Depending on my mood, I can be rather outgoing and gregarious, or I can be quite and shy. Especially around people I do not know well, I tend towards shyness. But I don’t want to be shy. I want to be warm, engaging, and have interesting and revealing discussions with people. But I rarely do.
I think about why this is the case quite often. And, depending on my emotional state, my feelings vary. That is, my rationalizations for my fear of speaking up shift with my mood. So, today I want to compose two related, but emotionally distinct, reactions to being shy while not wanting to be shy. I don’t know if any of this will resonate with anyone else, but perhaps it will. These are the kinds of thoughts I have while battling within myself whether to contribute to conversations, especially if they relate to religion, relationships, etc, in mixed company.
Narrative 1: You will hate me.
I overheard something you just said, and I think that the worldview you seem to come from is misguided, and if I told you what I thought you would find me distasteful and you would rather not talk with me (most likely). If I talked with you about the topic you are currently engaged in conversation about, the dialog would become awkward and you would wish I would have not said anything. Thus, I should remain quiet because otherwise you would hate me, and I would just be wasting my time bringing up my views on your topic of conversation.
This is often followed with a false feeling of superiority; I feel somehow better, more evolved, and I pity those around me. This feeling is often then followed by the sensation that such thoughts and feelings are a defense mechanism, because I’m afraid that my own worldview is misguided and inferior. This sometimes leads to the second, but intimately related, narrative.
Narrative 2: I hate me
Man, I really should stay quiet. These people might be wrong, but my thoughts are just fueled by anger (fear) and I would be better not making an ass out of myself. It really does not matter how much I have thought this through or how certain I feel right now, because all of that confidence is an illusion. My ideas are not interesting, my point of view not insightful, and my false pity for them is not warranted. I wonder if they have these kinds of thoughts too. I wonder ow strong they doubt themselves….
And this trails off into unrelated or merely tangential thoughts about all sorts of things.
But then, usually later (like right now) I think about the fact that I perceive a sort of mainstream set of cultural expectations and views which I often think I can see through, and then these sets of insecurities play out at a meta-level. I think things like:
1) Is there actually a set of cultural narratives which I understand and see through (even if only partially)?
2) Can most people really not see it, or do they see it and either don’t care or understand it better than I do?
3) If those narratives do exist, and I can see them better than some people, is it something which I can explain to those people or do they have to either discover themselves or be perpetually blind to it?
The basic fear that informs my silence, at least as it is rationalized, is whether I am actually seeing something which is real, or whether I’m perceiving a delusion. Do I understand something about human behavior which is real and invisible to most people, or am I creating that narrative to explain the fundamental fear which is the real reason I remain so quiet?
The thought that seems most awful, thus I suspect it is at least partially true, is that the narrative I perceive is real, but I’m just afraid. It’s not that I’m really concerned with annoying people or being seen as idiotic (although those feelings seem real enough), it’s that I’m just afraid. Not afraid of anything in particular, mind you. Just afraid.
And then I have to explain why I’m afraid, which doesn’t help it go away.
It is a perpetual and strangely comfortable sensation, fear. I am almost afraid to not be impeded by it. I’m not sure what I would be like if that fear disappeared.
To those that read is blog, I may not seem afraid to speak my mind. But that is only when the first narrative, above, dominates. All too often the second narrative dominates, and I am left quiet and unsure of myself.
That’s enough honesty for right now. So now I commit my fears to the internet, were they shall never be forgotten. Great…now I cannot pretend they don’t exist….
One thought on “Quiet and Afraid”
Thank you for your honesty. For a while, I carried this dual thought around with me that I wasn’t afraid but I was just nervous. It seems as if there are an infinite number of things that can go wrong in a given situation. I’ve been trying to overcome this. The fear never goes away but I can manage to at least put my thoughts out there. The worst thing that can happen is to be rejected. Yet you are still rejected by default if you hold your silence. Sometimes, you find yourself pleasantly surprised by a reaction and those are the moments I treasure. Then it begins all over again the next time.
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