I struggled with social situations for most of my adolescence. I dread face to face conversations and phone calls. I prefer asynchronous communication to synchronous ones.
Only now I realised why.
When you are in conversations, you are expected to either 1) share or 2) respond, right?
I have jumbled, unformed, inarticulated, unidentified thoughts and feelings. I always felt like I don’t actually know what I think or feel about certain event or experience until I actually tried to verbalise it.
Recently I discovered I don’t have an internal monologue. That probably explains it. Though I am extremely grateful this is the case because I am a chronic overthinker (as you can probably infer so far). This way, my excessive amount of thoughts stay a murmur until I tried trapping them in words. I cannot imagine actually hearing these thoughts in clear voices.
And every couple of years I have always found myself drawn back to journaling practice. Perhaps it’s my natural way to compensate — to process and have that activity of reflection.
On the other hand, I’m also sort of poker-faced / emotionally mute / closed-off. I have high threshold of tolerance for events. So most things don’t “register” or I dismissed them.
To add to things: one of my biggest fears is speaking nonsense and being misunderstood.
Often when I want to jump in, it takes a while to compose the thought and what I want to say. By then, the conversation has moved along. I am more comfortable in one-on-one setting than larger groups though. I think this is because it’s easier to keep the person’s attention, and to gauge of they are still listening.
So when I need to “share”:
- I don’t actually know how I feel or think about some things I vaguely am aware of
- I’m scared of sounding incoherent
- I won’t be coherent because the only way to be coherent is by refining the incoherence — something most of us do naturally inside our heads, or in the safety and comfort of our own company.
What would have helped: someone to tell me it’s ok to vent, think out loud, figure things out as I speak. That it’s OK to start talking before knowing what I want to say. That I don’t need to deliver perfectly articulate, eloquent, and captivating stories right from the start. That if I ramble, speak incoherently, or not making much sense (yet!) they will not think any less of me, or stop listening.
And I didn’t ask for this because I wasn’t even aware this is what is happening. I thought something was wrong with me and I was ashamed.
Another thing that had helped is confirming that no one is judging me as hard as I am judging myself, really. Shift your internal dialogue from Are you still listening? Am I boring you? Shoot, I am rambling now ain’t I? to “I’m so glad we are having this conversation!” It also helps when speaking to shift the focus onto the other person, instead of being overly self conscious.
I felt I lack the life experience to relate and contribute positively to the conversation. I would fall back to listening and probing. Was mostly passive, but I was really good at it with the amount of practice I had.
And to be honest, I do enjoy listening and exploring how other people see the world. I wonder a lot: What does it feel like to be you?
I had to train myself to relax more and not always need to have the perfect responses, advices, insights. I also had to train myself to be less diagnostic and in “fix mode” all the time.
What would have helped: knowing that people don’t always need solution. Holding the space for people to process their thoughts and feelings is often the best thing you can do.
Scripts that would help me better navigate:
– Grab a seat and let me process this, right
– Do you want to vent or do you need advice?
– What is the real challenge here for you?
– What do you think would work?
– If you could wave a magic wand, what do you want to see happen / get?
Over time I got better through practice. I still enjoy the good humour of a “hermit” label (heck yeah infinite me-time!).
But now I have gotten much better at sharing and responding fluidly because I have spent more time and effort noticing and processing how I think and feel about different issues and experiences. I have more stories and observations prepared / brought to my consciousness, and have told them one or two times before, either to myself or in safe environment.
I have confirmed that people appreciate being listened to more often than they need actual insightful or helpful responses.
I also know by sharing my own stories, being more open and vulnerable, I build trust. People can also get to know me better, and can help me when I need it.
I now pick up my phone without much hesitation, give presentations, facilitate workshops, run meetings, do podcasts, able to carry conversations with strangers, less awkward with acquaintances, be more relaxed around friends.
Notice, prepare, practice, ask, and have fun.
Communication can be learned and improved. What you see now is not what was and isn’t final either.
You can’t physically die from embarassment, but you can die emotionally and mentally from self-imposed isolation.