Somehow, over time, I became a little mouse. I scuttled around people, spoke quietly and, in my little mouse brain, prioritised other people over my own needs. I was particularly mousy when I felt I didn’t bring value to the situation, so I double, triple guessed everything before I said it, if I even said anything at all.
At university, my psychology lectures had over 300 people in them. I didn’t need a voice; we listened and took notes. I remember one lecture where the professor wanted to attempt a more participatory approach so he threw a plastic squishy brain at people to get them to answer questions. When he threw it at me, I refused to move my arms and catch it, so unwilling to respond in front of everyone. The brain just kind of bounced off me, which in my mind was a less embarrassing option than catching it and speaking in front of everyone.
When I went on to do a Masters, I was thrust into the seminar setting where part of our grade was based on our participation. I could no longer get along by just writing essays and exams, I actually had to speak up in each class. The professor would not be throwing a fake brain at the class, but the prospect of a lower grade was highly motivating for me. My physical reaction to this situation was a racing heart and unhelpful thoughts whirring around my mind. The longer I had to wait to speak, the more rapidly my thoughts and heart went. Whether I spoke or not, the come down after this was difficult to manage and completely distracting, as my heart rate returned to normal and I either thought critically over my contribution, or alternatively felt an engulfing wave of disappointment and shame that I hadn’t said anything.
Since completing my MA, I have continued to experience this anxiety, which is particularly highlighted in work settings. I have gone through CBT for a few months, and I also completed a speaking course (both of which I will write about more in future posts). Through this process, I have realised that a lot of this fear is based around saying or doing things which reduce people’s value that they attribute to me. For example, do they think I am intelligent/useful/valuable in this setting, and will I lose out on future opportunities because of this judgement? If I don’t speak up in at an important event, will I be invited to them in the future? This underlying fear is what causes me to freeze up, the irony being that by saying nothing, I am more likely to lose out.
I really worry about “saying the wrong thing”. A huge amount of wasteful energy is spent on this. I might worry before a meeting, during a meeting, and after a meeting. This is obviously a huge fucking waste of time and energy – there are loads of better things I could be spending my brain power on, rather than this frankly boring, self-centered drivel! But here we are, and I am working on it.
The good news is, I don’t feel stuck like this. I have started a change, a shift. I am going through uncomfortable and clumsy experiments, which aren’t easy, but I really think they are helping push and challenge me in a useful way. It is scary to share this – I am scared of the implications of someone reading this and judging me, but I am taking the plunge anyway. Here’s to being less of a mouse.
Thank you to Ruby for proofreading. Go and look at how great Ruby is.
Thank you so much for having the confidence to share this Jo. I for one know that you have many interesting, relevant and important things to say and I am so glad you are finding your voice.
I am sure a lot of people have experienced it at some time and I commend you for being able to speak out in this way. I am entering the sixtieth decade of my life, I have been in many business and social settings and witnessed individuals with big mouths with lots of say and hugely inflated sense of self (some really very bright people, and some not so) but all of those exhibited (publicly at least) a massive lack of self-awareness…….. (and inept listening skills)……… maybe they need to take a leaf out of your book and do some self-reflection…… [……is that another tree/wood analogy ;-)……]
Wishing you lots of joy & success on your journey to less social anxiety. And looking forward to talking with you more about this subject and all the other interesting stuff we chat about it. .
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