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Let’s Talk 4: My Experience with Extroversion

I wanted to write about this a bit, although it’ll end up mostly about me writing about my childhood. As with any matters of the brain, it’s very much a product of its experience, so exploring that has been sort of a nice project I’ve been setting some time aside for myself to do today. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up posting this in case anyone finds it interesting to dive into young Adam with me for a while.

Some people are very surprised to hear I suffer from strong social anxiety. “But you’re so outgoing!” is the usual response. For the longest time I believed that too. It took me years to realize that even serious extroverts can have a lot of trouble talking to people, even if they do enjoy having people around frequently. I think I’ve seen people try to use terms like “introverted extrovert” which makes not a lot of sense until we acknowledge that social interactions are complicated, and boiling down a person’s social approach to a binary is vastly oversimplifying.

My anxiety centers around meeting new people – unfortunately as an adult human this is something I have to do pretty frequently. Most people experience this as me coming across very reserved, very quiet, sort of meek when I first meet someone, and then at some point, a very rapid shift into total openness and my usual noisy self.

I’m not really sure where it came from. I can only assume it’s due to my nature; I’ve always wanted everyone to like me. This is, of course, an impossible thing to accomplish. You can get a lot of them, but you can never get them all. Whenever I was able to figure out that someone didn’t like me, I’d spend weeks trying to figure out why, unable to accept the simplest truth: people just don’t like certain sorts of other people. There’s no malice or harm or anything else intended. That’s just how it is.

But I didn’t get that for so long. I think it came out of bullying – that happened a lot when I was younger. Parents and friends and friends of parents were constantly baffled that me, a very large, tall kid, was frequently bullied by kids a lot smaller than me. To bring it together from an earlier post, I was kind to people in general, and was fully confused when that was met with verbal/physical hostility and violence. Whenever I tried to be mean to those kids in return, I was terrible at it. Believe me, I count myself so lucky to this day that I did not have any role models who showed me the best ways to wreck someone. But I never had any role models that showed me how to stand up for myself. And when fighting started, I never fought back, not once.

Anyway (I’m trying to write these unfiltered without going back to edit them) I’ve really gone far off my planned topic. The point is, despite the bullying, I still wanted to be friends with all of them. Sometimes I managed to trick them into being nice to me. Some days they forgot to (or didn’t feel like) giving me shit, and they would just treat me like a normal friend. How bizarre is that? They’d talk to me like we were pals and invite me over to their house or birthdays, or give me stuff, or stand up for me in front of a teacher, or any other number of things. They’d have either forgotten or just not cared about how they’d treated me before and were just, nice.

And in those moments, like any other to this day when someone goes out of their way for me or offers a kind gesture or goes out of their way for me, that’s why I’m moved unspeakably. When someone goes out of their way to do something especially nice, it’s super moving but I’m mostly filled with confusion. It’s a strange mix and I’m not sure how I actually come across when it happens.

Now, I worked for a long time on making sure I know that I do deserve nice things, and understanding that I should be spending my time with friends that treat me well all of the time, instead of an abusive 95% / friendly 5% balance. Turns out there are a lot of swell folks out there that I get along with, and as a true extrovert I’m always a loud and happy person with people I enjoy being around, and get energized by hanging out with them.

But that first meeting with someone is still so difficult. My brain quiets my reactions and filters so much of what I say, going, “this person could like you. You want this person to like you. Don’t fucking blow this.”

I’m still trying to not let this happen. I know that being “actual me” when I first meet someone is the most honest thing I can do, and as long as the conscious part of my brain knows it, I can keep improving.

Young Adam lost faith a lot of the time that he would manage to get anyone to like him. I wish I could give him hope and tell him all about the awesome people he’s going to get to spend his life with when he’s an adult. So thanks, person who just read all this. You’re an awesome people, and I really appreciate knowing you.

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One Comment

  1. Vikki Vikki

    This is actually incredibly similar to my own experiences growing up. I remember that every once in a while, the girls who bullied me would be nice, and I would spend the rest of the week analyzing every single move I had made, trying to figure out the key – was it the jacket I was wearing? exactly what words had I said or not said? Maybe it was because they had seen another girl trip that day? It was ridiculous, and of course, I think the answer was only ever “because they got bored with the game of punishing me.”.

    Additionally I totally feel you on being bad at new people. I’ve managed to wrestle it down whenever I’m with even one person I know, because my brain reminds me that people I already know will notice if I act different and weird, but if I spend time with a new person all alone, I can’t remember who I’m supposed to be. I end up putting too much time and energy into being who I think they’ll want me to be instead of a vague approximation of who I actually am. It’s pretty rough, even now.

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