Hi! I’m Hannah and I’m pretty introverted. Although I’d say that over time I’ve become more of an ambivert, most of the times I’m the typical introvert that you’ve heard of.
I was always fine with being an introvert and I enjoy the perks of being one. But then something happened and it kept happening. And I didn’t like it because it felt restricting. My self-esteem plummeted a bit, too.
Holding back in group settings
A few weeks ago I mentioned to my therapist that I have this weird thing going on when I’m out with a group of friends. Especially when there are new people involved that are a tad more outgoing, more extroverted, better at conversations.
This is what would happen: Instead of being my outgoing social self around my friends, one person of mentioned features would suffice to make me hold back in that very group setting.
It sounds stupid and it probably is. But no matter whatever I told myself or whatever I tried, I would shrink again and I hated myself for it. I could be fun and outgoing! Why do I shrink in group settings? GAH! You can guess that my frustration over it didn’t make things necessarily easier.
My social tendencies during childhood and growing up
I proceeded to tell my therapist how I was super social and open in kindergarten and played with everyone and was popular among fellow kids, on how that changed a bit in primary school when I felt a bit secluded from the others being the only Asian kid in my class. And how more isolated I became when I started high school, where all the loud and extroverted and hilarious girls would get all the attention and would get invited to events and birthdays and hangouts and me being as quiet and observant as I was, I kept to myself, unwillingly, because most people just didn’t seem to notice me.
To this day I feel like most won’t even remember me by much because that’s how insignificant I must have been in their eyes.
Sure, I had a few friends and got along with most people, but it was mostly superficial and I just knew that after graduation, I would lose contact with 99% of the “friends” I had. And that was the case. I accepted that this happened – but I was also sad knowing that I didn’t make as much of a personal impact as I hoped I would have.
You always see it in romcoms, teen films, young adolescents who are popular, well-spoken, hilarious, get the best of everything, are good at something and somehow get all the attention and recognition by the end of the movie. Well, that’s what I wanted but never got. Instead, I remember secluding a girl in 3rd grade because the group I was in was secluding her as well and I tried my best to be like them to fit in, to be liked. That’s when I started to lose my sense of self. I became someone I didn’t like to be but wanted to be because that was the only way I would be liked.
How my isolation made sense
My therapist then proceeded to tell me that my isolation made sense and it developed during high school when I felt most self-conscious about my social tendencies. I’d lost the will and patience to bond with people because I feared they would leave anyway – or they would not cherish me as much as I’d cherish them. Experiences in primary school where I felt secluded ended up shaping me into who I am becoming whenever I’m in a group setting – the moment someone more extroverted and funny and popular comes up, I’ll just feel like whatever I say or do won’t matter because I’m just that insignificant next to them.
So then I was given an exercise. I would have to initiate a hang-out with my friends and one or more people of more extroverted nature that I felt a tad intimidated by. I would have to wait and see what happens with me. No judgement, just watchful observance.
Like a third person from above, I then watched the scene, observed the extroverted, intimidating persons, my friends, then myself. What I realised soon enough was that I had always thought I was the problem. But I wasn’t. In case, nobody was. It was just my thinking and assumption about myself that got in the way.
Because without the judgement from myself, I noticed that everyone was just a person. Me, my friends, that intimidating person. Everyone was the same. Everyone wanted the same. No one was more, no one, and especially not I, was less than anyone else. We were all individuals of the group and I could’ve easily just carried on talking to one of my friends, or two. The group didn’t belong to that intimidating person because they managed to awaken their attention. They didn’t belong to anyone. They weren’t the mass that followed one bigger person.
I could do the same thing, talk, get attention and recognition. But honestly, it didn’t even matter whether I did or not. Because maybe my friends weren’t even interested in what they were saying, maybe they felt the same way as I did, maybe they just really couldn’t give two shits. Worst case, maybe they didn’t care about what I was saying. But maybe they didn’t care about what anyone else was saying, either.
What caused me to hold back
My therapist then did something that she always did. She made me talk about my childhood. At first, I was a bit annoyed. What does my childhood have to do with shrinking in group settings? I’d think my social competences were just pretty bad. But then I did – I rummaged around in my brain.
It’s all in the head
That’s how I realised that this whole group setting was something dreadful made up all in my head. I started integrating myself again, even actively spoke to those intimidating people because I found that it makes them less scary to me and I realise they’re not bigger, better, greater people at all. They’re just people and I’ve made myself feel small next to them all by myself, causing me to shrink and shrivel.
This started in primary school. The doubt, the introversion, the isolation. Social anxiety developed during high school on top of that. It’s been a struggle but I’m learning.
It’s easier because I realised that a lot of roots to my problems lie within myself and my very own assumptions. Which do not always equal the truth of the situation.
Do you shrink in group settings?
Why do you think you do it?
Do you think it’s a bad thing?