As far back as I can recall, I’ve always found it challenging to be in groups of people. I remember feeling much happier and secure with one friend at a time, one person to focus my attention and energy on rather than a crowd of several differing opinions, personalities, voices and energies.
At secondary school, it became the social norm to mingle in groups of up to ten teenage girls at a time. I found myself wondering whether anyone else felt like me; a little lost, de-energised and drained after this prolonged group contact. The small talk really seemed to get on my nerves. None of my friends at the time could relate to my way of being, expressing that they really enjoyed the group setting; “the more the merrier”. The advice I was given was “you will get used to it after a while”.
Fast forward a couple of years; I still had this nagging feeling of utter exhaustion and dislike of social clusters. It isn’t that I’m not a social person; I just felt that I couldn’t connect to each individual in the group. I couldn’t keep up with the group’s ever changing conversation, opinion, emotion and sentiment. The build-up to these events was anxiety provoking. I would force myself to go, but once there I would feel drained. It would take several days to recover. I developed social anxiety which was a heavy burden.
For a few years, I “overcame” my introversion, earning the label of “life and soul of the party”. Alcohol assisted me to feel like I was more engaging, exciting, social and relaxed. I knew it wasn’t who I am, but this is how everyone socialises, right? My hangovers/recovery days were becoming the norm. Others enjoying the ‘extroverted me’s company. While I was beginning to realise that I didn’t really like myself when I was doing this. My conditioned self was flourishing; my organismic self was diminishing rapidly. I eventually came to realise that it was better to just be myself than continue to maintain the alternative.
At 21, I decided to go back to university and pursue a career in counselling and psychology. In the four years that followed I learnt to listen to my own organismic self and also to my emotions. I came to accept that I was a naturally introverted person and that was OK.
To make my life a little smoother, I would choose jobs where I would be mostly lone working or working in small teams and not required to be extroverted. Importantly, I learnt to accept others as well as myself. Developing more positive coping strategies, I avoided using alcohol as a crutch for social situations, instead choosing to drink sensibly. I have also taken the time to listen to my own internal valuing system and find the hidden gifts to my introversion, such as my tendency to think introspectively. I also have a strong sense of self, which I believe has been cultivated by spending time on my own and pursuing my own interests, which at the time didn’t require social interaction.
At 27, I was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism, which has similar traits to introversion and high sensitivity. Having order and control of my personal environment allows me to function at my best, and I know I need time to recharge from social situations. I enjoy spending time with people and I love deep conversation and I feel that 1-4 people are my ideal preference when socialising. Preferring a passionate presence, I still dislike small talk and seek a more congruent interaction with individuals.
After spending 5 years completing study, I acquired a BA 1st class honours in Counselling. I also worked with the Intercom Trust as a counsellor specialising in LGBT counselling with a range of diverse clients and I am now working privately as a person-centred counsellor specialising in LGBT and anxiety.
Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool you have. Our shared stories create connection. They tell us it’s ok to be vulnerable; to talk about our perceived flaws and ask for help when we need it. So we invite people who have felt socially anxious, shy and not good enough to share their stories so you know you’re not alone.