I’ve been feeling an increasing frustration at the difficulty that I’m having making new friends in the suburb where I live. I moved to Bondi about a year ago, and expected that I would be meeting people all over the place, especially considering that there are attractive, interesting people all over the place to meet.
Backpackers from all around the world come to Bondi, and there are plenty of interesting locals here as well. When I first moved in, it seemed really easy to meet people; but since then I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut and have found it more challenging. The local beach is full of pretty, interesting girls from all around the world, and yet something is stopping me from going up and talking to them.
It’s not hard to imagine what that something might be: my old fear of rejection rearing its ugly head again.
I can remember several years ago walking up to a pretty girl on a beach, despite my nerves, and saying “Hello, do you mind if I join you?” to her. She was quite polite and replied “I’m sorry, I’m not really up for a conversation right now.”
I wandered off feeling like I’d been hit in the head with a frying pan as a full blown panic attack set in. The fact that it was a nude beach, and neither of us had any clothes on probably didn’t help with my anxiety. I ended up calling a friend to help talk me down again. With memories like that, it’s no wonder that I’m still a little reticent.
I’ve had several really good experiences of meeting girls on the beach since moving here, and I don’t feel anywhere near as bothered nowadays when they don’t seem to want to engage with me. But a big part of me remembers those old panic attacks, and just doesn’t want to take the risk.
Even now just writing about it, I’m feeling that tense feeling in the head again.
So yesterday, I headed off to my psychologist to talk about what’s going on for me. If rejection doesn’t bother me so much any more, why is it I still feel like I’m struggling to meet new people?
Almost immediately in the session, I felt some powerful feelings of fear, sadness, grief and anger. Anger at not feeling well enough to do all the things I want to do, and at the people who have rejected me in the past; grief and sadness at the times in the past that I haven’t felt accepted or appreciated by other people; and fear about the whole rejection/loneliness/abandonment thing.
It’s amazing how deep some of these feelings can go. Even after years of working on this stuff, I still get strong feelings of not being safe around other people sometimes. Each time I told my therapist that I didn’t really feel safe, I felt the fear, sadness and grief come up again.
Things that didn’t feel safe for me included:
- Meeting new people, especially cute girls.
- Expressing my anger.
- Telling the truth about what I wanted.
- Making mistakes
- Getting things wrong
I still did these things sometimes even though they didn’t feel safe; but I really wanted them to feel safe so that I could be more consistent and not feel like I’m pushing through anxiety all the time.
Another friend who used to suffer from social anxiety recently told me that once he had overcome the social anxiety, he still found that he had another fear to deal with: fear of the fear itself, and that really resonates with me. I can see that over the past few years with all the anxiety related to CFS, I’ve been telling myself a story that anxiety is too much for me; that I just can’t cope with it. I’m still afraid of my own feelings, basically.
I came home feeling exhausted, anxious and restless. It made for a fairly sleepless night.
Dealing with anger and anxiety in particular are still quite challenging for me, but I can see that the extent of the challenge is heavily influenced by what I tell myself about these troubling emotions. When I get all caught up in the story that it’s all too much, and I can’t do it, I just end up creating more stress and suffering for myself. It’s like my inner child still wants mummy to come and fix it all for me.
Clearly, that was never, and is never, going to happen.
Whereas when I tell myself that they’re just feelings, that there is nothing wrong, and that I don’t need anyone to come and save me from them, I feel more empowered.
It’s time to let go of that old story that meeting other people doesn’t feel safe, and start seeing it as a fun, exciting adventure.