hating me! What if he doesn’t like me? What if he discovers all the weird, gross, irritating stuff about me and tells his father?! I immediately began regretting putting myself in this position. The fear easily overtook any excitement I felt initially. To be frank, I feel like any eventuality besides us falling in love and being together forever will end in complete disaster and immense embarrassment and awkwardness for me at work. And let’s be honest, how likely is it that any relationship of mine will end well? I don’t have a very good track record in that department.

Despite being petrified, I’m trying to find a good spin to put on the situation in my head. Part of me thinks: Okay, this will be a good thing. Either way, I’ll be forced into learning how to behave like an adult. I’ll be forced to be a good, responsible person. I will not have the option of just disappearing this time to avoid confrontation. I’ll have to be honest with this boy and myself. I’ll also be less likely to immediately write him off for trivial things like I normally do with potential partners. I’ll have genuine motivation to make this work out. I mean, it would be amazing to some day be a part of that coworker’s family.

But there I go again, getting WAY too ahead of myself. I can never seem to just relax and let things play out on their own. I immediately start dissecting all the potential problems that could occur years into the future. It’s psychotic. And even after calming my anxiety about all of the reasons I may not like him, I still haven’t gotten to the possibility that I do like him. Perhaps he won’t like me. Who could blame him? I’m the worst.

There are so many things about myself that I would be mortified to expose to anyone else. There are so many aspects of myself that I feel like I need to work on before I could ever ask anyone to consider me as a romantic partner. However, will I ever feel good enough? Maybe this is a good chance to find the motivation to work on those parts of myself. It is always more appealing to me when I feel I am improving myself with someone else in mind.

I suppose it’s too late to turn back now. I’ll just have to do my best and hope it turns out okay in the end. I’m going to have to just forget about all the reasons this could be awful and focus on the reasons it could be fun. I have to learn to believe in myself. I have to believe that I am a good person. That I am worthwhile. That I can do this…

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