For most of my life, upon meeting me, many would say I was shy, quiet, and even standoffish. I’ve had people in the past tell me I was hard to read and questioned if I like them. When I was in my early 20s, I worked with a guy who nicknamed me “no talk Tracy” (pre name change). I can’t blame him. The name was fitting, but also humiliating and shameful. I spent so many years trying to hide this part of me, and suddenly here was some man nonchalantly poking at what felt like my biggest character defect.
I don’t know when my social anxiety started, but I remember looking around at my family and thinking, “I feel so different from them. Why do they all seem so much more confident and outspoken?” Nobody seemed to struggle to use their voice the way I did. I just assumed it was a part of my personality.
It was excruciatingly painful and lonely to be inside of my body. It felt like there was something wrong with me. I was so ashamed of this part of me, I never talked about it to anyone, including my family. I did my best to pretend like I was fine, all the while most casual social interactions left me feeling uncomfortable, insecure, and unseen.
“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”~ Bessel van der Kolk
While much of the outside world saw me as shy and quiet, I knew that wasn’t all of me. There was another side who was outgoing, social, adventurous, and wild. A part of me who felt much more at ease in social settings. I so badly wanted this part of me to take up space and be seen, but the quieter, reserved part was always stronger.
I spent two decades of my life coaxing this part out with alcohol induced experiences and relationships, but it was never sustainable and she always went back into hiding once I was sober. It wasn’t until I got curious about the things that happened to me as a kid that I connected the dots and understood why I struggled with these two conflicting parts.
In a healthy family environment, our parents and/or caretakers help to nurture the truest parts of ourselves. They help us find our confidence, our voice, and our independence. They equip us with the tools we need to harness our authentic self. But for those of us who grew up in less than healthy families, we had parents and caretakers who, for many reasons, couldn’t do this for us.
“Perhaps there was no more detrimental consequence of our childhood abandonment than being forced to habitually hide our authentic selves. Many of us come out of childhood believing that what we have to say is as uninteresting to others as it was to our parents.”~ Pete Walker
Because of the dysfunction in my family, I didn’t have anyone helping me to explore and nurture my natural traits. Instead, I learned that the world was not safe to show up in as my true self. So in her place, developed the version of me that had to navigate a dangerous, unforgiving, and scary world. This part of me learned that keeping quiet, playing small, and taking care of others kept us safe. So I became the quiet one to survive and then carried that into my adult life.
Two important foundational tools for healing from Complex PTSD are awareness and curiosity. Awareness helps us to understand that many of the things we do, how we interact with the world, and how we see ourselves are actually in response to the trauma we experienced. While curiosity (without judgement) creates space for us to ask, “is this tool still serving me or is it hindering my growth?”
This old survival tool continued to hinder my growth well into my adult life. I wouldn’t say I’m free from it today, but just the fact that I’m so much more aware helps me to navigate it differently. When I notice myself getting quiet, or feeling overwhelmed, uncomfortable, and uneasy in new social settings, I now know what to do to help myself through which continues to contribute towards my healing and growth.
“Paradoxically, the more we try to change ourselves, the more we prevent change from occurring. On the other hand, the more we allow ourselves to fully experience who we are, the greater the possibility of change.”~ Laurence Heller
Something that really helps me when that part of me feels unsafe is to check in with myself, “Am I in my head or my body right now? If I’m ruminating on the uncomfortableness or making up stories about what others are thinking of me, then I’m likely in my head. I recognize that this is a sign that I feel unsafe and I’m trying to protect myself. In response, I scan the space I’m in and help myself see that there is no eminent danger. Then, I put my hand on my heart and say to myself, “you are safe, you are loved, you are supported.” I repeat this as many times as I need to until I can feel myself calm and come back into my body. These small shifts have improved my social anxiety and helped me to step into my authentic self more often.
Are you ready to start bringing awareness to your old survival tools? Do you want to gain new tools to harness the power you already have inside of you? Feeling stuck and alone on the journey? I would love to support you. My 1:1 coaching container creates a compassionate, non-judgmental, and safe space that meets you right where you are today. From there we move at a pace that supports your life, goals, and visions for your unique and beautiful future, a future that can look anyway you CHOOSE.
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Lots of love ~ Morgan