“When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we are not pretending, we are not hiding—we are simply present with whatever is going on inside us. Ironically, it is this very feeling of authenticity that draws people to us, not the brittle effort of perfectionism.” ~Maureen Cooper
My life is full of extroverts, which most people would describe me as. I also often use that term to refer to myself. At first glance, it appears that I am friendly, chatty, and excited. These traits became a part of who I was at an early stage in my life. I love being around people and cherish my relationships with them.
I am also a member of many social clubs and keep in touch with friends far and wide, despite my busy lives. I often attribute my passion for people to being an only child, who wanted to spend more quality time with children my age.
I felt tired after social interactions. This was despite my friendliness. I disliked small talk and mingling at parties. I also hated attending events in which I was the only one new to the group.
For example, my anxiety was sky high when I met my husband’s large group of close friends for the first time. They had known me since kindergarten, making it easy for me to feel intimidated. When I was a young child, and as an adult, I avoided uncomfortable situations and preferred to concentrate on people and environments that I already knew.
Even though I was used to being in social settings, it still left me feeling exhausted. Although I had a great time at these events, it took me a while to recover fully and feel normal again. My initial reaction was confused because it seemed like extroverts are energized by social interaction.
It was difficult for me to define myself as neither an introvert or extrovert. I was often torn between the desire to go to social events and my fear that I would be exhausted. I was conflicted by these desires and decided to investigate the causes of being socially fed while draining my soul.
The journey I took would allow me to become more self-aware and take better care myself. When I started paying more attention to how others perceived me, my thoughts and feelings changed. I wanted people to like me, be appreciated, be fun.
I was often curious about what others thought of me. Even friends whom I’d known for years. I also worried a great deal about others’ feelings and wanted to make sure that everyone was having a good time. When I was the hostess of events or parties, I made sure that everything was in order. The house was kept spotless and there was plenty to eat.
I avoided choosing group activities out of fear that people would not like my decisions and from a desire to be known as the “easy-going, chill friend.” Even when I wasn’t the host, I found myself studying everyone’s reactions to see if they were happy and had their needs met fully. Although I wasn’t asked by anyone to act as the hero, I took it upon myself to look after everyone.
If someone wasn’t in a good mood or a conflict arose, I immediately intervened to be the peacemaker or crack a joke to lighten the mood. Also, I tried to avoid attracting too much attention. Acting like an interviewer. I asked endless questions of others and shared very little about my life.
Every silence was unacceptable to me and I always filled it quickly with new information or compliments. I began to realize that even my closest friends didn’t know much about me because I was so guarded with them. Fear of boredom, being conceited or too loud kept me honest and true to myself.
These behaviors have been my norm for most of life. I considered them to be smart and normal ways to be good friends. My methods of achieving these goals made me tired and I desired others to be open-minded. After realizing my social interaction patterns, I decided to investigate the reasons for these strategies and their impact on how I view interpersonal relationships.
I had believed my behavior was a sign of my high social skills, compassion and emotional intelligence up until that point. It was also natural for me to think and behave the same way as I did. However, I actually had coping strategies from my early years that were based on an overwhelming fear of being alone, dislikable, or left out.
To avoid being depleted, I discovered that empaths need to have emotional boundaries. A healthy empath holds space for another person’s emotions and experiences without making it their responsibility to fix, save, or protect the person. In order to be accepted and liked, I became a chameleon who adapted to any environment, didn’t speak up, and focused on pleasing everyone else at my own expense.
In doing so, I didn’t allow people to get close or learn about the real me. Inwardly focusing on what others thought, felt, and did made me feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I also took on other people’s problems. Fear kept me from expressing my truth, making any decisions or taking up space on social media.
Fading into the background felt safer, easier, and more comfortable to me, but it didn’t allow me to relax and be fully present. To please other people and to control their opinions of me, I continuously scanned my environment looking for potential problems. In order to hide my internal struggle, I made it a goal to be easy-going, comfortable, and casual.
I didn’t want to appear stressed, tired, or unhappy because I could possibly be viewed as “needy” or “too much.” My hypervigilance only intensified when I was around new people because I desperately wanted to make a good first impression and earn their validation. Even though the social gathering was short, I felt exhausted and in need of a recharge.
Realizing that I love people and like to interact with them, I realized these situations could be much more enjoyable if I took a step back, checked in with my own feelings, and concentrated on being present. For the first time I had to focus on me and choose the activities that were most beneficial for me.
It was easier for me to let other people manage their feelings than to try to save or protect them. Also, I allowed myself to be open and engaged in conversation. This allowed me to feel safe and let others get to know my personality.
Instead of trying to blend in or follow the crowd, I could try offering my opinions, selecting a restaurant or movie, or turning down opportunities to socialize if I wasn’t interested in that outing.
I knew that I needed to take these steps slowly because they would require courage, and I didn’t want to give up out of overwhelm. I also begin learning to trust that people wouldn’t abandon or reject me for speaking up and setting boundaries.
And if I did lose friendships or people didn’t love everything about me, I could handle that reality and survive. My mantra became “I am not for everyone, and that is okay.”
Since that time, I have made strides toward relaxing, being present, and releasing control, allowing myself to “just be.” Some days and situations are easier than others to practice this new mindset. Now that I am more aware of myself and have an understanding of my own behavior, it is easier to recognize when I indulge in pleasing people for love, praise and acceptance.
Take a moment to pause and take in the air. I remember that space is my right, I have rights to be me, I can take advantage of it, I get to enjoy life and express myself freely, and that all opinions, needs and feelings are important. Doing so makes me more open to social interactions with others, especially new friends. That has really made a difference to me, a social butterfly.
Lauren McCoy, a professional counselor licensed in the state of California, is an emotional well-being coach and counselor who has specialized in helping people to heal their codependency and perfectionism through inner child work, somatic and other methods. In a non-judgemental and supportive setting, she helps clients achieve their goals. She is open-minded, warm and supportive. On www.letgowithlo.com, and Instagram @letgowithlo you can reach her.
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Tiny Buddha’s post The Exhausted Extrovert: What I Did to Stop Worrying about How Others See Me first appeared on Tiny Buddha.