Overcoming Social Anxiety: Confidence



I used to be so worried about saying the right thing or doing the right thing. I was looking at the situation completely wrong.

There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ exactly. It’s more cause and effect. The ‘right’ thing in one situation would be completely disastrous in another. How could I possibly understand such a complicated world? Let alone function in it!?

The game changer for me came when I got my dreadlocks at the age of 16. It was no coincidence that it was this same year that my social life exploded into existence. I didn’t suddenly, magically, learn what to do to make friends. I merely noticed the radical difference in how strangers treated me thanks to my ‘new look’, and realised that it actually doesn’t matter if I know what to do. The new game became not ‘letting on’ that I had no idea what to do.

People make assumptions about you all the time. These assumptions determined how people treated me and they could work to my advantage, or disadvantage. I used to get very frustrated about this. I hated the fact that people never saw the REAL me, and were content to imagine whatever they liked about me. I felt so powerless because there was nothing I could do about it. Eventually however, I learned that this is just how most people work. To interact with people I need to accept them for who they are, and human beings, as frustrating as it feels sometimes, are not very perceptive. MOST of what we see and hear and understand comes from our own mind!!

This is extremely frustrating for me, especially in communication. The amount of times I feel like screaming at someone, “just READ the words ON THE PAGE!!!” It is very hard for me to accept that this is NOT how most people communicate. I had to learn to communicate via assumptions. While inaccurate, this is actually extremely efficient. Our ability to guess information about another person helps us immensely in our ability to anticipate their needs and understand what they’re saying. Perhaps the reason I react so strongly against this is because VERY OFTEN my needs are not what people expect, and what I’m trying to say is NOT what is common to say. So the side effect, for me, is that I cannot communicate my needs or ideas, simply because they are ‘unconventional’, and hence unexpected, and hence (in the subconscious mind of the listener) clearly impossible.

But I digress!! I was trying to talk about how confidence in myself allowed me to project a socially competent image to others. With a few tricks (like my dreadlocks) projecting this image was MUCH easier than actually being competent, and had the added bonus of giving me such exposure to a wide variety of experience, that before long, I actually was competent in most situations.

I call this the ‘quick learner effect’. I have used this coping strategy to great effect in many areas. Basically, by pretending I am already experienced, I am allowed to participate, thus acquiring the experience (before anyone discovers my bluff!!). It’s risky but incredibly powerful. How I would love to live in a world where my gift for learning was understood and encouraged and I didn’t need to ‘pretend’ in order to be allowed the opportunity to learn.

I guess until then, as I continue to live in the real world, I’ll have to make do relying on my confidence…


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