Hey there, friend! Hope you had a rejuvenating weekend!
My Saturday turned into equal parts lounging by the pool feeling the sun on my face and laying in bed watching the rest of Orange Is The New Black: Season 3. No email, (almost) no social media (gotta keep up with the daily lettering!) and very little interacting with other humans. It was kind of glorious!
Last week was such a great one - lots of work progress made, lots of laughter had - but it also left me with little to no time to re-charge my batteries and reconnect with my intuition, something I’ve found makes a huge difference in my overall mood and energy levels every day.
My friend Margaret was staying with us for the week, and she’s truly the best. She’s one of those friends who is equally talented at sending me into silly fits of laughter and digging into those deeper, soul-searching conversations that always leave me feeling richer and wiser. We also had our awesome friends, Omar and Nicole, over for the 4th of July last Saturday and Sunday.
And while all of that socializing made for some incredibly fun memories and great conversations, if I’m being honest, it also left me feeling a bit... drained.
I’ve learned something about myself over the past two years or so, and it's this: social situations can be a source of anxiety for me.
It has taken me a very long time to admit that fact and to let go of the shame of feeling like that makes me weird or antisocial or something (in fact, it still feels a bit scary sharing it now with all of you guys!) For a long time I didn't acknowledge this about myself because I felt like a part of my identity was wrapped up in being an outgoing, social person. (I still am, mind you.)
But today I want to share with you where that social anxiety comes from and how I've been able to cope with it, on the off chance some of you soulful creatives have experienced the same feelings.
Just to be clear (since I know most of you have obviously never met me in person so it's hard to know what the person behind the words is really like): it's not that I feel awkward in social situations, and it's not that I don't like being around people -- I do! I like cracking jokes and playing games and making new friends. Always have.
However, my core being is deeply sensitive and eager to please, which can be a dangerous combination when dealing with other people.
I can very easily sense (and become fixated on) the energy of other people. This usually makes me acutely aware of even the slightest feelings of tension, awkwardness, discomfort, and conflict in the people around me. Layer on top of that my natural inclination as a people pleaser, and that leads me to constantly feel like I have to be "on" when I'm with people, especially those that I'm just getting to know.
Is everyone having a good time? Does everyone feel listened to? Does anyone feel left out? How can I moderate the conversation so everyone involved feels understood? Whose needs aren't being met right now?
The subconscious mental gymnastics are exhausting!
Whether it's a pool day with friends or a meal with my family, I can't help but always feel responsible for the comfort and happiness of those around me.
On the surface, this may not seem like such a bad attribute. In general, tending to the needs of those around you is a positive thing; it's called caring. That is until you realize that carrying that burden can take a toll on your psyche.
For instance, have you ever invited friends or family out to eat somewhere and picked the restaurant? This is when I first noticed this character trait of mine because every time I'd pick a restaurant for a meal, someone would inevitably say something along the lines of... "The salmon was delicious but the service really was not up to par..."
In that moment I would feel completely responsible for that person's less-than-stellar experience. And it would always hit me so hard. As if I alone was somehow responsible for the service of the restaurant and I alone was responsible for everyone's positive experience.
And that's just one example. There are countless other times when I've taken the weight of other people's experiences on my shoulders. I want to fill their silences. I want to help them defend their positions in a heated discussion. I want to help them justify their choices.
I was sharing all of this with Margaret on a long drive last week, because it's something I continue to work on, and she said something that really struck a chord with me. She said:
“It’s a real skill to become comfortable with other people being uncomfortable."
Yesssss, I thought. Oh my gosh, YES.
My instinct is to protect people from feeling uncomfortable at all times. And, truthfully, I’m not even sure if it comes from a selfless place (I want to spare people from bad feelings) or if it kind of comes from a self-preservation place (I want to spare myself from the pain of sensing other people’s bad feelings.) A little of both, perhaps?
Regardless of the motivations, I have to remind myself on a daily basis that if I want to continue to cultivate friendships, meet new people, and not live under a rock like a hermit, I have to find a way to let go of control. To remember that I'm not responsible for the experiences and feelings of other people.
Just like Margaret said, it’s a skill. It must be practiced and consciously cultivated.
That might mean in a moment of silence as someone struggles to defend their argument, I sit with that silence instead of coming to their rescue. That might mean actively reminding myself that I'm not the sole owner and proprietor of any single group experience -- I'm not the chef, not the party planner, not the mother.
As of today, I’m going to release myself from the responsibility of being the steward of other people’s happiness.
And this week -- only if you need it -- your challenge is to do the same.
If you don't need it, then your challenge this week is to keep on keepin' on with your bad self (and possibly to teach us sensitive people-pleasers your glorious ways.) 😄
Remember, the only person's happiness that you're ultimately responsible for (and that you can solely control) is your own.