The last couple of months of my life have been quite interesting, to say the least. I’ve met a lot of new people, for my standards. Unsurprisingly, I usually keep to myself rather than seeking the company of “new” people, given that meeting people is actually a little bit outside of my comfort zone. Not as far from it as it used to be, but putting myself out there is still a little bit of a stretch. I once read that the comfort zone is like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the larger it gets. I can vouch for that, although I’m also convinced that my comfort zone is the “muscle” which is hardest to train. It bounces back to its initial size in the blink of an eye if I don’t watch out.
I’m proud to say that I’ve actively worked on getting comfortable with situations that freak me out by default (and boy, there sure are a lot of those), and I don’t think I’m doing a bad job at all. Here’s a fun fact: last year, I started to dedicate a hashtag to the development I’m putting myself through − #whoamI. It’s now frequently being used in WhatsApp conversations whenever I share a story from outside of my comfort zone, so it definitely wasn’t created in vain 😉 …
It often happens that I’m telling a friend about what I’ve been up to and they respond in a surprised way (“Really? You did that?!”). Not to brag or anything, but just to emphasise that I really am making an effort.
Unfortunately, my effort is usually only perceived by those who really know me and have known me for a while. Everyone else barely bats an eye when confronted with my “achievements”, especially since in their eyes, a lot of said achievements are just random everyday activities that aren’t even worth mentioning.
In a not-so-convenient fashion, a lot of the people I’ve been meeting are the complete opposite of me in terms of spontaneity, adventure-love and overall laid-backness. They say that opposites attract, so maybe it’s not so surprising that I keep coming across people that are so much unlike me. However, interacting with them means putting my comfort zone through an extra tough workout. Not at first, but as the conversation moves along, I often reach my limits − comfort zones can be stretched, but not infinitely and definitley not on the spot. Change requires time, and even more so for anxious people.
Sadly, whenever I have to start turning people down either because their idea of a shared activity is freakishly far outside of my comfort zone or because I’m all peopled out (does the term “social hangover” sound familiar?), I immediately feel immensely inadequate. I feel like I’m not good enough and the above-mentioned sense of achievement, which I so proudly wrote about, instantly gets washed out by an increased self-consciousness. In situations like these, it’s quite a challenge to keep my insecurities at bay and my lack of self-confidence flares up like a raging fire.
Once it all starts to tumble, I find it difficult to stay true to myself. I forget what I want, what I care about and where I want my boundaries to be (→ I tried to explain the feeling here), as my mind goes straight into bending-over-backwards-to-remain-kinda-adequate mode, which feels a little as if somebody had pulled the rug from under my feet. I worry about not being “normal” enough, whatever that could possibly mean. I worry that people are going to judge (and consequently ditch) me for being too different, too scared and too unspontaneous, which incidentally only makes me more anxious and less of all the things I would need to be in order to be more like those other people.
Ironically, all of this is no one’s fault but my own. Sure, some people believe that their way is the only right way and that everyone who isn’t like them is therefore not “normal”. Those people aside, it’s a fact that my discomfort with certain situations almost exclusively has its origin in my lack of self-acceptance, which regularly takes a swing at my self-esteem. If I were okay with not (yet!) being as comfortable with certain situations and activities as I’d like to be, I wouldn’t make myself the target of my own and other people’s judgement.
Being confronted with people that are so much unlike me is a bit like being knocked out of the skies. You thought you were making progress? Ha! Just take a look at this super spontaneous, laid-back, adventure-loving person to see how much you still suck, despite all your efforts!
I know it’s ill-advised to limit oneself with beliefs, but I also think that a realistic approach is the healthy way to go.
Yes, if you can dream it, you can do it.
The sky’s the limit.
You can go as far as your mind lets you.
The only limits you have are the limits you believe.
None of this is wrong. But when you’re anxious, you do have limiting beliefs. That’s just how it is.
I’m working hard to not let those beliefs limit me but it doesn’t always work. It’s an ongoing process and sometimes I don’t succeed as well as I would like to. Sometimes I need a little assistance from a loved one and sometimes I just give up for the time being. None of this means that I failed, it just means that I may not be cut out to be a spontaneous, laid-back human being all the time, and acknowledging this actually takes some of the stress out of the entire experience for me.
It’s okay to not be like other people. It’s okay to not be “normal” and it doesn’t matter what other people think. It’s okay to need more time. It’s okay to get stuck occasionally. It’s okay to take a little break.
As long as you don’t lose sight of where you’re headed.
[Very accurate picture by beehonestart]