Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fear and Confidence

The other day, my friend asked: “What’s your biggest fear?” I automatically responded: “dying alone”, cringing as I heard the words leave my mouth. It’s such a cliché response! And of course my friend immediately pounced on me and gave me the cliché retort to my answer:  “every man dies alone… blah blah blah.”

I wasn’t thinking of literally dying alone though – as in not having someone physically by my side while the last remnants of life slipped away from me.  I’m not too worried about the dying part of dying alone. It’s the alone part that scares me. I fear that by the time I die, I will not have found true, unconditionally reciprocated love.

The fact that I felt like “dying alone” is a cliché of a fear, is reflective of how common it is for people to fear loneliness.  All people seem to have a natural aversion to loneliness, after all, humans are beings who need each other. From the time we are born, we need more care and protection than any other animal I can think of. We are fragile and don’t have the same natural protections as wild animals. We have no fur to keep us warm. We’re not fast enough to out run most predatory animals. Except for some impressive par-corers, we don’t have the reflexes and agility to make a fast escape in the trees, nor do we have wings to fly or fins to swim away when we’re in danger. In short, if you take us away from all of the collaborative efforts of the other people in the world, we are going to die in the most pathetic lame way possible.

A while back, I watched a video of a Giraffe birth. The first moment of this creature’s life was a four foot drop onto hard pact dirt. The little Giraffe not only handled the fall like a champ, but it took its first steps within minutes of its crash landing. A human baby can barely sit up without help for the first 6 months of life. Clearly, we humans need each other in a way that most animals don’t. Our relative frailty and dependence is a weakness to the individuals of our species, but a strength to the species as a whole. The fact that we bond together - care for, share knowledge with, teach and cooperate with one another, is the only reason that our frail, hairless, uncoordinated species has been able to survive and thrive. It’s through our social interactions that we’ve been able to develop language to preserve and build on knowledge and through cooperation have used that language and knowledge to manufacture our own versions of fur, fins and wings as well as compensating for any other natural endowments we lack. Thus, it seems like having a fear of being alone just makes good sense.

Most people therefore seek out other people. I on the other hand, spent most of my life dealing with my aversion to loneliness by avoiding people. I’ve always worried too much about what people think of me -because I’ve always liked people. (I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met that I couldn’t see some relatable or endearing quality in… even people that I don’t like or get along with, I feel like I can at least kind of see why they are the way they are). Ironically the fact that I cared so much rendered me painfully shy. I would put so much pressure on myself to think of the perfect thing to say to people to make them like me, that I couldn’t think of anything to say to them at all and then I would chastise myself internally for being so awkward and lame. At the same time I never wanted to put myself out there too much because I worried that people would reject me and I wouldn’t be able to recover from it.  I think most people experience social anxiety to a certain degree, but I had it bad.

I worried that if I exposed myself too much and was rejected by people, what little faith I had in myself might be shaken to the point that I would just become this dull cowering ball of mush. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy though because whenever I was in a social situation I would freeze. 
I lacked faith in people. I didn’t trust others to accept me and appreciate me for who I was and at the same time I didn’t trust myself to act in a way that was worthy of appreciation or acceptance.  I would be the very lame person that I was so afraid of becoming, so I thought that was who I was. 

In the last couple of years, I’ve really started to come out of my shell though. My job requires me to interact with people all the time, so I was forced out of my shell and I translated that to my social life as well. I knew that I could force myself to speak competently and confidently with clients at work, so I made myself talk to strangers outside of work too, willing myself to just fire out the first thought that was in my mind before I had the chance to muddle my brain with self-doubt. When I wasn’t diverting so much effort into protecting myself from ridicule, I let people I’d normally be guarded around see what I was actually like and it turned out that most people liked and appreciated me.

I started to really enjoy talking with people. I started to seek people out and my life has only become better as a result. Every once in a while I do get ridiculed to varying degrees for stupid things that I’ve said or done. People sometimes glare at me when I make a bad choice while driving or biking and I’ve heard a sharp “what did you say?” or two when I’ve blurted something out that was probably not phrased in the most sensitive way. There have, of course, been instances where I’ve been rejected – be it getting turned down for a date or struggling to find tenants to rent my house etc. Each incident that cast light on my imperfections, would make me cringe, but it hurt less and less to be rejected or ridiculed after a while because I realized at the end of the day, I was ok. My life went on despite the fact that not every person I met adored me. Enough people understood who I was and appreciated me for it, to make me feel assured that I am a worthwhile person.

The more I put myself out there, the more I realized I wasn’t as fragile as I’d made myself believe. As I tried new things, I discovered new capabilities I had which made me feel more assured of the fact that I could rely on myself. I could walk up to a guy and strike up conversation. I could fix the webcam on my laptop. I didn’t need someone else to call and complain on my behalf when the repair shop didn’t fix the issue with my car. I found out that I could fight my own battles and take care of myself.

Now I am striking out on my own and taking charge of my life in ways that I never have before, and though I do feel the nagging ache of loneliness at times, I have enough self confidence to believe that eventually my perfect man will want to be with me the way I want to be with him. For now though, I feel that I can count on myself to bounce back after rough patches and press forward to make my life what I want it to be.

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