Have you ever been to a party or a gathering where you don’t know anyone and where everyone seems to know each other? Did someone take initiative to talk to you or include you in the conversation or did you just sit there feeling like the world’s biggest loser?
If you are an extrovert coming to life in social settings you’ve probably never encountered this problem, you will be the one to initiate conversations and be the natural center of attention. But if you are and HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) like me, or just a shy introvert, you will probably know what I am talking about.
I have never really considered myself being shy. Even though a lot of people perceive me as being shy. But my shyness only comes out in settings where I don’t feel safe. If I, on the contrary, feel appreciated, welcomed and listened to, I will blossom and have no problem talking, laughing and even taking the initiative in conversations.
When I was a child I was that little girl who was glued to my mother watching the other children play. Until I felt safe. In new, unfamiliar social settings I always had to take my time observing and analyzing the situation and the other children before I felt free to play. Then, when I deemed it safe, I often became the “life of the party” with my vivid imagination , self-invented games and bubbly creativity.
As an adult it is more difficult. Grownups are not likely to be impressed by the same qualities children are. It is not enough to be kind, creative, imaginative, and thoughtful.
Where children just want someone who is fun to play with, adults appreciate someone who is more or less like themselves. Meaning, either someone who shares their interests and opinions or someone they have shared history with.
We teach children to always be welcoming to strangers. We teach them to be kind to other children, especially children who are new and don’t know anyone else. But do we do this ourselves? Everyone needs kindness, no matter the age.
A few weeks ago I went to a party. It was my cousin who organized the party together with her boyfriend. It was a really kind gesture as the party was partly for my sake. But I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. I love my cousin to pieces and her boyfriend is amazing, but we have no common friends and we are very different people. But I told myself to stop being negative and rather appreciate the gesture. But unfortunately everything went wrong.
At first I was okay. Only a very few people arrived in the beginning and I tried finding common ground talking to a girl who worked with children with social difficulties. But as the guests poured in the atmosphere changed. There was a lot of alcohol, a lot of smoking, and everyone seemed to know each other, talking about the good old times. I became more and more quiet until I didn’t even say a word. After an hour of silence I started feeling pathetic. So I went into the kitchen and started cleaning and tidying up.
After about an hour my cousin came into the kitchen. She took me back into the living room and tried to introduce me as her artistic cousin who works as a freelance writer. The crowd went silent and tried politely to ask a few follow-up questions. But they were clearly on deep waters and the conversation soon died out. I felt like the most uninteresting person in the world.
What I should have done was to actually be the one to take initiative asking the other guests about themselves rather than to expect them to take the initiative. But if you are an HSP or someone who is very shy or struggle with social anxiety, you will know that it just isn’t that simple. I was overwhelmed by my shyness, by my own emotions of feeling alone, of being a stranger and I honestly felt scared of the other people. I really felt like I didn’t belong there, that I was not welcome and that I was just “wrong” for that party.
I woke up next morning feeling awful. I had stayed the night at my cousin’s house and I just felt like escaping that house. I felt sad and “wrong”, like a misfit. I honestly just felt like bawling my eyes out.
This situation reminded me of how I often felt growing up. It was a row of situations like this that knocked my confidence to the ground, feeling that there was something wrong with me. I was just so different. Nobody understood me or appreciated the qualities I had to offer the world.
I remember thinking to myself after that party, and after I was out of that house: no wonder I felt the way I did growing up. Now as an adult I have a little more insight and I do know that there is nothing wrong with me. That it is okay, and even exciting, to be different. I personally love people who are different and even a bit eccentric. But I still get knocked out by these kind of social settings and need a few days to recover and find my way back to myself again. I literally feel like my essence has leaked out of me and been smeared on walls and doors like blood after a murder. And it often takes me a long time to gather it back in.
So why do I write this post? Firstly, I want you to know that if you feel like I do, you are not alone. And if you are a bit younger and have not learned to gather yourself back in after a spilling, I advice you to find someone to help you with that. Seek out people you can connect with, it doesn’t have to be someone who is exactly like you, just someone who cares enough about you to not want to see you hurt. And communicate how you feel and what you need. Most people aren’t as emotionally perceptive as we think, they need to be spoon fed the truth of how you feel.
Secondly, I wrote this post to appeal to everyone, to all of you, to all of us, to be more kind, welcoming and including. Especially if you see someone at a party, or any other social setting, who seems quiet, shy and alone. If you are the one who is confident and feel “housewarm”, share your attention and positive energy, not only with the ones whom you already know and feel friendly with, include everyone in your attention span and positive circle.
You can make a huge difference in someone’s life by just being your extroverted self.
Let us all try to lift each other up, and challenge each other to be more inclusive and expand our circle of friends. Even if someone does not share your history or opinions, that just makes it more interesting! Adults are notoriously bad at making new friends, so let’s take our own advice, the one we give to our children, and be welcoming to strangers and kind to new people we don’t know.
I will leave you with a little anecdote. A few weeks ago I was sitting on a bench reading when a woman came up to me. Her hair was disheveled and she was wearing a too small dirty dress. She looked at me and asked: “Do you love me even though you don’t know me?” I looked at her, smiled and said: “I love all people.” She smiled back and left. I think, secretly, we are all like that woman, wondering if people will love us just because.