For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt like an outsider in social situations. It started in senior school, when I suffered with the usual ‘mean girls’ friendship issues, and it’s something that has followed me ever since. I’ve always had that worry that the people I’m with secretly don’t like me, or are just humouring me in having me around. And once that fear takes hold, I can sense myself starting to distance myself from them, putting myself in the position of the outsider. I’ll turn down invitations to go out, stand on the edge of a group, and stop instigating contact with people. All of which pushes you further and further away. It really is a vicious cycle.
Over the years I’ve recognised the cycle, and learned to quieten that inner voice that tells me that people are judging me. I came to the realisation that you generally have to give people something to cause them not to like you, the strongest they probably feel is indifferent. I realised that by distancing yourself, you don’t give people the chance to get to know you, and to get to like you. I’m not very good at opening up to new people, and I tend not to see the point in having acquaintances – I have very few friends, but the friendships I have with them are deep. Unfortunately, at 35, that’s meant that I’ve made very few new friends since leaving school. I could probably count them on one hand! Usually that doesn’t bother me, as I’m definitely a person who seeks out deep relationships and values quality over quantity, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder why I have so few friends.
I struggle to make ‘mum friends’ too. Having children has forced me to overcome my fear of small talk, and I can chat with other parents when I meet them, and I do meet up with other mums occasionally. But I have no idea how other people develop those relationships beyond acquaintance level. Whenever I go anywhere with my children, especially my oldest, I find I’m constantly interrupted and it’s very difficult to have an in depth conversation, which makes it impossible to take that friendship to a deeper level. I’ve started to hear that inner voice starting to take hold again, telling me that I’m not likeable.
Perhaps blogging has something to answer for. Since starting blogging, I’ve gone through different phases with it all. I think most people start out in isolation, but quickly discover the blogging community and all the support it has to offer. You find yourself developing friendships with other bloggers who are at the same stage as you, and you’re a bit in awe of the way that ‘bigger’ bloggers will go out of their way to help you out.
And then you start to notice little things that make you realise that the community isn’t all it appeared at first. A lot of the ‘bigger bloggers’ are playing the follow / unfollow game in the hope that you won’t notice, and a lot of it is just ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. I attended my first blogging conference back in May, and although it gave me confidence in some areas, it left me feeling overwhelmed. I know that recently I’ve taken a step back from the blogging community and, yet again, I feel I’m watching from the edges.
Once you start distancing yourself, it seems to start creeping into every aspect of your life. I can feel it happening with friends, when they might not return my messages, and with my family too. I’m starting to question little things that people say or do, and that then causes me to take a step back.
I felt like I’d outgrown this kind of social anxiety a while ago, so it’s funny to feel like I’m right back in the thick of it again. It’s a peculiarly ‘teenage’ feeling to me, perhaps because it’s how I spent most of my teenage years feeling, but also because it seems needlessly angsty. I can see the logic in stopping myself becoming the outsider, and yet in a lot of ways it feels like a comfortable place to be, even if it’s not a happy one.