By Elenzia Thompson, Jaunty graduate
How does this happen? How does a socially anxious woman go from hiding in her protective shell, to venturing out, taking risks and allowing herself to be vulnerable to the thing that torments her the most?
"You're unapproachable." "Why are you so quiet?" "You're a snob." "What's wrong, are you angry?" These are a few of the statements I heard from others, at work, social functions, parties, bars and night clubs. Hearing people's assumptions about me became the reason I cowered and closed myself off from the world.
Surely, there was a valid explanation for my aloofness. I kept myself in prison because I allowed the opinions of others to determine my self worth. This definitely wasn't an empowering way to live. Although I feared how people would perceive me, I actually craved human closeness and social interaction. After battling with myself for a number of years, I determined that I didn't want to be in prison for life. I needed to do something different.
I joined a car club after buying a muscle car. I got involved in martial arts. I was featured in a comic anthology. I discovered Meetups. But I struggled to keep conversations flowing, and engaging strangers, especially with men that I had found attractive. I definitely gave myself credit for taking risks, finding new things that interested me, and getting out of my shell to meet new people. But I soon discovered that my fear and social skill deficits, continued to hold me back. I started reading about social anxiety and found Jaunty.
When I signed up for the free workshop, I didn't know what to expect. I knew it was very important to me to get over my fear of rejection when introducing myself to strangers. I knew that I wanted to improve my eye contact and conversational agility, believing it would bolster my confidence. I knew that I wanted to make new friends. Ultimately, I no longer wanted fear to color every social interaction I encountered. When I finished the workshop, I had made significant progress, reducing my social anxiety, and met awesome people who shared similar struggles to my own.
A few months after completing the six-week course, I'm definitely more confident. I introduce myself to strangers, give compliments, ask questions, have strong eye contact, and hold down conversations with ease.
Still, life has its way of throwing social challenges my way and things don't always go like I'd hope. Over the summer, I went on a Meetup hike with a large group of strangers. I made an effort to introduce myself to everyone. Unfortunately some people weren't very friendly and I was left behind. It was a painful experience, but afterwards, I reminded myself of how far I had come. I didn't allow one afternoon with strangers to discourage me from pushing myself socially. I'm proud of myself for being so resilient.
This resilience keeps paying off in wonderful ways. I've participated in a number of activities and events where I've met lots of great people. For whatever reason, now when sharing stories with strangers, they're often inclined to share their food with me -- a touching gesture of friendship. I've also been told that I'm very outgoing, radiant, and easy to talk to. People tell me my smile is beautiful and inviting. Many people actually start conversations with me now.
I've discovered that I have the power to choose who I want in my life, so it's no big deal if one stranger isn't receptive to my offerings of friendship. That's their choice. Challenging my fears and misconceptions about social interactions has resulted in powerful changes in my life. There is nothing out there that will keep me from being open to meeting people. I have an amazing story to share because of where I was and where I am now. I look forward to sharing this story with new friends and I'm excited to hear their amazing stories too!